Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Democratic Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg On Trade, Military Force And More


Well, while Democrats here in Washington talk impeachment, Democrats on the campaign trail, the presidential campaign trail, have been talking to us. We're getting to know some of the candidates over the next few months with the help of the NPR Politics Podcast team and with the help of New Hampshire Public Radio and Iowa Public Radio. NPR's Tamara Keith hosts the Politics Podcast. She joins me now. Hi there, Tam.


KELLY: So you were just in Iowa. You were with Iowa Public Radio's lead political reporter, Clay Masters. You two sat down with Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg. Where'd y'all sit down? Where were you?

KEITH: Well, we caught up with him at a union hall in Des Moines where he was attending a book club. And this is not an ordinary book club because it's Iowa. They are reading books written by the Democratic presidential candidates, and then the candidates are actually coming to these book club meetings.

KELLY: I love it.

KEITH: There was no wine, but the room was packed, and people stuck around long after the conversation was over to get their book signed and to take pictures. And then Buttigieg came across the hall to talk to us. He's the mayor of South Bend, Ind. He went to Harvard, was a Rhodes Scholar, speaks several languages, is an Afghanistan veteran. He's 37 years old and proudly millennial. And he's also openly gay. And we asked him what was obscured by his resume. He pointed to his upbringing in South Bend, Ind.

PETE BUTTIGIEG: I didn't even know that it was unusual to have empty factories and empty houses all around you. Then I moved out and realized that that was kind of a defining feature of my part of the country.

KELLY: Were you able, as you interviewed him, Tam, to get policy specifics out of him? Because one of the criticisms so far of his campaign is we are learning a lot about his life story, less about what he might actually do if elected president.

KEITH: Right before we interviewed him, he had just posted an issues section on his website, and his policy positions are more moderate than many in the Democratic field. We talked through a number of policy items with him, like health care where he says he favors Medicare for all who want it as opposed to the Bernie Sanders plan, for instance, which is "Medicare for All." As he talks about his positions on a number of things, he articulates a problem, he outlines the broad brush strokes of a solution, but unlike several of the other Democrats who are running, he doesn't really get into the nitty-gritty details of how his ideas would work or be paid for. One thing we talked to him about was trade and how he would get out of this China trade war that's happening right now with the Trump administration. And he said that it isn't as much about the trade deficit as it is something much bigger than that. It's about global influence.

BUTTIGIEG: They entered into this trade conflict without a plan, and it is making farmers worse off. If this next round of tariffs kicks in, it's going to make consumers worse off. And it ignores the bigger issue in the China challenge, which is not about the export-import balance. It's about whether the rest of this century happens on terms that are favorable to the American model or the Chinese model. And, obviously, I've got a pretty strong sense of which model is best, but you see the Chinese model being held up as a credible alternative to ours because ours looks chaotic and unstable and theirs has generated such growth.

KEITH: So this is another case of him clearly identifying what he sees as the problem, criticizing the way the president is handling it but not quite clearly mapping out exactly how he would solve it if he were president.

KELLY: OK. I have to ask - did you get to meet the other Mr. Buttigieg, his husband who's already been a force in the Pete Buttigieg campaign?

KEITH: No, he was not in Iowa on this trip, but I did ask Pete Buttigieg about President Trump's recent comments about seeing him and his husband, Chasten, campaigning together.

He said I have no problem with it whatsoever. I think it's good. What did you think of that?

BUTTIGIEG: That's nice. I'm more interested in policies that affect LGBTQ people. The Equality Act has moved through the House. I doubt that this president will champion the Equality Act. You know, what somebody says in an interview is one thing; how they govern is another - and whether it's that issue or any other issues. You know, so much attention is given to whatever remarkably outrageous and vicious and insulting thing that the president said. Or I suppose in this case, expectations are so low that he made news by saying something that wasn't viciously insulting. And that's not what matters.

KEITH: So that was sort of a vintage Buttigieg response to the president - to be both critical of him and dismissive of Trump and the fact that Trump is even being discussed while at the same time discussing Trump.

KELLY: (Laughter) OK. That's NPR's Tamara Keith talking about her interview there with Pete Buttigieg. Tam, thanks and looking forward to more of them.

KEITH: You're welcome.


And you can hear the full interview on the NPR Politics Podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. In that time, she has chronicled the final years of the Obama administration, covered Hillary Clinton's failed bid for president from start to finish and thrown herself into documenting the Trump administration, from policy made by tweet to the president's COVID diagnosis and the insurrection. In the final year of the Trump administration and the first year of the Biden administration, she focused her reporting on the White House response to the COVID-19 pandemic.