Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg expressed support for the impeachment of President Donald Trump and said he would not pardon Trump if confronted with that choice in the White House.
MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle wasted no time getting straight to the impeachment question in her one-on-one interview Friday afternoon with Buttigieg at The Texas Tribune Festival.
"Impeach or not to impeach?" she asked him for her first question. After raucous applause erupted and then quickly died down inside the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Buttigieg said simply, "Yes."
"We've reached a point where the rule of law and our constitutional system requires holding this president accountable for what he's done," said Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. "This is not just about this moment or about this president. This is about the integrity of the system."
Later — in her last question — Ruhle asked Buttigieg if, as president, he would pardon Trump in the event that his predecessor had been convicted of crimes. Buttigieg said he would not.
"It's not about him. It's about the presidency," Buttigieg said. "We have learned the hard way what happens when we're deprived of a presidency, not just a president who agrees with me on policy but a president that your kids can look up to. And we need to demonstrate that that will never be allowed to happen again by showing that there are consequences."
Relaxed and jovial throughout the interview, Buttigieg, the youngest of the 2020 hopefuls, sought to distinguish himself from the crowd of 19 Democrats still in the hunt. He portrayed himself as a pragmatic liberal, saying he could achieve "progressive outcomes" without pitting people against one another and losing big swaths of the electorate. He noted his support for Medicare "for all who want it," allowing people to join the federal health care program but not requiring it under a single-payer framework as U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have endorsed. He also said he wanted to make college more affordable without promising "to pay down every last penny of college costs" for everyone, including those who don't need the help.
Buttigieg took more direct jabs at leading candidates Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden when Ruhle asked him to articulate why voters should pick him over them. On Biden, whose campaign has sold his ability to defeat Trump in November, Buttigieg turned the tables, saying his own electability is why voters should prefer him. As for Warren, Buttigieg suggested that her proposals were too divisive: "The boldness that is required in order to meet the moment doesn't have to be 'my way or the highway,'" he said.
Turning to the economy and taxes, Buttigieg promised he would "reverse the Trump tax cut" and said his generation will suffer the consequences from the rising sea of red ink in Washington unless something is done soon to tame the rising national debt. He said Republicans have abandoned fiscal responsibility, so Democrats must embrace it.
"I know it's not fashionable among Democrats to talk about the debt and deficit like it's something that matters," Buttigieg said, promising that all his policy proposals would have identified funding sources. "If we don't care in the Democratic Party, then nobody does."
Taking an audience question about the importance of Texas in the 2020 race, Buttigieg said he was "very enthused about the possibilities of Texas for the Democratic Party and for what that means for the country."
"Texas is the kind of place that has so often been about the future rather than the past," Buttigieg said. "And that's what my campaign is about, too."