Mayor Pete Buttigieg appeared on Axios on HBO on Sunday night, fielding an array of questions from immigration, to Iran, to transgender troops, and his thoughts on the viability of a young, liberal, gay candidate.
Buttigieg said he’d immediately reverse Donald Trump’s ban on transgender troops, ripping the president for picking on a vulnerable group of people and for dodging service himself. The clip was not immediately available so we’ve transcribed it.
Said Buttigieg: “The military would be fine [with transgender troops], because the military knows how to do their job. This is not a problem because the military is saying they can’t handle it. It’s a problem because the president is exploiting the opportunity to pick on a vulnerable group, even though these are people who have stepped up to put their lives on the line in a way that the president did not do when it was his turn.”
Axios asked how serving in Afghanistan would have been different had he been an out gay man, Buttigieg replied, “It certainly would have been a weight lifted. When you are not out, that takes work. It takes a certain amount of work, a certain amount of filtering, a certain amount of thought that you could better use in order to do your job. And so I do think that anybody in a deployed environment is better off if they can be themselves.”
Axios’ Mike Allen asked Mayor Pete: “Republicans claimed that John Kerry was a traitor in Vietnam. That Barack Obama was a Muslim. If you were to win the nomination, they’ll say you’re too young, too liberal, too gay to be commander-in-chief. You are young. You are a liberal. You are gay. How will you respond?”
“I’ll respond by explaining where I want to lead this country,” Buttigieg responded. “People will elect the person who will make the best president. And we have had excellent presidents who have been young. We have had excellent presidents who have been liberal. I would imagine we’ve probably had excellent presidents who were gay — we just didn’t know which ones.”
“You believe that we’ve had a gay commander-in-chief?” asked Allen.
“Statistically, it’s almost certain,” replied Buttigieg.
“In your reading of history, do you believe you know who they were?”
Said Buttigieg: “My Gaydar doesn’t even work that well in the present, let alone retroactively. But one can only assume that’s the case.”
Buttigieg also said he suffered depression after deployment, but not PTSD: “Of course, it’s the effect of having been exposed to danger,” he said. “I think, also, some moral pressure … Any time, in any way, you are even remotely involved in killing, it takes something out of you, and it takes a lot of work to process that.”
He also said he wouldn’t reverse Trump’s move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
“I think what’s done is done and I don’t think the Israelis believe that the U.S. needs to — look, we need a big-picture strategy on the Middle East. I don’t know that we’d gain much by moving it to Tel Aviv.”
Allen then suggested he was approving of Trump’s decision by not reversing it.
Said Buttigieg: “That doesn’t mean he did the right thing. Here’s the problem with what he did … [I]f you’re going to make a concession like that, if you’re going to give somebody something that they’ve wanted for a long time in the context of a push-pull, even with a strong ally like Israel, right? We have a push-pull relationship. And you don’t do that without getting some kind of concession. Instead, we’ve seen the Israeli government continue to act in ways that are detrimental to peace. And I believe, therefore, also detrimental to U.S. interests.”
Added Buttigieg: “It’s the same thing with recognition of the Golan. Look, the Israeli claims in the Golan or not something to be ignored. They have a lot to do with legitimate security interests. But when we did that, we were doing something that could have been part of a negotiated package, and instead we just gave it away. Worse, we gave it away probably for the specific purpose of having an impact in Israeli domestic politics, which should be the last reason that we would be conducting U.S. foreign policy. It should be designed around American values, American interests and American international relationships.”
Buttigieg also said that he “wouldn’t put it past” Trump to let the U.S. border situation get worse “in order to have it be a more divisive issue, so that he could benefit politically.”
Said Buttigieg: “The president needs this crisis to get worse, even though it makes a liar out of him. I don’t think he’s worried about that. … I don’t think he cares if it gets better. But he certainly doesn’t benefit from comprehensively fixing the problem.”
Added Buttigieg: “Look, it’s worth having a conversation about border security in the context of comprehensive immigration reform, but President Trump is wrong in his approach on this issue, at every point. From the near-term part, which is horrible policies like family separation and also kind of thoughtlessly using U.S. troops as props on the border, to the big picture, which is that this would not be such a problem, if we had stability in Central American countries. And it turns out that immigration is more useful to this president as a crisis unsolved than it would be as an achievement if he actually fixed it. We could fix it. I mean there’s enough of a consensus among the American people and even in Washington about the terms of bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform and yet they still can’t deliver because the president needs this to be a problem for his domestic political purposes.”