Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg

Mayor of South Bend, Indiana

Pete Buttigieg’s campaign pitch centers on his role as a midwestern mayor and the only millennial contender for the presidency. He touts his experience managing South Bend since 2012, where he signed on with a group of cities committed to upholding the Paris Agreement after President Donald J. Trump withdrew from the climate pact. He has also served as an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve since 2009 and deployed to Afghanistan in 2014. 

A native of South Bend, Buttigieg is a 2004 Harvard University graduate and a Rhodes scholar. Before entering politics, he was a consultant at McKinsey & Company from 2007 to 2010.

China

Buttigieg advocates cooperation with China on areas of common concern, such as climate change, while warning that it is an ideological challenger to the United States. China’s prosperity and stability, enforced by “techno-authoritarianism,” could prove an alluring alternative to U.S.-style capitalist democracy, he says.

  • Buttigieg told CFR that the United States has underestimated China’s ambitions and that Washington must work to disentangle its “sensitive” economic sectors from China.
  • He is critical of Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports, calling the trade war a “fool’s errand” and maintaining that it will not succeed in pressuring China to change its economic model. He says American farmers are bearing the brunt of Beijing’s retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products.
  • Though he opposes the Barack Obama administration’s Asia-Pacific trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), he says the United States must strike new trade agreements to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative for access to Asian markets. 
  • He argues that, beyond its trade battle with Beijing, the United States should deter China by continuing to invest in its military and developing strategies to counter “less overt threats,” such as political interference and cyberattacks. 
  • He calls for investing in infrastructure, education, and artificial intelligence to better compete with China and dampen the appeal of its political system.
  • He advocates sanctions on individuals and firms implicated in the persecution of Uighur Muslims and says Washington should ensure that U.S. technologies are not being used for “oppression and surveillance.” 

Climate and Energy

Buttigieg says climate diplomacy should be a pillar of U.S. foreign policy, no less central than democracy and human rights. Like many other Democratic candidates, he has proposed an ambitious climate plan that seeks to quickly transition the United States away from carbon-intensive energy sources.

  • Buttigieg’s climate plan calls for zero U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from electricity by 2035, and net-zero total emissions by 2050, spurred by a carbon tax that would return its revenue to Americans as a direct dividend. 
  • He estimates his plan would cost the federal government roughly $2 trillion. It would seek to create three million new jobs through a $200 billion program to retrain workers away from fossil fuel industries and build new transportation and energy infrastructure. 
  • It would also quadruple federal research and development outlays on clean energy and other technologies, spending more than $200 billion over ten years. Other major investments would include $250 billion for a new bank to finance domestic clean energy projects and another $250 billion in global clean energy and infrastructure investments. 
  • As part of a broader global push to phase out coal-fired power, Buttigieg advocates ending fossil fuel subsidies in the United States as well as incorporating that goal into trade agreements. He opposes any new fossil fuel leases on public lands. 
  • He is one of more than four hundred mayors who have committed to upholding the Paris Agreement. He says he would recommit the United States to the accord and promote the participation of mayors and other subnational leaders in meeting its goals.
  • His proposal for massively expanding national service programs includes the establishment of a Climate Corps focused on conservation and building resilience to climate change.
  • He envisions a major role for the rural United States in promoting soil management and other “twenty-first century farming techniques.” 

Counterterrorism

Buttigieg calls himself “a product of the 9/11 generation,” for whom the attacks were politically formative. Warning against overreacting to terrorist threats abroad, he emphasizes increased vigilance against extremists at home.

  • Buttigieg calls for maintaining “limited, focused and specialized” counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan and elsewhere, arguing that “the United States can’t fix every fragile state where extremism might flourish.”
  • He has said that, in Syria, a “limited counterterrorism presence that involves intelligence and special ops” may be necessary to protect Americans from residual forces of the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
  • He says he would bar the CIA from expanding its targeted killing program to new countries, work toward ending it where it is already in place, and transfer authority to conduct drone strikes to the Defense Department, which he says has greater transparency and accountability.
  • He advocates allocating some counterterrorism resources to counter right-wing extremism and violent white nationalism in the United States.

Cybersecurity and Digital Policy

Buttigieg says that the United States must improve its cyber defenses and election security. He also advocates greater regulation of tech companies to promote competition and protect individuals’ data. 

  • He criticizes what he sees as the low levels of spending on cyber defenses and other emerging technologies in the defense budget.
  • He says election security requires greater investment in cybersecurity, reforms such as paper ballots, and clear signals to foreign governments such as Russia that there will be consequences for continued election interference.
  • He favors tougher federal scrutiny of big tech companies for anticompetitive behavior and acquisitions of smaller companies.
  • He also favors a national “right to be forgotten,” akin to laws in California and Europe, which would allow consumers to scrub some personal data from the internet. 

Defense

Buttigieg says his seven-month deployment as a naval intelligence officer in Afghanistan has made him circumspect about the use of military force. The commander in chief, he says, should set a high bar for its use, have a clear vision of how any engagement will end, and bring Congress on board.

  • Buttigieg says the unilateral use of force should be reserved for cases in which core U.S. interests are at stake and all alternatives have been exhausted—a standard he says isn’t being met in cases such as Iran and Venezuela.
  • He argues that Trump has undermined U.S. military readiness by making impulsive decisions that confuse battlefield commanders, as well as by weakening security partnerships with allies.
  • He has pledged to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan within a year of taking office, though he has also expressed concern that the Afghan government has been sidelined in talks with the Taliban that would facilitate a drawdown.
  • He told CFR that the outcome in Afghanistan should include a “relevant special operations/intelligence presence” for the foreseeable future.
  • He says the United States must maintain “absolute military superiority,” but calls for shifting priorities for defense spending so that the focus is on emerging threats, such as “insurgencies, asymmetric attacks, and high-tech strikes with cyber weapons or drones,” rather than on conventional forms of war fighting.
  • He advocates that Congress replace the authorization it gave the president to use military force against those responsible for the 9/11 attacks—an authorization he calls a blank check that has inflicted “collateral damage to our national moral authority”—with a successor law that must be renewed every three years by Congress, which he says has been “asleep at the switch.”
  • He argues for greater investment in and reforms to the Veterans Affairs health care system to increase coverage, reduce wait times, and expedite disability claims. He promises greater mental health support for veterans.

Diplomacy and Foreign Aid

Buttigieg calls for renewing multilateral institutions and U.S. alliances, which he says have been “fractured and endangered” by Trump. Countering climate change, he says, ought to be a main tenet of U.S. diplomacy, ranking “alongside democracy and human rights as a central goal.”

  • He says he would repair “strained” relations with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies and recommit the United States to a suite of international agreements that Trump has withdrawn from, including the Paris Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal. 
  • He argues that the State Department and other national security institutions should seek greater diversity and offer more flexible career paths in order to better compete with private sector employers.
  • To stem Central American migration, Buttigieg proposes increases in U.S. aid to Northern Triangle countries and a partnership with Mexico that promotes its prosperity and stability.

Economic Policy

Buttigieg points to increasing inequality and a rising sentiment that globalization, automation, and the gig economy have undermined workers in his argument for more robust prolabor policies. He also calls for intensified financial regulation, antitrust enforcement, and consumer protections. 

  • Buttigieg argues that Trump’s 2017 tax cuts “robbed from the Treasury” $1 trillion, and he says he would raise taxes on the wealthy. He says he would consider new taxes on wealth and financial transactions. 
  • He advocates bolstering private-sector unions, implementing portable benefits for contract workers, shrinking the racial wealth gap, and instituting a $15 per hour national minimum wage. 
  • The chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ task force on automation, Buttigieg argues that a focus on worker retraining is too narrow. He advocates instead for broader educational initiatives that would give people the “resiliency and ability to adapt.” 
  • He emphasizes his plan to spur development in rural areas, including federal money for “regional innovation clusters,” support for manufacturing, $5 billion over a decade to expand apprenticeship programs, and free college tuition for low- and middle-income students.
  • He wants “major federal investment” in infrastructure, ranging from water systems to transportation, though he doesn’t specify an amount. 
  • He calls for more regulation on consumer banking, including more oversight of predatory lending and more resources for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency created in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. 
  • He pledges to “reinvigorate” antitrust enforcement in the tech sector, promising to strengthen the Federal Trade Commission’s scrutiny of anticompetitive behavior. He also says his Justice Department will step up antitrust action in agriculture. 

Immigration

Buttigieg criticizes Trump for “demonizing” immigrants, calling instead for allowing more immigrants and asylum seekers—who he says strengthen the country—into the United States, along with “humane” border enforcement. 

  • Buttigieg advocates for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation with a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants—including Dreamers, who were brought to the country as children. 
  • He also calls for more resources for immigration courts and the asylum system, to end their backlogs, and for “reasonable” border security measures. He wants to cease all family separations, provide more humanitarian aid for refugees, and end “arbitrary” deportations.
  • He calls the current system for detaining undocumented immigrants expensive, inefficient, and immoral. He says Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s ability to detain people without a warrant is “in clear violation of the Constitution.”
  • As mayor, Buttigieg made municipal ID cards available to undocumented residents and championed the cause of a longtime community member targeted for deportation.
  • He advocates increases in U.S. aid to Central American countries and a renewed partnership with Mexico to promote its prosperity and stability.

Middle East

Buttigieg is skeptical of using military force to promote U.S. interests in the region, and says the United States should reorient its policies to prioritize human rights and democratic values. “We can no longer sell out our deepest values for the sake of fossil fuel access,” he argues.

  • He told CFR that leaving the Iran nuclear agreement was a strategic mistake, weakening the United States’ ability to respond to Iran’s threats to the region. He pledges to return to the deal if Iran resumes implementing its commitments.
  • He supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and says that Israel’s security would continue to be a “fundamental tenet” of U.S. national security under his presidency. He says he would keep the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, where Trump moved it from Tel Aviv in 2018.
  • He opposes what he calls Israel’s overreach in the West Bank and Gaza, and he says he would consider withholding U.S. aid to Israel if it attempts to annex the West Bank.
  • He opposes the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, an effort to put economic pressure on Israel, but emphasizes that Americans have a constitutional right to participate.  
  • He says he would “remain open” to working with Saudi Arabia, but says the kingdom “should not get a pass” on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and other human rights violations. He pledges to halt all military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen and to increase diplomatic efforts to end the conflict. 
  • He condemned Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria, which he called a betrayal of the Kurdish forces that fought alongside the United States against the Islamic State.  
  • He calls the 2003 invasion of Iraq a “disaster” and “self-defeating,” arguing that it shows the United States must have a higher standard for the use of force. 

North Korea

Buttigieg supports diplomacy with North Korea but criticizes Trump for unrealistic expectations in dealing with Kim Jong-un, knocking the “love letters” he says Trump exchanged with the North Korean leader. Buttigieg argues that denuclearization and peace talks can and should go hand in hand.

  • Buttigieg told CFR that any deal with North Korea would require a step-by-step process, beginning with an initial freeze on nuclear testing in exchange for targeted sanctions relief. 
  • From there, he says, further steps by Pyongyang, such as the dismantling of nuclear facilities and then the disposal of all weapons, would be met with progressive loosening of sanctions and other incentives. 
  • He also says that recommitting to other international agreements, such as the Iran nuclear deal, would “strengthen our hand” with North Korea.

Russia

Buttigieg says that Russia is a “disruptive,” “adversarial” force on the world stage, and warns that its form of “oligarchic capitalism” is a major challenge for the United States. He argues that Washington must push back against Russia’s “nationalism, xenophobia, and homophobia,” as well as its intervention in neighboring countries and interference in U.S. elections. 

  • Buttigieg criticizes Moscow’s “destabilizing” activities, citing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, intervention in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and renewed development of missiles. He says he would “reinvigorate” long-standing alliances, particularly NATO, to push back.
  • He told CFR that Russia’s interference in Ukraine is an “attack on global order,” and that he would maintain sanctions on Russia imposed by the Obama and Trump administrations, while also providing military assistance to Kiev, including, potentially, arms sales. 
  • He argues that countering Russian interference in U.S. politics requires not just technological and diplomatic responses, but also scrutiny of the domestic divisions that were exploited by Russian operatives, such as racism and social isolation.

Trade

Buttigieg says that his role as mayor of a rust belt city that has struggled with declining manufacturing allows him to understand the consequences of global trade policy. He criticizes economic isolationism and says the United States must compete with China for global markets, but that any new trade deals must be better for American workers.

  • He calls Trump’s trade war with China a “fool’s errand” and says American farmers are bearing the brunt of Beijing’s retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products.
  • He opposed the Obama administration’s Asia-Pacific trade deal, TPP, and he told CFR he wouldn’t join the deal in its current form, arguing that its labor, environment, and digital economy provisions are not in the United States’ interest.
  • However, he argues the United States must strike new trade agreements to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative for access to Asian markets. “We need to be setting the rules of the road,” he says.
  • He blames the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico for midwestern job losses, but says they cannot be reversed through trade policy because most of these roles are now performed by machines or otherwise automated.
  • He told CFR that sub-Saharan Africa should be a priority for U.S. “economic engagement,” calling it “one of the biggest opportunities for new markets for U.S. goods and investment.”

Venezuela and Latin America

Buttigieg sees opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate interim president, arguing that Nicolas Maduro has “lost the legitimacy to govern.” He says Washington should work with other Latin American countries to isolate the regime, but he opposes military intervention.

  • Buttigieg told CFR that the U.S. goal in Venezuela should be the peaceful transfer of power to an interim government. He supports talks between Guaido and the regime in order to achieve a negotiated “managed transition.”
  • He favors targeted sanctions on regime officials rather than some of the broader economic restrictions imposed by the Trump administration, which he says have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis and allowed the regime to blame Washington.
  • He supports granting temporary protected status to Venezuelans currently in the United States, which would afford them assurances that they will not be deported as long as the crisis is ongoing.
  • He stresses that Venezuela doesn’t meet the standard for the use of military force, arguing that the country isn’t a core U.S. interest and that other alternatives remain. 
  • He says there is a “need to address the Russian, Chinese, and Cuban interference” that he argues is standing in the way of a transition in Venezuela. 
  • Buttigieg has criticized Trump’s hard-line policies toward Cuba for squandering the opening presented by new leadership in the wake of Fidel Castro’s death in 2016, but he has not called for an end to the U.S. embargo. 

This project was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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