Pete Buttigieg Is Making A Big Push To Win Over Women. Will It Work?

Photo: Mary Schwalm/AP/Shutterstock.
On Thursday, Mayor Pete Buttigieg issued a sweeping, 26-page agenda focused on women's rights, covering everything from paying women equally to putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.
Many of the proposals already exist somewhere, in some form: They include such common-sense, long-term goals as passing the Equal Rights Amendment, codifying Roe v. Wade, and guaranteeing 12 weeks of paid family leave to new parents and caregivers.
In some ways, Buttigieg goes further, for example by committing to nominating a cabinet and judiciary that are at least 50% women if he becomes president, prioritizing diversity in all presidential appointments, and reinstating the White House Council on Women and Girls. He also promises to invest $10 billion to combat workplace sexual harassment and discrimination against women, and to make $50 billion available to female entrepreneurs through loans and loan guarantees.
Buttigieg, according to the latest Morning Consult poll, is the top choice for 4.9% of women who are likely to vote in the Democratic primary, as well as for 6% of all primary voters. With the latest proposals, some of the more detailed ones in the 2020 presidential field, he hopes to further boost his support among women. Ahead, we caught up with the Mayor.
Policy can be so personal, which we saw play out recently as Sen. Elizabeth Warren shared her story of experiencing pregnancy discrimination when she was a public school teacher. As a man, what makes these women-oriented policies personal to you?
“As a man, I haven’t experienced sex-based discrimination in that way, but what I do know is that organizations tend to make better decisions when women are empowered. That’s true of my Mayor’s office, and it’s true of my campaign staff, which is more equitable because it’s over 50% women. That’s why, as part of this plan, I’m committed to a Cabinet that would be over 50% female.
"I also grew up watching my mother navigate the workplace of a university in a fairly conservative community, and I think it’s very important to draw on what we know from personal experience and apply that to empower others. As someone who’s seen my own rights up for debate in the Supreme Court, I’m motivated by the fact that people who aren’t like me stood up for people who are like me and I want to make sure I’m doing the same.” 
A lot of the goals you’ve outlined are legislative, such as passing the Paycheck Fairness Act and an enhanced version of the FAMILY Act on paid family leave. Obviously the president can’t pass laws, so how do you aim to achieve these goals if Congress is not on board?
“These issues are a good example of where we can do better legislatively, because the American people are with us. If you look at something like paid family leave, not supporting it is really indefensible. I think any argument against it is pretty weak, and it’s the right thing to do. So as a candidate with ‘coattails,’ I can help deliver a Democratic Senate majority by waging an effective campaign in swing states, for example.
"In the event we don’t get that, as president, I could use Air Force One to bring these issues into someone’s district. If someone is blocking it, they should pay a political price and experience some heat. I wouldn’t hesitate to fly into their home district, their home state, and remind their voters that there’s daylight between them and their representatives, and help them discover the value of these plans. So many of these policies truly benefit women, and even in more conservative states that’s going to be our edge in getting them through.”
There’s widespread support for Medicare for All, and you’ve been taking some heat for not being behind it all the way. Why do you believe your Medicare for All Who Want It plan is better?
"Part of this, I think, is a terminology issue. Many of the same voters who say they support Medicare for All also say they're against eliminating private plans. Once we get past that, what's the right answer for most Americans? I think this is a better policy, and it has the advantage of being paid for. It also respects people's decisions, and it will be easier to sell to the American people. I think there needs to be some humility in our policy, the idea of putting it to the test. For some Americans it may be the right answer, for others it won't be. That's all I'm arguing for, and I think most Democrats and Americans are with me on this."
Your plan has cultural components, like creating a Smithsonian Women’s History Museum on the National Mall. Who are your favorite female authors, musicians, and other prominent women you admire?
"First of all, politics is full of extraordinary women who have challenged a lot of norms and moved our country forward — some of the first political figures I was aware of include [late Texas Sen.] Barbara Jordan and Ann Richards, [the late governor of Texas]. Culturally, I think one of the best fiction writers is Hilary Mantel, who wrote the Thomas Cromwell trilogy. Reading Toni Morrison made a big impact on me as a student; she was rightfully acknowledged recently when she passed.
"In music, uh, let me think... I'm in a bit of a music drought right now. I don't get to hear too much of the newer stuff. The history of rock is full of amazing women guitarists, like Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin. Also recently, Chasten got me turned on to rediscovering Dolly Parton. I wouldn't claim I know too much about hip-hop, but I do think Little Simz is one of the more interesting hip-hop artists out there right now."
Finally, which woman would you choose as your running mate? And, should you not win the nomination, is there anybody whose vice president you would like to be?
"Well, to your second question, I'm in it to win it.
"As to the first, I don't think it's appropriate to throw out names right now, but I'm very proud to be part of the most diverse presidential-candidate field ever, full of remarkable women. There are also many amazing women who are not in the presidential mix who could be great on a ticket. I'll leave it at that, but there's no shortage.
"I don't want to say anything that would preempt or disqualify anybody, but I will say that gender and racial balance are important when building a cabinet — and that will be a consideration in choosing my running mate as well."

More from US News

R29 Original Series