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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Town Hall with Democratic Presidential Candidate Tom Steyer. Aired 11p-12a ET
Aired February 24, 2020 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CUOMO: Live from Charleston, South Carolina, this is a CNN town hall event. Good evening from the Memminger Auditorium. I am Chris Cuomo. Democratic presidential hopefuls are making their final pitches to undecided voters here in South Carolina. Tonight some of those voters are going to be right in this very room ready to ask their questions before deciding whom to support. We've heard from Senator Sanders and former Mayor Buttigieg.
Now please welcome businessman Tom Steyer.
TOM STEYER (D), BUSINESSMAN, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hey, Chris.
CUOMO: Good to see you.
STEYER: Nice to see you. Can I start by saying something?
STEYER: I know there has been a lot of talk this week about Bernie Sanders. And I think we all owe Bernie Sanders a lot of thanks for bringing up real issues that are confronting America and Americans.
STEYER: And I want to say I disagree with his solutions in many instances. I don't think a government takeover of major parts of the American economy is a good idea. I don't think it's good for working people. I don't think it's good for families. I know that unchecked capitalism has failed. But the solution is not for the government to take over big parts of the economy. The answer is for us to break the corporate stranglehold on our government, to actually get back to government of, by, and for the people because...
STEYER: Look, we need a vibrant, competitive, dynamic private sector. That's the goose that lays the golden egg. So we can't kill that. We need to have a government that works for the people that writes rules so that corporations have to act in a way that helps us. But let's get over the idea that somehow the government taking over major parts of the economy is a good idea. It has never worked in the past. And it's not going to work for us now.
CUOMO: So let's take a look at what we've had in terms of contests so far. Mr. Sanders has done very well, to the best in all three, which means that the ideas have been tested and proven by voters. Tomorrow you're on the debate stage with him. You are in a hole versus him in terms of how those results have gone. Do you have a plan to change your fate?
STEYER: Well, let me say this, Chris. So far Bernie has 39 delegates out of the 2,000 that he needs to be the Democratic nominee. So I would say the people of America haven't spoken just yet.
STEYER: And let me say this. We're in South Carolina. This is a very diverse state. There's a high proportion of African-Americans here. There's a high proportion of Latinos. This reflects the Democratic Party. It reflects the United States of America. I don't think we should let the three states that, together, add up to about as much as South Carolina, dictate what South Carolina has to say.
STEYER: How about let's let the people of South Carolina have their say and say what they care about and stop declaring that this is over and that the conversation is over and we should just end it. That is so early and premature. I can't believe it.
CUOMO: I'm just talking about the results we've had. You're right, South Carolina is upcoming. We'll see.
Now, earlier tonight Senator Sanders defended some controversial comments that he made praising a literacy program in Cuba. He said that's just the truth that it was good. He said something similar about China, saying they've taken more people out of extreme poverty than any country in history. What do you make of his comments?
STEYER: Look, I don't think it's appropriate to look at a dictator in Cuba who has been there for 60 years, who has really done a terrible job for the Cuban people, who's an autocrat who has never allowed dissent or elections, and who has done exactly -- he has had the government own the economy and people are hungry and he has been a cruel controller of the country.
I don't think it's appropriate to be giving him a lot of compliments. I think we're in a different situation. The United States is supposed to be the value-driven leader of the world. We stand for freedom. We stand for democracy and justice and equality. And I think when we go out to the world we should be standing up for the things that we believe in. That's what the whole idea of the United States is. So I'm never going to be complimenting people, unelected leaders, of
countries who completely control without any form of democracy, justice, or equality. No, I think it's inappropriate, Chris, I really do.
CUOMO: Cuba and China?
STEYER: Look, we have serious relationships with China and we're going to have it. We are bound to them economically. We're bound to them in numerous ways. But if you're asking me, will I ever compliment a regime that's unelected, that rules without the rule of law, that is -- that dominates its country without the kind of democracy and -- that we have? No, I'm never going to compliment that system. I don't approve of it. I don't think it works.
I think we stand up for who we are around the country because we're trying to be the best value-driven country in the world. That's who we are. We should be proud of it and we should never give in to somebody else's view.
CUOMO: All right. Let's get a question from the audience. Ann Folly, research scientist from Mount Pleasant, currently undecided. Welcome, Ann.
QUESTION: Hi. So shortly after the 2016 election you started the campaign to impeach the president. And then during the actual impeachment trial of Trump, many Republicans said that -- used that as sort of a -- to say that Democrats had been against Trump since day one. And that was a pretty effective argument for many Republicans. Given that, do you have any regrets about the campaign to impeach the president?
STEYER: Absolutely not, Ann. And let me say that, no.
STEYER: And let me first talk about why I did what I did and then let me tell you what I think about what the Republicans did. We have the most corrupt president in American history. He's...
STEYER: He started taking payments from foreign countries through his real estate operations on his first day. He then covered up -- he obstructed justice almost from his first day. I actually started the Need to Impeach movement in October of 2017. And the point was to get Americans to stand up together. Eight-and-a-half million Americans signed that petition.
And what we were saying was, there's right and wrong in this country. It's not just about a political partisan fight in Washington, D.C. We have to stand up for what's right. And we were saying to people in Washington, do the right thing. This isn't about the 2018 elections. This isn't about the 2020 elections. This is about doing the right thing.
And if you're asking me, would I ever feel bad about doing the right things and trying to protect America? The answer is, never. And let me go beyond that.
STEYER: Look, some of you guys know that my father prosecuted the Nazi war criminals after World War II. And he always told us if there's something deeply wrong in America, stand up. Don't let it go because the Germans let it go and it went to a place that's almost unimaginable.
And so when Republicans -- I believe this is the party which said about the trial in the Senate, we don't care about the evidence, we're not going to allow witnesses, he's innocent, we don't need to see anything and we're going to do the biggest cover-up in American history. Do you think I care what Republicans say about the rule of law when they absolutely broke their oath to the Constitution and the American people? No. I don't.
And I want to say one more thing. This is a president -- you know, we've been reading this last week about an electronic attack on our country from Russia in terms of hacking the
Democratic primaries. That is 21st Century warfare, that is a hostile foreign country attacking the United States of America.
And so my question, Ann, is this, where's the commander-in-chief when the country is under attack?
CUOMO: All right. We have another question for you. Kenyatta Grimmage, he's an associate director of admissions...
STEYER: What's his first name?
CUOMO: Kenyatta Grimmage.
STEYER: Kenyatta, nice to meet you.
CUOMO: Sir, he is an associate director of admissions for the College of Charleston and the president of 100 Black Men of Charleston, leaning towards Senator Warren, has a question tonight. Kenyatta?
QUESTION: How are you doing, Mr. Steyer?
STEYER: I'm good, Kenyatta. But call me Tom, everybody does, seriously.
QUESTION: Well, how are you doing, Tom? As an African-American male, I want to know what is your plan to reform a broken prison system that sees black and brown men being incarcerated at a higher rate for lesser crimes than their white counterparts.
STEYER: So, Kenyatta, let me answer your question and then, if you don't mind, I'm going to try and put it in a bigger context, because we can all see that the criminal justice system in America has racist elements to it from the very first part of it to the very last part of it.
The way that we police is racist and has to be reformed. The way that we sentence, as you point out, is racist and has to be reformed. Black people get longer sentences for the same crime. Cash bail, which I've worked to get rid of in California, and we've gotten rid of it, is racist. It's basically saying, if you can't make bail you have to go to jail before you're convicted, but if you can make bail then you get to continue in your job, you continue to live with your family, you have a different relationship with the criminal justice system.
How we treat incarcerated people, as opposed to trying to rehabilitate them, using it as a form of straightforward punishment has a huge element of racism. And we've got to acknowledge, this society incarcerates people at seven times the rate of other advanced societies, seven times. And it's overwhelmingly black men and Latinos.
So what do we need to do? We need to reform every single part of this. And then we need to reform how we treat previously incarcerated people. One...
STEYER: You should know, I've said that I've worked to get rid of cash bail and we did. I also worked to get rid of what are called automatic sentence enhancers, which says if you've been convicted before you automatically get a longer sentence. That has a huge racial overtone, we got rid of that. We can't have these mandatory harsh sentences.
And in Florida, our NextGen America, our big grassroots organization, worked to get back voting rights for previously incarcerated people and it happened. So I'm not just talking about reforming it, I have been working on this reform and getting things done for years.
But I want to make one -- I want to make one more point to Kenyatta's question, I'll try and make it quick. The biggest thing we can do about this, we have to do all of those things, but we need to break the school-to-prison pipeline.
STEYER: And that's the biggest thing, Kenyatta. And that is -- I'll try and be brief, but we have to recognize that that is an effort that starts very early. It's the number one correlation with going to prison. And a lot of other measures of success is third grade reading comprehension. We need to be aware that if we're going to, in fact, break the school-to-prison pipeline, we need to go and support kids and their parents very, very early so that, in fact, they get on that trajectory instead of that trajectory. That's probably the most important thing we could do.
CUOMO: Joe Biden said yesterday, I'm not saying Tom Steyer's a bad guy, but Tom Steyer was one of the largest investors in private prisons in the United States, in contrast, he and President Obama were trying to get rid of private prisons. Is he right?
STEYER: We -- in my investment firm, we bought stock in a private prison company 15 years ago. I thought it was the right thing. I decided it was the wrong thing. And 15 years ago I sold it for moral reasons. I came to the conclusion that everyone has come to conclude now, that this isn't a place to make money.
But I didn't just make a mistake and correct it. I have worked to get rid of the use of private prisons in my home state. And we've successfully done it so that they're not used either for incarceration or detention. So if you look, I -- when I make a mistake, I correct it and I work on it. And that's exactly what has happened here.
I was saying to Kenyatta, I have worked to make a much less racist criminal justice system successfully for over a decade, and that's exactly what I did here.
CUOMO: Another question, Nathalie Morgan. She's an operations manager for a business here here in Charleston. She's a supporter of Senator Sanders. She has a question for you. Nathalie, welcome.
QUESTION: Hi, Tom, welcome to Charleston.
STEYER: Hi, Natalie. Thank you so much.
QUESTION: I believe this question is really important to most of Charleston and people my age. I'm 27 years old and I still have buying a house, getting married and having kids ahead of me. What do you say to people my age and those who are younger who are frankly terrified of what climate change will do to this planet and our futures?
STEYER: So, Natalie...
... thank you for asking that question.
Look, I am the only person running for president who will say that climate is his or her number one priority -- the only one, go ask them -- the only one.
And I've said that I will declare, just so you know, Natalie, a state of emergency on climate, on the first day of my presidency. And I will use the executive emergency powers of the presidency to tell companies how they can generate electricity, what kind of cars they can build on what schedule, what kind of buildings we're going to have, how we're going to use our public lands, how the government, which is the biggest buyer of fossil fuels in the world, is going to move to clean energy.
But let me say...
I have done this. But let me say this. I did not just come to this. I have been fighting this fight for well over a decade, and I have beat oil companies when they tried to repeal good laws. I've passed laws inside and outside California, 50 percent clean energy by 2030. I've stopped pipelines. I stopped the last fossil fuel plant in my home state that will ever be proposed.
But I want to make two more points.
CUOMO: Wait, let me ask you a question first, and then you can build on it for the points. Because I don't want the point to get too far past.
Contextually, you said earlier you don't want to have government running everything; you want to make sure it works in the right spaces.
CUOMO: All right. Contrast that with but on climate you're going to use emergency powers as president, which I need you to explain to people where those powers come from.
STEYER: I do.
CUOMO: And you're going to tell car companies when they can make cars and you're going to tell people how they can use their land and what businesses -- how do you reconcile those two?
STEYER: Easily. Let me say this. What I'm talking about is the government setting the rules of the road for corporations. I don't want to buy the car company. I'm not talking about taking over the electricity system. I'm talking about saying these are the rules that serve the American people.
That's what the government does, Chris. We stand -- we represent the American people's interests without any compromise, without any conflict. And that's what I'm doing here. We have to deal with this on a crisis basis. But the two points I wanted to make were this. People are talking a
lot -- I've been doing this for well over a decade. People are talking about environmental justice. I -- the way that -- the reason we've won all these fights, the reasons that I've been successful in climate is I start with environmental justice.
You want to deal with climate, people think it's a science issue. It's a human issue with a huge racial overtone. The places in this country where people can't breathe without getting asthma, can't drink the water, are black and brown communities.
I've been to Flint, Michigan. I've been to Denmark, South Carolina, where you cannot drink the water. The woman who has been leading that fight, Deanna Berry, gets a death threat every day.
Yes. So if you want to get climate right, start with the communities, the environmental justice communities of color as leaders. That's what I've done my whole time.
And the second thing is this. This is a huge boon to the United States. We need to rebuild this country in a climate-smart way. This is 4.5 million good-paying union jobs everywhere.
So when people say, "Oh, you know, we can't afford to do it," the answer is we will be better paid, richer; we'll grow faster, at the same time that we build millions of affordable housing units, because we need to do that; rebuild roads and bridges; rebuild the grid. This is the biggest job program in American history, at good wages.
So when we talk about climate, if you don't think I'm right, you should start reading more stuff.
I'm not kidding. Natalie's point is the truth. We don't have a choice on this. And everybody -- this is a perfect example. Everybody who has a perfect plan they need to get through Congress, let me just say, Congress has never passed a climate bill, ever.
CUOMO: That's, kind of, the problem, though, isn't it?
I mean, is that -- what you've been very successful at, if you guys have done your research about Mr. Steyer, is you get communities to organize and you get referenda or you get laws passed in those communities to make change. Because that's the way it's supposed to happen.
So if Congress won't do it; if you can't find a way to work with Congress to get it done, you say you'll rely on emergency powers.
You know, it's probably what bothered lawyers like myself most about what the president has done on the southern border is that he declared a national emergency, where there was no real legal basis for one, to build the wall. How do you avoid that system of abuse of power, even in the interest of a good goal?
STEYER: Well, Chris, this is a state of emergency. The truth of the matter is, everyone who reads it knows this is a state of emergency, and we can't wait on climate.
Look, there are a lot of problems. These corporations are having their way with us. If you look at the gun violence, the reason we have gun violence in this country is because gun manufacturers don't want us to solve gun violence.
It's the truth.
If you look at climate, the reason we have this climate crisis, the reason we're the only country in the world that's not part of the Paris Accord, is because oil and gas companies would rather make money for the next quarter than save the United States of America. We are in a position -- this is an emergency. This is a crisis.
And, in fact, the president has emergency powers. There are 57 of them. And that's exactly what I'm talking about doing. So, actually, this is constitutional. The abuse is when you claim a crisis is a crisis which it isn't.
The point here is this. We have to do it. I'm telling you, I've spent way more than a decade on it. We can do it. And we can do it in a way that makes us more just, richer and healthier.
We have to do it. This is the time to do it. And if no one else is pushing for this, then they're not reading the science. Because this is a human problem, but it's got a science basis. And Mother Nature is not interested in excuses for why our paper's going to be late.
CUOMO: All right. Let's bring in Steven Spector. He's in business innovation and management in Mount Pleasant, currently undecided,
QUESTION: Hey, welcome. Tom, as we just heard, you claim to be pro- environment and raising significant alarm about climate change. Yet, we have been receiving so many mailings from your campaign...
... literally three to five times per week, for months now. And canvassers from your campaign have left I can't tell you how much printed material, multiple times, at our front door. How do you justify this unnecessary overkill of mailings and printed material in a digital world that would certainly be much more environmentally friendly?
STEYER: Well, Steven, let me say this. I think we're also bombarding you with digital material. But we have tried to use only recyclable materials. And you're asking me, really -- if I can extrapolate, we really do try and use only recyclable materials.
And the second thing I want to say is this, I walk the walk in my life, in terms of climate, in terms of my footprint. I'm the only person in this race who never gets on a private plane to go to a meeting -- only person.
That's probably the single biggest climate -- you know, greenhouse gas emitter you can do anywhere in the world, is fly private.
The second thing you should know is this. My wife and I raise cattle, chicken and pigs, and we're doing it in a way to try and show that actually you can sequester carbon if you do regenerative agriculture. You can actually do that in a way that takes carbon out of the atmosphere and puts it into the soil.
So when someone asks me what's my carbon footprint, I know the -- the way that I emit carbon, but I believe, on our ranch, we are sequestering many times more greenhouse gases through what we're doing there than we're doing in everything else in our -- in our life.
And so when people say to me, "Are you walking the walk," the answer is, I am intentionally doing every single thing, including never flying private. Go look and see how much greenhouse gas is emitted every time a plane takes off. If someone's asking me, do I live up to what I'm saying in my life, the answer is yes.
CUOMO: All right. Tom Steyer...
... stay with us. We're going to take a break, and when we come back, more questions.
CUOMO: All right. Welcome back. We're live here in Charleston, South Carolina...
... a Democratic presidential town hall. We have businessman Tom Steyer with us.
Good to have you again, sir.
CUOMO: Always a pleasure.
Let me ask you a little news-of-day question: Coronavirus.
CUOMO: Everybody is hearing about it. We're trying to keep expectations in check. We do believe it's a matter of fact that it is spreading now quickly outside of China.
If and when they were to develop a vaccine, if you were president, would you mandate that Americans take the vaccine?
STEYER: If it were necessary to take the vaccine to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus through the United States, yes, I would. But let me -- I want to talk for a second about Coronavirus. Because what we're seeing is that this is a pandemic that hasn't been handled well.
You know, if you remember, in 2014, there was an Ebola outbreak in Africa. And the Republicans screamed and yelled that President Obama wasn't handling it well, that it was going to cause millions of deaths, that he was incompetent and that it was out of control.
Actually, President Obama did a fantastic job. You know, he got the Centers for Disease Control on top of it. They went over to Africa. They led the charge there. The only -- only a couple Americans died, and they got it in Africa and then came -- came back here.
So, in fact, President Obama did a fantastic job of controlling it. We're seeing the exact opposite from this president. We're seeing a president who just asked Congress for money to deal with it today. The World Health Organization declared an emergency in January.
So what we're seeing here, the Coronavirus may or may not turn into a worldwide epidemic. But what we know for sure is that it's going to have a huge impact on the world economy as we try to deal with it. They're shutting down economic activity in China, but in other parts of the world, too, because people are afraid to interact and to travel.
CUOMO: All right. Let's get you a question from Scott Mohler. He is a psychologist and leadership coach from Daniel Island, currently undecided.
QUESTION: Good evening. My question is about leadership style. Many people feel that President Trump has worsened the mess in Washington by adopting a top-down, CEO-like approach in office. You have campaigned on your success as a businessman. What's to say you wouldn't try to lead the country in the same kind of autocratic manner?
STEYER: Well, Scott, that's a fair question. It just isn't true about me. My attitude about how I like to relate to people, in any organization that I'm in -- and let me say, I've started one of the largest grassroots organizations in the United States, and this is exactly how we do that, and it's how my campaign works.
I am somebody who played team sports my entire life. The actual -- I'm not a hierarchical person. In fact, the way that I like to relate to people is to have people work together where you have your role and you trust the other people on the team to do their job, and then you coordinate together.
So, in fact, what you're describing is the exact opposite of the way I like to work. I like to work from the bottom up in a grassroots way. If I'm going to come to South Carolina to talk about environmental justice, then I want to go to Denmark and meet the people in Denmark, South Carolina, and listen to them about what's going on in the ground.
I am someone who trusts -- to me, the key question is, do you get the right people? You have to trust them to do their jobs. They have to trust you. In fact, I have a completely different way of running an organization than Mr. Trump. Actually, I'm someone who's a team builder, who believes in data, who believes in actually -- when I look at his foreign policy, he's doing the exact same thing. He doesn't believe in values. He doesn't believe in teams.
I believe in the old business saying that culture -- that who you are and the values that you live and espouse are the most important thing, because strategy comes out of values. Mr. Trump doesn't have any values that I can see.
CUOMO: Got a question, get your perspective on this. The Democratic Party spends a lot of time talking about not wanting money in politics, OK? There was a time when you were known as the guy who was spending a lot of your own money, like up to $200 million on the campaign.
But now you've got another guy in the race named Michael Bloomberg, who's making you look thrifty when it comes to spending your own money. He's at about nearly $500 million. His commitments, we know, go to a billion or more. How much is too much money to put into a campaign?
STEYER: Look, my experience in what I've done in everything is, if I see a big problem in the United States, I try and go after it as hard as I can and put in time and effort and money. If you look at what I've done in South Carolina, I've spent more time on the ground in South Carolina than anybody else. I've traveled around this state. I've met people. I've -- you know, I have -- when I talk about environmental justice, I've been to Denmark. You know, I have talked to people who are doubling up in apartments with two families in one two-bedroom apartment with one bathroom, where everybody in the family is working. That's how bad the wages are here.
I've talked to people who are -- whose relatives in the last month have died because they live in a health desert. And so when somebody gets in an accident or has a heart attack, they don't get to the hospital in time, they die.
So when I think about what I believe in politics, the most important thing I believe in is meet the people, listen to them, and have a message that's differential and see if people believe that your message is what counts and that your heart is in the right place.
So when I listen to Mr. Bloomberg, my attitude about Mike is simple. What's your message? Is your heart in the right place? And so to me, I've said since he started, you want to represent the Democratic Party? You want to wear the diverse party that represents working people across this country? You want to represent that, you want to represent the values of this party? Then you have to be for a wealth tax, particularly a rich guy like you, because...
... what we're seeing is unbearable inequality in this country. Unbearable inequality in terms of how much money people make, unbearable inequality in the most unfair tax regime I've ever seen, where rich people pay lower percentage of their income than working people.
That is so un-American that it's hard to believe that it's true.
And I think if you want to represent the Democratic Party, you have to realize that facing up to and reversing this inequality is job one. If you aren't going to fight for the working people of this country, then you shouldn't represent the Democratic Party.
And if Mike Bloomberg wants to have the right message, he should do that. And then everybody can listen to what he has to say and decide for themselves. Is what he's saying true? Is his heart in the right place? That's my answer.
CUOMO: All right, let's get another question. Roxanne Scott, a psychiatrist here in Charleston, currently undecided. Doctor?
QUESTION: Tom, thank you for taking my question tonight. As African- Americans, my husband and I are fortunate to have obtained a college education. However, we find ourselves still paying for student loans while we have two students in college. Do you have a plan to reduce student loan debt for middle-class individuals? And how do you plan to pay for it?
STEYER: So let me say this. I believe that a college education has to be affordable for everybody in the United States. Forty-four million people have student debt, and half of them have delayed getting married or having a kid because of it. So you can see it's as personal a situation as is possible. What I'm talking about is two years of free community college, a 1
percent interest rate. One of the biggest issues with student loans is people start with $25,000 or $30,000 of debt and they end up paying off $80,000 to $100,000 in debt. What I'm saying is, we subsidize the interest rate. Every dollar you pay goes to reduce the principal. So if you have $25,000, you pay down $25,000.
And lastly, if you do a job where you're working on behalf of the country or the community -- so if you're in the military, you're a teacher, you're a nurse, you're a social worker, after 10 years, it just goes away.
What we're seeing here -- and let me say something else. We're in South Carolina. I've said almost every single policy issue in the United States has a substantial racial subtext. I'm the person who believes that we should put $125 billion over 10 years into the historically black colleges and universities.
And I want to do it because they've worked, because there's a reason they exist, which is black kids weren't allowed to go to the mainline colleges and universities. Those schools have produced over half the black generals, judges, doctors, teachers, and engineers. And they're starved for money, and they have high tuition as a result.
I'm talking about putting in somewhere between 30 -- every single year, 30 times more than what they're getting now from the federal government, so that we can reduce tuition, so that, in fact, those institutions can flourish at a level they never have before. And they deserve it. And it's important to the kids and it's important to the communities where they reside.
CUOMO: Another question, from Marlayah Legare, student at the College of Charleston, currently undecided. Marlayah?
QUESTION: Good afternoon, Mr. Tom. So reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor, in 2018, the proportion of people with disabilities employed within the population was 19.1 percent, while for people without disabilities, is, was 65.9 percent. If chosen to be the president of the United States of America, how would your policies improve employment rates and equal employment opportunities for persons with disabilities?
STEYER: So, Marlayah, I know that the government has fallen down on its responsibilities to support people with disabilities, starting with education. The government has never funded what it has promised it would pay for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The federal government said it would pay 40 percent of the cost. It pays about a quarter that much. And that means that it's relied on states to do it, and it's really let it down.
The other thing that's true is we know for people with serious disabilities to work outside the home, they need to be supported in the home so that they can actually get to their job. If, in fact, they don't get that support, they really can't work outside the home.
In addition, we can't allow people to pay people with disabilities less as a result of that disability.
Honestly, look, this is a perfect example of why we need a government, because we need to be investing and supporting people across this country, including specifically people with disabilities, so that they can live as full a life as possible and contribute to society as much as possible. That's exactly what I would like to do. OK?
CUOMO: Marlayah, thank you.
We're got another question from Jared Coseglia, he's founder and CEO of a recruiting company, from Folly Beach. He's currently undecided, leaning toward Buttigieg. Jared?
QUESTION: Thank you, Chris. Hi, Tom.
STEYER: Hey, Jared, how you doing?
QUESTION: Well, thank you. My family and I recently moved to Charleston, South Carolina. We have a 2-year-old and a 14-week-old.
QUESTION: Thank you, it's been busy.
I think about what life will be like for my kids as they start going to school. What is the first thing you would do to combat against future school shootings in this country if you are elected president?
STEYER: We have -- we have an unacceptable level of gun violence in this country. And the number of mass shootings and mass killings in this country dwarves any other country. We had 400 last year. Other countries have three or less.
We also have to remember that we have spousal-related gun violence at a level that's wildly unacceptable. We have streets here in South Carolina that people are scared to walk down because of gun violence. And 60 percent of gun-related deaths are suicides. We have a gun violence epidemic. And one of the most painful aspects of it is the idea that we're doing active-shooter drills in public schools in first grade.
So what am I in favor of? I know that corporations have bought this government. I know over 90 percent of Americans -- Democrats, Republicans and independents -- want mandatory background checks on every gun purchase. And we can't get it through the Senate of the United States because the gun manufacturers own the Senate of the United States.
So if you look at what I'm for, I am for mandatory background checks. I am for licensing gun-owners. We license car-owners. We should license gun-owners. I'm for registering every AR. I'm for forbidding the sale of future assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. I'm for red flag laws. In fact, I'm for voluntary repurchase of assault weapons.
So in order for us to pass this legislation, we actually have to take back this government, because the Senate of the United States under Mitch McConnell won't consider any of those things, even though 90 percent of Americans want some of them.
So you guys should know, I'm for term limits of 12 years for senators and congresspeople.
And if we want real change, we need new and different people in charge. We need it.
And, you know, look, the six-word argument for term limits: Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz. Twelve year terms -- you want to change this?
QUESTION: Peyton Russell is next. He's a student at the College of Charleston, undecided, welcome.
QUESTION: Thank you for being here, and thank you for fielding my question. As we've seen in South Carolina and in Charleston, especially, homegrown terrorism has become a more prominent issue in recent times. Will you be willing to declare Neo-Nazi, alt-right, and other violent white power groups terrorist organizations? If not, why?
STEYER: Peyton, of course I will. They are terrorist organizations.
And let me talk for a second, though. Look, I've been saying that there is a racial subtext to almost every policy area in the United States. And I'm the person running who's for reparations for slavery, because I believe that we need to tell the true story of the last 400- plus years of the African-American experience in the United States.
Because if you want to get a just policy, you have to tell a true narrative of how we got here. I would start a formal commission on race the first day of my presidency. It would be solutions-oriented. But the idea would be to tell the story of systematic, legal discrimination, injustice, and cruelty for over 400 years. But it would also be the story of over 400 years of African-American
contribution to the United States of America, not just who built this country, but the moral leadership that
the African-American community has given to the entire country for generations and centuries.
CUOMO: Let me ask you for a step more down on the road with the commission, because the wrong is obvious. Right? The remedy is what has to be discussed. If the commission suggested direct cash payments to the descendants of slaves, do you support the recommendation of the commission?
STEYER: Yes. Look, the point is this. What I started by saying was, just policy comes out of true narrative. If you want an unjust policy, tell a lie about somebody. If you want to torture Latino kids, say their parents are rapists and murderers to justify it.
If you want to tell the truth about the African-American experience here, and you -- how did we get here? If we want to figure out how to repair the wrong together, we have to go back and tell the story of what's happened, so that we understand how we got here, so together we come up with the right solution, Chris.
It would be inappropriate for me to mandate the solution. This is something that we have to work through together, but there has -- that's why, when I was talking about the historically black colleges and universities, there's a narrative there about why those schools are so important. There's a narrative about how they've performed. There is a policy that comes out of those truths that is inescapable.
And I believe -- look, the -- I'm not kidding about this moral leadership. If you go back -- one of the things that's true. George W. Bush got war powers to fight the war on terror that were virtually unlimited. And it's turned out to be a big mistake. I think most people recognize that.
There are 435 congresspeople and 100 senators in the United States; 434 congresspeople and 100 senators voted for that. One person voted against it -- a black congresswoman from Oakland, Barbara Lee.
It's not a fluke. There has been moral leadership from African- Americans before Dr. King, long before Dr. King, and after Dr. King's assassination. And it is time for Americans to realize that that's been going on, the contribution has been magnificent. And it's time for us to go back through that history, figure out all the things that were done wrong, and repair them, so that we can move on together. That's what I'm talking about.
CUOMO: All right, let's take a break. We'll get more questions for Tom Steyer right after this.
CUOMO: All right, welcome back. We're live from Charleston, South Carolina, with businessman Tom Steyer.
All right. Got a question for you from the people here from Bridget Dewess, an assistant vice president at Claflin University, currently undecided. Bridget, welcome.
QUESTION: Thank you, Tom. My only son, who will be 18 and voting for the first time in 2020, what are you doing to appeal to his generation to make him feel like you have his best interest at heart as he enters college? By the way, he's totally discouraged by the political scene and is undecided.
STEYER: So, Bridget, you should know that I started a grassroots organization called Next Gen America that organizes people between the ages of 18 and 35, and in 2018 did the largest youth voter mobilization in American history. So we talk to millions of kids who are your son's age.
And I can tell you -- they voted half the rate of other American citizens. It's the biggest generation in America, bigger than the boomers. Most diverse generation in American history. Most progressive generation in America. And we always ask them why they don't vote. And they say nobody tells the truth, both parties are serving themselves. This government is bought by corporation. It's a failed system. Why would I participate? And that's the start of the conversation.
But when we ask them what they care about, they normally come back with four big issues: health care, cost of college, racial justice, and climate.
And let me say this. Not only have I been organizing young people because I believe we don't have a democracy if the biggest generation is voting at 20 percent. If one out of five 18-year-olds is voting, that's not an effective democracy. That's a broken system.
But the second thing I can say is this. Of those four issues, climate -- this is Charleston, South Carolina. Climate is a real issue for Charleston. It is for every place in the United States, but especially here.
I am making my stand on climate. Chris Cuomo is telling me I'm being too aggressive on climate. I'm telling you, I'm doing what has to be done.
I'm talking about race, racial justice. I'm the person here standing up and saying there's a racial subtext to almost everything, I'm for reparations for slavery. We're talking -- I gave you my plan in terms of making college
affordable for every kid. And let me say this about health care. I'm not one of the people who believe the government should take over the health care system. I believe every American has a constitutional right to affordable health care in the 21st century. I believe the government has to drive down that cost. But I believe we can do it by putting a public option on the Affordable Care Act, by building on the Affordable Care Act, and leave people a choice. If they to keep getting their health care through their employer, do it.
So in answer to your son, let me say this. I have worked on these issues for decades. My heart is in these issues. I am here in South Carolina, I've been on the ground in South Carolina meeting people more than anybody else.
I am doing this because I am absolutely committed to the work and the values.
And you should tell him that, no matter what, win, lose, or draw, I will never stop working on these issues. I will never take a step back. And I will never give in to the Republicans.
CUOMO: Mr. Steyer, thank you very much.
STEYER: Chris Cuomo.
CUOMO: Appreciate you being here.
All right. So that was Tom Steyer. The CNN Democratic presidential town halls from South Carolina will continue this Wednesday. We have former New York City Mayor Bloomberg, former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Amy Klobuchar, and Senator Elizabeth Warren. It starts at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
We want to thank our studio audience tonight for their questions, the Memminger Auditorium for hosting us, and, of course, the College of Charleston for their help with the event.
Stay tuned. "AC 360" is coming up right now. Thank you very much.