CNN town hall with Sanders, Buttigieg and Steyer

By Kyle Blaine, Eric Bradner, Dan Merica and Kate Sullivan, CNN

Updated 12:40 a.m. ET, February 25, 2020
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11:31 p.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Steyer says Sanders shouldn’t praise Castro regime for literacy efforts

From CNN's Eric Bradner

Edward M. PioRoda/CNN
Edward M. PioRoda/CNN

Tom Steyer said it is “inappropriate” for Bernie Sanders to praise former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s regime for its literacy efforts.

The businessman said he would never praise “unelected leaders of countries who completely control without any form of democracy, justice or equality.” 

Steyer’s comments come as Sanders faces backlash for saying that Castro’s regime had succeeded in some ways, and cited literacy as an example. The Vermont senator stood by those comments in a CNN town hall Monday night, saying that “the truth is the truth.” 

But Steyer said of Castro, who died in 2016: “He's had the government own the economy and people are hungry and he's been a cruel controller of the country. I don't think it's appropriate to be giving him a lot of compliments.” 

“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,” Steyer said. 

See the moment:

11:24 p.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Steyer: “The people of America haven't spoken just yet”

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

Edward M. PioRoda/CNN
Edward M. PioRoda/CNN

Tom Steyer said the American people haven’t spoken “just yet” when asked how he would combat Bernie Sanders’ momentum in the presidential race.

CNN’s Chris Cuomo pointed out that Sanders won Nevada, New Hampshire and had a strong showing in Iowa, where results are still being examined and Pete Buttigieg holds a narrow lead over Sanders. 

“You are in a hole versus (Sanders) in terms of how those results have gone,” Cuomo said. “Do you have a plan to change your fate?”

The billionaire businessman responded, “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 said South Carolina is a diverse state with a high proportion of African Americans and Latinos, and reflects the Democratic Party and the United States. 

“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."

“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,” Steyer said. 

“That is so early and premature, I can't believe it,” he continued.

Hear Steyer’s response:

11:16 p.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Steyer comes out and immediately hits Sanders

From CNN's Gregory Krieg

Edward M. PioRoda/CNN
Edward M. PioRoda/CNN

Businessman Tom Steyer had barely said hello before he began taking his shot at the Democratic front-runner.

"I know there’s been a lot of talk this week about Bernie Sanders," Steyer said. "And I think we all owe Bernie Sanders a lot of thanks for bringing up real issues that are confronting America and Americans."

The crowd cheered. Then Steyer got to his criticism.

"But 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," Steyer said. "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."

The answer, Steyer argued, was to “break the corporate stranglehold” on the government.


11:12 p.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Buttigieg on three things the American people don’t already know about him

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

Edward M. PioRoda/CNN
Edward M. PioRoda/CNN

Pete Buttigieg was asked to tell the town hall audience three things the American people don’t already know about him. 

“That's a hard one, just because I feel like when you run for president, somebody once called it an MRI of the soul. By the end of it, or frankly by the middle of it, you feel like people have gotten to know just about everything about you,” Buttigieg said.

“I’ll mention one,” Buttigieg continued.

“People keep asking me why I'm not more outwardly emotional, and one of the things I think people don't know about me is how passionate I am.”

“It’s probably why I’ve learned to deal with things in a way that tries to be as calm as possible, because I feel so passionate about things I see going on around the world and things I see happening right around me,” he continued.

The former mayor said the American people probably “don't know as much about the things I'm bad at because you don't advertise those, although I think people are beginning to learn I can't dance.” 

“I just can’t,” Buttigieg said. “Exactly. Somebody saw me doing the — I won’t even do it, the raise the roof thing,” he joked, raising his hands above his head for a moment. 

He said his favorite food is beef jerky, and said he is “pretty well-behaved” when asked by CNN's Don Lemon if he eats in the middle of the night.

Hear Buttigieg’s answer:

11:06 p.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Buttigieg: “This President's idea of keeping us safe is a big wall”

From CNN's Eric Bradner

Edward M. PioRoda/CNN
Edward M. PioRoda/CNN

Pete Buttigieg turned a question about how he would handle the threat of the coronavirus into an attack on President Donald Trump’s push for a wall on the US-Mexico border. 

“We have to meet 21st Century security threats with a forward looking policy. This President's idea of keeping us safe is a big wall. That's a 17th Century security solution,” he said. 

The former South Bend, Indiana, mayor said his coronavirus response would focus on coordination across the federal government. 

Buttigieg also said it was crucial to “restore the credibility of the United States in the rest of the world.” 

“The virus does not care what country it is in, and in order to deal with an issue like that, you need international partnerships and global relationships of the very kind that this president is tearing to shreds on an almost daily basis,” he said. 

Watch the moment:

11:05 p.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Steyer's town hall starts now


Businessman Tom Steyer has taken the stage. CNN's Chris Cuomo is moderating.

11:00 p.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Buttigieg recalls 9-year-old asking him how to be brave in telling people he is gay

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

Edward M. PioRoda/CNN
Edward M. PioRoda/CNN

Pete Buttigieg recalled a campaign event in Colorado where a 9-year-old asked the former mayor for advice on how to be brave in telling other people that he is gay. 

“If you’re a 9-year-old asking that publicly around thousands of people, you don't need any lessons from me on bravery,” Buttigieg said. 

“And that’s more or less what I told him,” he continued. “Although I gave him the best advice that I could for the future, which is mainly just to let him know that even if it's not always easy, that I was going to be rooting for him and other people were, too.”

“There have been so many moments like that. Whether it's a young person who is wondering where they fit, and this campaign sends a signal to them that they belong,” he said. 

“Or people I meet sometimes who are my parents' age who come up to me, sometimes with tears in their eyes, to let me know they never thought this day would come, that this would even be possible,” Buttigieg continued.

“And that whole thing makes me hopeful,” he said.

See Buttigieg's response:

10:55 p.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Buttigieg: Religious non-profits should not receive federal funding if they discriminate

From CNN's Dan Merica

Edward M. PioRoda/CNN
Edward M. PioRoda/CNN

Pete Buttigieg said Monday that all non-profit institutions, including colleges and shelters, should lose their federal funding if they refuse to hire LGBTQ Americans.

“Do you believe other religious and non-profit institutions like colleges and homeless charities should lose federal funding if they refuse to hire or serve LGBTQ people,” CNN’s Don Lemon asked Buttigieg.

“Yes,” he said, “if they are discriminating then they should not be doing it with federal dollars.”

The response came after Buttigieg was asked by a voter about how he would uphold the separation of church and state, particularly when it comes to federal funding.

“It’s very simple. I believe that federal funding should never be used to discriminate,” he said. “It’s a basic principle. I feel this way as citizen and a person of faith.”

He added: “Of course it is so important to the fabric of the country that people of every religion and of no religion can practice their faith to the best of their conscience. But like any other freedom, that freedom ends where it you begin to invoke it to harm other people.”

Watch the moment:

10:38 p.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Buttigieg on Sanders: “I’m the only one who’s beat him this year”

From CNN's Eric Bradner

Edward M. PioRoda/CNN
Edward M. PioRoda/CNN

Pete Buttigieg said he hasn’t spoken with any Democratic presidential rivals about consolidating the field so that one moderate alternative to Bernie Sanders emerges. 

The former South Bend, Indiana, mayor said that “of course I think it would be beneficial if everybody else were to drop out and support” his campaign. 

He said he’s demonstrated that he has support across the ideological spectrum, and noted his apparent win in Iowa, where he and Sanders are virtually tied in state delegate equivalents. Sanders then won the New Hampshire primary and the Nevada caucuses. 

“I’m the best alternative to Sen. Sanders because I’m the only one who’s beat him this year, anywhere,” he said. 

Hear his response: