CNN town halls with Steve Bullock and Bill de Blasio

By Meg Wagner and Dan Merica, CNN

Updated 8:06 p.m. ET, August 25, 2019
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7:44 p.m. ET, August 25, 2019

De Blasio says Eric Garner case showed "we had to do pretty much everything differently"

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, during a contentious answer that drew shouts from at least one audience member, said Sunday that the death of Eric Garner at the hands of officer Daniel Pantaleo in 2014 taught him that the city “had to do pretty much everything differently.”

Five years after Garner’s death, Pantaleo was fired from the New York Police Department a week ago. De Blasio had blamed the Department of Justice over the handling of the case, but that explanation did not satisfy many in New York, some of whom vocally and directly protested the mayor.

“The first thing to say is Eric Garner should not have died, and then the next thing to say is there can never be another Eric Garner in this city or any place else in this country,” de Blasio said. “And it can be stopped.”

“What we learned immediately after the tragedy of Eric Garner was we had to do pretty much everything differently,” de Blasio said, citing implicit bias training, body cameras and retraining officers on de-escalation techniques.

Pantaleo was found guilty in a disciplinary trial earlier this month of using a chokehold on Garner, the New York man whose final words -- “I can’t breathe” -- became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.

“There needs to be federal leadership that says de-escalation training, implicit bias training, body cameras, every police officer in America should have those. Every single one,” he said. “That’s how we end the tragedies.”

After de Blasio blamed the federal government for the five-year process to fire Pantaleo, a woman in the audience shouted, “What about Lieutenant Bannon? What about officer Ramos? What about other officers?”

De Blasio did not answer the woman’s question.

Watch the moment:

7:27 p.m. ET, August 25, 2019

De Blasio was just asked how he'd support US troops' mental health

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was just asked about how he'd ensure US military troops receive proper mental healths services.

"How can we assure you will support our troops' mental health and wellbeing when there's an evident lack of support of the men and women of the New York City police department, who have a higher than average suicide rate with nine suicides this year?" a NYPD police officer in the audience asked.

First, some background: At least nine New York City police officers have died from suicide this year. Seven of those deaths have happened since June: The recent cluster has rattled the department, with leaders trying to come up with a way to tell the rank and file that it's OK to ask for help.

De Blasio said the question was "so important," adding, we have "got to do a lot more for our officers."

"We got to do a lot more for those who serve us in the armed forces because right now in America we are not honest about mental health. That's just a truth," he said.

De Blasio said New York City is working on measures to make sure "every police officer has someone they can turn to" and said teams are striving to "do a better job allowing first responders to get the therapy and mental health services they need."

He added: "But this is part of a bigger reality. I just want to say this election may be the first election in American history where mental health is front and center as an issue."

De Blasio said he was 18 years old when his father, a decorated war hero who volunteered after the attack on Pearl Harbor to serve in World War II, committed suicide.

He said his father's physical injuries from war were "bad enough," but "the emotional toll was even greater."

"What I remember seeing was this really good, honorable, man just falling apart, and he, you know — people, some people tried to offer help. He didn't know how to accept it," de Blasio said.

Watch the moment:

7:12 p.m. ET, August 25, 2019

De Blasio: "I really don’t see the divide" between urban and rural Americans

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio argued on Sunday that the divide between urban and rural America, a rift that is seen as widening in recent years, is not as stark as most people believe.

De Blasio argued that all Americans want generally the same from life, telling the audience at a CNN town hall that people in “rural counties” and “folks who live in smaller town” are asking him about “literally nearly identical (issues) to what I heard from my constituents here in the five boroughs.”

“I really don’t see the divide as much as I think it’s projected to all of us,” de Blasio said. “I think there’s a lot more commonality of feeling and interest.”

The divide between urban and rural voters was most stark during the 2016 election, where President Donald Trump overwhelmingly won rural voters in 2016, while urban voters backed Democrat Hillary Clinton.

But de Blasio said that divide is not as clear as it was on Election Day in 2016.

“I actually think Americans over the years have come to have a lot more in common and so I would argue to you what matters here is being able to speak to the hearts of Americans about their reality,” he said.

7:00 p.m. ET, August 25, 2019

Here's where de Blasio stands on key issues

Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has enjoyed success in his city on several progressive issues such as universal pre-K, raising the minimum wage and expanding paid sick leave for workers.

Here are his current positions on these key issues:

Education: De Blasio said at the first Democratic debate that the party should support “free public college for our young people.” Under de Blasio, New York City created a universal public pre-K system, which he’s held out as a success.

Health care: De Blasio argues that health care should be a right and supports moving to a government-run system like “Medicare for All” — which would create a national government-backed health care plan — as well as abolishing private health insurance. He has said he supports state moves to create public health programs in the absence of a federal system.

Climate crisis: De Blasio supports the Green New Deal, the broad plan to address renewable-energy infrastructure and climate change proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and in April announced a $14 billion version for New York. New York City’s plan aims to cut carbon emissions by 40% from the 2005 baseline by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050. De Blasio also supports the Paris climate agreement and signed an executive order to hold New York City to the standards of the agreement.

Gun violence: De Blasio is a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition organized by Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun control group largely financed by de Blasio’s predecessor Michael Bloomberg. In June, de Blasio called on New York City’s pension funds to divest from makers of so-called assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Immigration: De Blasio has taken concrete steps in New York to extend services and civil protections to undocumented immigrants, including granting them access to city ID cards and free legal advice. He has campaigned for immigration revisions, including giving some undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children a pathway to citizenship.

Economy: He’s expressed support for repealing Trump’s 2017 tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations. In July, he introduced a “Fair Share” tax plan that includes a tax on assets over $10 million, a tax of 50%-60% on inheritances worth more than $1 million and an increase in top marginal tax rates on income to 50% for incomes between $1 million and $2 million and 60% for incomes over $2 million. He would also impose a one-time tax of 40% on assets above $50 million for anyone who renounces their US citizenship – what he calls a “turncoat tax.” He is calling for a $15 minimum hourly wage, paid sick leave and stronger worker protections through his 21st Century Workers Bill of Rights.

7:36 p.m. ET, August 25, 2019

Bullock on running for Senate: ‘That is an absolute no’

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Democrats begging him to run for Senate in 2020 is out of the question, telling the audience at Sunday's CNN town hall that he would emphatically not run against Republican Sen. Steve Daines.

“So that’s an absolute no,” CNN’s Alisyn Camerota asked.

“That’s an absolute no,” Bullock responded.

Bullock said his opposition to running for Senate, in large part, stems from his lack of interest to work in a legislature – something he has never done in his career – and his desire to spend time with his children.

“I know President Obama had dinner with his kids a lot more than I would as a senator from Montana,” Bullock said.

“We’re going to have good candidates in Montana. Not everybody knows everyone in Montana. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that we elect somebody,” Bullock said. “But for me, part of it is professional. Meaning the whole time I’ve served as an executive, I’ve been able to bring people together to get things done. I think that’s where my talents are best suited.”

As eager as Democrats are to oust President Donald Trump from office, many are worried about the US Senate, where the Democratic Party is currently in the minority. That concern has extended to the presidential race, where a number of Democrats from states with important Senate races are vying for the top job.

Calls for Bullock to run for Senate grew louder recently when former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper bowed out of the presidential race and decided to run for Senate.

Bullock also got the question during a commercial break; an audience member asked the governor why he wasn’t considering it.

“We do have some good people in Montana. I think as we look at this, we also gotta figure out why are we losing places like North Dakota, why are we losing Indiana? Why is it 22 states now completely controlled by Republicans,” Bullock asked.

He added: “To be honest, I have young kids. I would actually never get to see those kids. President Obama ate dinner with his kids a lot more than I ever would, and I can’t miss their whole lives.”

Watch the moment:

6:56 p.m. ET, August 25, 2019

Bullock on Medicare for All: "I don’t think the best way is to start all over"

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock defended his opposition to the single payer "Medicare for All" proposal on Sunday in his CNN town hall, setting him apart from more progressive Democrats running for president like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Bullock said the “greatest stride” the country has made on health care is Obamacare, the sweeping health care law signed by President Barack Obama.

“I don’t think the best way is to start all over. I don’t want to take away employer sponsored health care,” Bullock said. “I look at this as an add-on, not a complete teardown.”

He added: “The way we get to full access and affordability isn’t to start over. It’s to build on what we have.”

Medicare for All would shift control over the health care system to the federal government and essentially eliminate the private insurance industry.

Bullock’s list of concerns also include taxes. He told the audience here in New York that Medicare for All “would increase taxes on everyone in this country.”

Bullock said, as president, he would support a public option and would issue he would all the ability for the federal government to negotiate drug prices, thereby lowering costs.

6:44 p.m. ET, August 25, 2019

Bullock: We can be carbon neutral "by 2040 or even earlier"

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said he believed that reaching net zero carbon emissions could happen within the next couple decades.

"The scientists say we have to be net zero — carbon neutral, effectively — as a world by 2050. I think we can do it by 2040 or even earlier," he said.

Bullock said the first step toward addressing the climate crisis would be to rejoin the the Paris climate accord, the 2015 agreement among more than 200 nations to combat climate change.

The United States ratified the agreement, but President Donald Trump announced in June 2017 that the US would withdraw from it — although it cannot formally leave until November 2020.

Bullock went on to slam the Republican party, saying the GOP is "literally ... the only major political party that denies that the climate change is real and human caused."

"We can't wait another 35 years. We need to take immediate and durable steps," he said.

Moments later, Bullock was asked about the coal industry, and if the economic gains the fossil fuel industry brings to his home state of Montana outweigh the climate crisis.

"I think we have to address the climate crisis and we can," he said.

He added that he's the only candidate whose state is directly impacted by the Keystone Pipeline. The next phase of the controversial oil system would run right through Montana.

6:34 p.m. ET, August 25, 2019

Bullock defends supporting the death penalty in "very, very limited" cases

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock explained his support for the death penalty in “very, very limited” cases, a view that is out of step with many of his 2020 Democratic opponents.

“I don’t think like the Oklahoma City bomber or someone that goes into a house of worship (and kills) congregants in prayer and the only reason of killing them is because of the color of their skin, I think they forfeited their right to comfortably live the rest of their life,” Bullock said.

Bullock said he understands that the death penalty has a “disproportionate” impact on people of color.

“I went to law school because I wanted to believe that justice was blind and not based on income,” he said. “And I’ll do everything I can to make sure that’s the case.”

But Bullock said he still supports the death penalty “only in very, very limited areas like domestic terrorism.”

6:16 p.m. ET, August 25, 2019

Bullock blames NRA for lack of action on guns

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock blamed the National Rifle Association, an organization that he said was just a “gun safety and hunting organization” when he was young, for stalling any movement on gun control legislation.

Bullock only came out in favor of universal background checks in 2018, far later than most Democrats, and he comes from a state with a proud culture of gun ownership and hunting.

But Bullock explained on Sunday that he softened his position on guns because of the 2018 shooting at Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead and listening to his children after the shooting.

“I’ll give you a reason why we can’t look at it as just a public health issue. In fact, I’ll give you 30 million reasons. That’s how much the NRA spent to make sure that Donald Trump was elected,” Bullock said. “When I was growing up, the NRA used to be a gun safety and hunting organization. Now it’s a dark money field, political organization, that does nothing than drive us apart.”

Bullock maintained his opposition to mandatory buybacks of assault weapons, telling CNN that “we can get (to a safer country) without a mandatory buyback system.”

“What I propose is voluntary buybacks,” Bullock said.