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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Town Hall with Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CA), Presidential Candidate. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired May 30, 2019 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[22:00:00]

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DANA BASH, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good evening from the CNN Center in Atlanta. Welcome to CNN's Democratic Presidential Town Hall with Senator Michael Bennet. I'm Dana Bash.

Bennett is a Democratic senator from Colorado vying for a chance to take on President Trump. Before going to Washington, he served as superintendent of the Denver Public School System. Public service runs in Bennet's family. His father worked in the Carter and Clinton administrations. His grandfather was an adviser to FDR, and tonight, Senator Bennett will take questions from Democrats and Independents who say they plan to participate in the Democratic primaries and caucuses.

Now, please welcome Senator Michael Bennet.

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SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D), COLORADO: (INAUDIBLE) Hello. Thank you.

BASH: Hi Senator.

BENNET: Hi Dana. How are you?

BASH: Thank you so much.

BENNET: Thank you for having me. Nice to see you. Thank you.

BASH: Senator, have a seat.

Senator, I want to start with some breaking news this evening and that is the president, I'm sure you saw, announced that on June 10th, the United States will impose a 5 percent tariff that could increase to 25 percent on all goods from Mexico until quote, "Illegal migrants coming through Mexico and into our country stop." How would a President Bennet handle that situation?

BENNET: President Bennett would work with the countries in our hemisphere to stop this refugee crisis. A President Bennet would stop behaving as though the United States is a weak country and can't handle a refugee crisis on our border. A President Bennet would not erect tariffs that are just another tax on American workers and American farmers and ranchers, the last moment they need them.

Commodity prices are already low in this country. People in the Midwest are getting hammered with terrible rains and in my state, hammered with terrible drought. And President Trump has made matters worse for them already and he's going to make it even worse now. BASH: OK, let's get straight to the audience. Our first question comes from Justin Ash. He works as an insurance adjuster and supports former Vice President Joe Biden. Justin. JUSTIN ASH, AUDIENCE MEMBER: Good evening, Senator. Thank you for being here.

President Trump has possibly broken numerous laws. Do you plan on, if elected, requiring your attorney general to investigate him and if violations are found, prosecuting him after he's out of office? Or will you pardon the president for all crimes committed if it's found he did so, including members of his administration?

BENNET: I certainly wouldn't pardon him and I think we should investigate him if we believe that that's what's called for by the rule rule of law. And in the meantime, what we need to do is beat him to make sure that he's just a one-term president.

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BASH: Let me ask you a followup on a related issue. Robert Mueller said yesterday, quote, "If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would've said so." Given that, where do you stand now on impeachment?

BENNET: Well, listen, I think Bob Mueller made it very clear that Congress needs to do its job and I believe that Congress needs to do its job. I've read the Mueller Report. I heard what Bob Mueller said yesterday. I believe President Trump has probably committed impeachable offenses and I think Bob Mueller should come to Congress and testify. Congress should subpoena other people, and if the president doesn't allow them to testify, we should go to the courts and insist that they testify. And we should follow where the evidence leads.

We need to follow this process though. There are a lot of tweets going out today about what we should do, impeach or not impeach and all this stuff. It is very important that we take a page out of history and do what they did with Watergate, which was to make sure the American people understood really what was at stake.

If we go down the road tomorrow and impeach President Trump, we're actually giving him a favor. That's what he wants, to be able to say he was railroaded, and then to have the impeachment from the House go to the Senate where I guarantee you Mitch McConnell and the Republicans are not going to convict Donald Trump. They're going to acquit Donald Trump, and then he's going to run for president saying he was acquitted.

BASH: You mentioned the tweets. I'm sure you're referring to several of your democratic competitors saying now that they do believe that at least impeachment proceedings should begin. Why are they wrong just on that? BENNET: I think that we should call them, you know, Russia proceedings involving the president or whatever it is we want to call them. If that leads us to impeachment, it leads us to impeachment. I wouldn't be surprised if it did. I say the president, in my view, I think he committed impeachable offenses, but we have to go through the process.

And to me, it's one of the problems with our politics today is we want to go out and tweet and immediately react, race to judgment, and we need to be more strategic than that. We need to be smarter than that. That's one of the reasons why we have a climate denier in the White House even though the vast majority of Americans believe that climate change is real and we need to do something about it.

And I'm tired of losing to these guys. You know, I'm tired of losing to Mitch McConnell, I'm tired of losing to a guy like Donald Trump who never should have won the presidency to begin with. So I'm not saying we shouldn't follow this evidence where it leads, but I am saying we should bring the American people along for the journey so that they can also help us make a judgment about what the right thing to do is.

BASH: OK Senator, let's get back to the audience.

Kristina LaPlant is a PhD student studying political science at Georgia State University.

KRISTINA LAPLANT, AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you, Senator. Recently, the governor of our state signed House Bill 481 into law, which severely restricts women's access to abortion. In a world that becomes more technologically advanced with each day's passing, state governments across the country are responding by restricting women's rights and not expanding them. So as president, what would you do to ensure that women and not the government have the right to make decisions about their own bodies?

BENNET: That's a easy, short answer for me. Everything I possibly can do to make sure Roe versus Wade is the law of the land and to make sure that women make these decisions, not the government. And that's the way it ought to be in this country.

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BASH: Can you be more specific? What does that mean in real practical terms?

BENNET: Well, I mean, what does it mean? I think it means making sure that the judges I appoint are judges that will uphold the precedent of Roe versus Wade to begin with. It means making sure that -- I think Kamala Harris had a good idea the other day. I haven't had a chance to study it, but her idea that the Justice Department ought to have something to say if states have lost court battles and then put further restrictions on women as we had with civil rights, the Civil Rights Division, I think that's a really interesting idea too.

Make -- you know, this is what's happening in this country. Women's reproductive rights are under assault all over the United States. Women's healthcare is under assault all over the United States. We have managed in the Senate to be able to hold it back, but that doesn't mean there are not huge parts of America where - Texas is a good example - where Planned Parenthood is stripped of any ability to serve women. And, you know, that's not the way it ought to work.

Jon Tester, who's my friend from Montana who just won reelection miraculously, to the Senate, said last time he was running that his daughter was having to fight for rights that his wife never had to fight for because her grandmother had won those rights. And that is true. And they're trying to turn back the clock, and we need to fight it with every ounce of strength that we have.

BASH: Well, Kristina mentioned what's going on here in Georgia. Senator, many entertainment companies have put Georgia on notice about this new law. You probably know - I'm sure people here do - film and TV is a multi-billion dollar industry here in Georgia. Netflix, Disney, NBCUniversal, Warner Media which owns CNN, they've all warned that they will halt future business here if this law goes into effect. Do you support that?

BENNET: I do support that. I think that's awesome. I think we need more of that kind of advocacy in this country. We need more of that kind of activism by the leading corporations in America on issues like this and issues like climate change as well. Issues like --

BASH: So just to be clear, you support a boycott on the -- businesses boycott --

BENNET: I do. Yes, I absolutely do. Well, you asked me do I support the business' right to boycott. And --

BASH: OK, well let me take it a step further. Do you support the notion of businesses boycotting --

BENNET: I do. I think it's important, it's helpful and it's necessary. Look, this is a moment when our democracy is under siege in so many different ways, from the White House all the way to these state legislators. And we -- this isn't about just politicians. This is about all of America rising up and saying we're going in a different direction.

BASH: Let me ask you on --

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A bit of a related note. As of this month, 100 - 100 of President Trump's judges have been confirmed to the federal bench and it's a milestone that was made possible by Senate Democrats. When you changed the rules a couple of years ago to make it so that just a majority, simple majority vote would allow these judges to get through, now you call your vote to support that your biggest regret in your 10 years in the Senate. You say you did it because you were a member of the democratic leadership. What have you learned from this regret?

BENNET: Well, what I've learned from this regret is, first of all, it's important to be honest when you make a mistake. Second, my objection is not that we could have -- that Mitch McConnell would have done anything differently. It didn't surprise me at all when he said today if there's a vacancy next year, he's going to fill it. He's the most cynical person in Washington, D.C. And I believe we need to at least be as strategic as Mitch McConnell. The Democrats need to. I don't want us to be as malevolent as he is. I don't want us to be as cynical as he is.

But I want us to be as strategic as he is.

And when it came to these decisions on judges, we helped him every step along the way. And now, as you point out, Donald Trump has twice the Circuit Court judges that Barack Obama had. And it's shameful.

And that's why we need to elect a Democratic president. That's why we need a Democratic majority in the Senate. And that's why we need elected leaders in Washington that are going to be strategic enough to take on a guy like Mitch McConnell. I don't think we've done that very well over the past 10 years.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST, TOWN HALL: OK, Senator. Let's get back to the audience.

BENNET: Hi.

BASH: We want to bring in Naudia Foster, a paralegal who will be attending law school in the fall of 2020.

BENNET: Congratulations.

NAUDIA FOSTER, PARALEGAL: Thank you, Senator Bennet. So my question, actually --

BENNET: The legal profession threw me out, but I hope you have a better time.

(LAUGHTER)

FOSTER: It's not for everybody.

(LAUGHTER)

BENNET: That's what I told my mom.

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FOSTER: OK. So.

BENNET: Sorry. It's true, though.

FOSTER: Thank you. I have a friend who's a recent graduate from UNCC. She was almost killed due to gun violence. Gun reform legislation is long overdue, but seems impossible to implement. How do you plan to reach a compromise that will keep other students and families safe in America?

BENNET: I think -- thank you for raising the question. I come from a state, as you know, where we've had 20 years, now, of gun violence, starting with Columbine, which happened just before my first daughter was born. She's here tonight, actually. She and her older -- her younger -- middle sister are here tonight.

(LAUGHTER)

BENNET: They -- by the way, it's ironic. The youngest sister who's 14, is the only one in the house that really wanted me to run. Because she thought that it would mean that I'd be out of the house and away from her. Her plan's working because she's not here tonight. I am here tonight, and I have no idea what she's doing in Denver, Colorado.

But they have grown up in a world that my generation didn't grow up in. Scared to go to school because of what happens every several months, it seems, in the United States of America. And not to mention, every single day in many communities in America.

In Chicago just this weekend, 42 people were shot by guns. It's not -- it wasn't the kind of mass shooting that we commonly think of, but it's the kind of shooting that goes on every single day in neighborhoods across America.

And I think they deserve to live in a country where they know that their parents and grandparents care enough about them that we're actually going to do something about it. And that's why we should pass background checks in Washington, D.C.

The Democrats in the House of Representatives have done that. We should call on Mitch McConnell to put that bill on the floor. And if he doesn't -- which he won't, because he is impervious to compromise on this issue, just as he is on all other issues -- if he will not put it on the floor, the American people need to demand members of -- need to elect members of Congress that will ensure that that bill is on the floor and voted by the members of Congress.

It is supported by 90 percent of the American people. And if there are people there that won't support what 90 percent of the American people want, we need to beat them. I would wish that we could compromise with them, but I don't think those guys are open to compromise because the NRA won't let them compromise.

My state is a third Democratic, a third Republican and a third independent. It is a Western state. After Columbine, we went out and went to the ballot, led by our Republican governor at the time, to close the gun show -- basically to put on the ballot the same bill that's on the floor of the House of Representatives today. And we passed it.

And Dana, in my state, you know, what that means is, two percent, on average, of the people that try to buy a firearm are stopped from buying it every year and --

BASH: So you mentioned that --

BENNET: -- those people are murderers, they're rapists, they're domestic abusers. And I don't know anybody in America who can argue that we would be better off with those people having firearms.

BASH: So you're talking about closing the gun show loophole.

BENNET: And the internet loophole.

BASH: And the internet. What about banning assault weapons?

BENNET: I would support that.

BASH: Because you haven't always voted that way.

BENNET: I didn't vote that way once because it was an old assault weapons ban that I thought was overly drawn and allowed the manufacturers to avoid the ban. But I certainly would support one.

BASH: OK, Senator. Don't go anywhere. Don't go anywhere. Will (ph) you (ph) --

BENNET: Where would I go?

BASH: I know. You're stuck here.

(LAUGHTER)

We'll be right back with a lot more from CNN's Democratic PRESIDENTIAL TOWN HALL with Senator Michael Bennet. Stay with us.

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BASH: Welcome back to CNN's Democratic PRESIDENTIAL TOWN HALL with Senator Michael Bennet. We're live from Atlanta.

Senator, you were diagnosed with prostate cancer right before you announced your candidacy. How are you feeling?

BENNET: I'm feeling great, thanks for asking. You know, it's hard to believe it was about five weeks ago that I was on an operating table. And maybe two months ago that I was diagnosed. And I feel really good.

But I've got to say, I feel awfully lucky that I had health insurance. This cost $93,000 and if my family hadn't been insured, you know, it would have been a disaster for us. And it would have been a real disaster for most American families.

And I think about not only that, but what it would be -- what it would mean if you were an American citizen and you didn't have a primary care doctor who could give you a screening that would let you know you had cancer.

I had no symptoms. And if I hadn't had that screening, I'd be sitting here tonight and I'd be sick. And I'd be, you know, at some point, dying of cancer. And that's what's happening to millions of Americans. And it doesn't happen in any other industrialized country of the world. It only happens here. And that's why we need universal health care in this country.

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BASH: Let me ask you about that. Because you support a public option for health care and you call your plan, "Medicare X."

A number of your opponents, as you well know, support Bernie Sanders' Medicare for All Plan, which essentially eliminates private insurance. Why are they wrong?

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think I might have to get up for this one.

BASH: Go for it.

BENNET: Here -- I think you asked the question well, Dana. I think they are wrong. I think what we would be much better off doing in order to get to universal health care quickly is to finish the job we started with the Affordable Care Act and have a true public option. In my case --

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BENNET: In the one -- the one that I have designed, it would be administered by Medicare, and it would give all of you the chance to choose what's right for you or your family. If you want a public option, then you can have it. Basically, it's Medicare-for-all if you want it. But if you want to keep the insurance you have, which many people do, you'd be able to do that as well.

I don't know if you guys remember when we were passing the Affordable Care Act, the whole thing if you like your insurance you can keep it. Do you remember that? And a few people lost their insurance and all hell broke loose.

And now, Bernie is proposing if you like your insurance, we're going to take it away from you, from 180 million people who get it from their employer, 80 percent of them say they like it. Every single labor union in America that's negotiated a benefits package for their workers, for their members, would have to give it under Medicare-for- All. I just don't think they're going to give it up.

And that's why I think Bernie is wrong to propose it. I think what we should do is give the American people a choice. And if we give them a choice it's going to be very hard to argue with the case that we're making.

And I think that's essential because people in my state and people in Georgia and people all over this country don't need insurance 10 years from now or 20 years from now. They need insurance now. And we haven't been able to give it to them for the last 10 years. We can't afford to do this for another 10 years, in my view.

BASH: Senator, we're going to stay on the issue of health care and get to the audience.

BENNET: OK.

BASH: Question comes from Irene Wilkerson, a registered nurse who currently works in a neonatal intensive care unit at Emory University.

IRENE WILKERSON, REGISTERED NURSE: Good evening.

As you may be aware the racial gap in mortality is increasing in the U.S. Currently, black women are dying four times the rate as white women from pregnancy related complications. And this statistic is driving the overall rate of maternal death in America up, and has led to the U.S. being the most dangerous developed country to give birth in.

If elected, how do you plan to address this issue and keep black mothers alive?

BENNET: Thank you for the question and thank you for being a neonatal nurse, that's an important job and --

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BENNET: Everything that's wrong with our health care system -- and, by the way, if you are white and middle class there are many people in this country who hate our health care system because it doesn't work well for them. Everything that's wrong with it for them is far times worse for people of color and especially for African-American women, and especially for poor people in this country, and especially for poor children of color in this country.

And I think what we have to do is increase access for everybody in the United States of America and be willing to pay for it. And we haven't been willing to pay for it. There are rural communities and urban communities, and many of them African-Americans in the South, some not African-American in others in parts of country, where there are -- where there is no primary care or maternity care at all.

And that's why people are dying in our country, and that's why our life expectancy is actually going down in the United States of America instead of what's happening in all these other countries of the world.

I think that it is time for us to have universal health care in the country. We've got to reduce the cost of health care in the United States because we're spending twice as much as any other industrialized country in the world, but we're not covering people as you say for the most basic parts of health care that are expected as a right in other countries. They should be a right in the United States of America no matter what color you are, and especially if you are living in one of our less privileged communities.

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BASH: Senator, our next question comes from Jay Strongwater. He's a criminal defense attorney -- Jay.

JAY STRONGWATER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Good evening, Senator.

BENNET: Good evening.

STRONGWATER: Climate change is wreaking havoc across the country. We have flooding in Oklahoma. We have tornados in Ohio. In the South, we have record high temperatures.

What would you do beyond the carbon tax to reduce -- to slow or reduce the rate of rising ocean levels, loss of the ozone layer and reduction of glaciers and solar icecaps?

BENNET: You know, there are a lot of issues tonight I hope we talk about that I care a lot about. Dana mentioned I'd been a school superintendent. I care a lot about our failures in education in this country right now. I care a lot about the fact that we're not investing in infrastructure. That we've got an economy that's not driving everybody's income up when it grows.

The one issue that's different from all those issues is climate change, because not only is it existential. If we don't deal with it now, our children aren't going to be able to deal with it because it's going to be too late.

And that's why you hear young people all over this country, the sunrise (ph) moving on others, who are rising up saying your failures are not good enough for us. Your excuses are not good enough for us. We need you to act urgently on climate change and that is what we need to do.

Last week -- thank you.

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BENNET: Last week, I put out a plan, the first part of which says that, look, we have to get to a no-net no carbon by 2050, which is what the scientists say. It invests a trillion dollars of public money to leverage another $10 trillion of private money to deal with climate change here and abroad.

You mentioned what's happening in some of our agricultural areas, (INAUDIBLE) of climate change. It's the first climate plan that links the importance of conservation and carbon sequestration in our lands and our oceans with climate change. It's a very important part of how we're going to solve this problem.

And it gives everybody in America an opportunity because of the way they want to buy clean energy to participate in driving climate change. This is not just going to be driven from Washington, D.C. Everybody in America needs to take a role solving it because everybody in America and every one of our kids and every one of our grandkids are going to be affected by it if we don't. Not going to be affected by it -- are being affected by it today.

In my state, you know, our winters are much shorter. We've got terrible droughts. One state away, in Iowa, the topsoil is pouring into the Gulf of Mexico because of the heavy rains that are caused by climate change.

The time to act is now, and we've got to -- we've got to make sure that this election -- I mean, look, we elected a climate denier president last time, even though most Americans agree with you and me. And we've got to make sure we construct the politics that doesn't allow that to ever happen again. Not just this time, but ever happen again in the history of the United States. We can't afford for that to happen.

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BASH: Senator, we're going to take another quick break. We'll be right back with more from CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Senator Michael Bennet, live from Atlanta. Stay with us.

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DANA BASH, CNN MODERATOR: Welcome back. We're live in Atlanta with presidential candidate, Senator Michael Bennet.

Senator, I had covered you for 10 years in the Senate. I had no idea that your mother and grandparents were Jewish and survived the Holocaust in Poland. And I was surprised to learn that about you, and I'm just curious about how that plays into what you think as you see the rise in anti-Semitism in this country, obviously given what happened in Pittsburgh and in Poway, California.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It makes me deeply worried about it and especially when I know that people are forgetting the history and forgetting what the Holocaust was all about.

When I grew up all of that was very present in my house. As you said my mom and parents were Polish Jews. They survived the Holocaust in Poland. They went from Warsaw -- after the wars, they lived there for two years and went to Stockholm where they spent a year, and then they went -- this is interesting in the world of Donald Trump -- they went to Mexico City who was willing to take them in. And then after spending a year there, made it to New York where they could rebuild their shattered lives in the only country that they could.

And my grandparents to this day -- and I live in a state with a lot of immigrants -- to this day, my grandparents had the strongest accents of anybody I have ever known. And they had great sadness because of what had happened to their family because of what anti-Semitism had done to them. And -- but they also at the same time had sheer joy of what it meant to be an American citizen, unadulterated joy, a daily joy about being an American.

And part of being an American was knowing you lived in a place where something like anti-Semitism would not be allowed to rear its ugly head. And once you got here, you were an American. No matter what your religion was, no matter where your parents -- your parents came from, no matter what language you spoke.

And that is who we have been over generations. And I think we can't allow President Trump's bizarre view of all that color our pride in what we are as a country, a pluralistic place that accepts everybody. And that is (INAUDIBLE) --

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BASH: Let's get back to the audience.

BENNET: By the way, it's also troubling, Dana, to know that in a lot of European countries, there's a rise of anti-Semitism too that also tends to track these autocratic regimes that are trying to overtake democracies in those places as well. These things often go hand in hand.

BASH: Uh-huh.

Let's get back to the audience. Brian Coleman works in health care I.T., also worked for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign.

BRIAN COLEMAN, WORKS IN HEALTHCARE INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY: Hi, Senator.

BENNET: Hi.

COLEMAN: Men like me have been increasingly killed in the last decade. There are systemic problems in our police departments across the nation. Cellphones have begun shining a light on these issues.

However, how will you manifest a change in our police department culture in this nation?

BENNET: I thank you very much for the question. And by the way, thanks for working for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

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BENNET: In the old days, after I was in the private sector and before I was a school superintendent, I went to work for the city and county of Denver for a guy named John Hickenlooper, I don't know whatever happened to that guy.

(LAUGHTER)

BENNET: He was a terrible boss -- he wasn't a terrible boss.

And the first thing we encountered really when he was taking office is a young man named Paul Childs had been shot in Denver by the police department under circumstances that should never have happened. And as a result of that, I worked for a year and a half to completely redo the police oversight system in the city and county of Denver on John's authority, it should be said. And what that took was 18 months of community meetings in Denver,

very, very tough community meetings that I often hosted in the community but also in the city and county building to make sure we were working through the process in a way that we create not just oversight but a new kind of trust and accountability between the community and the police department.

Since that time, that was before there's digital cameras and what they have revealed that the community always knew was happening but that the police department often said wasn't happening, or the broader America believed wasn't happening. We now know that it is.

And that's why Black Lives Matter has been so important. That's why the people that have filmed these altercations and these incidents are so important. And that's why it is so important for us to embrace each other as Americans.

We need to have fundamental trust in each other, and I think the only way we can build that is by spending time with each other, not just when something goes wrong but in the periods in between stuff going wrong so that when it does, we know how to fix it and correct it.

And when I'm president of the United States, I can assure you the Justice Department is going to take seriously every single complaint that comes from every single community where somebody has been treated unfairly because of the color of their skin. That's something we have to end in the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

BASH: Senator, our next audience question comes from Margaret Thomson, a student at High Point University studying political science.

BENNET: Hi. I didn't hear your name. I'm sorry.

MARGARET THOMSON, STUDENT, HIGH POINT UNIVERSITY: Margaret Thomson.

BENNET: Hi.

THOMSON: Hi.

So according to "The Washington Post", two in three Americans say public schoolteachers are underpaid. How are you going to increase teacher pay and the equality of education at schools across the country?

BENNET: Thank you very much for the question.

As Dana mentioned, I spent five years privileged in working for the children and teachers and principals of the Denver public schools as their superintendent. It is -- it will be the best job I've ever had, the most rewarding job we -- I have ever had.

There are many challenges with our education system. One of them is we're not remotely paying teachers what they need to be paid in this country. We're not going to be able to solve that problem only from Washington, D.C.

We're going to need national leadership from Washington, D.C., but we need D.C., states and school districts working together to finally decide that we're going to move past a system of compensating teachers that actually was developed and belonged when we had a labor market that discriminated against women and said, your only choice was being a teacher and being a nurse, so we're not going to pay you anything.

And that's still the system we have today. And so we've got to change that system. And we have to pay teachers as the professionals that they are. And that's not just a little bit more. That is a lot more. And I think we can do that as a country if we're willing to take on that challenge.

Can I say something about public education generally?

BASH: Go for it.

BENNET: You know, listen, there was a time in America after World War II when public education was the wind at our back.

There was a time when we had decided that we were going to have universal high school. We hadn't had it before.

There was a time that we decided we were going to have the G.I. bill and give a whole bunch of people the opportunity to go to college who never had it before.

And now, it was 20 years or so before we finally started letting women go to college, and that changed our economy forever. And that created the economic growth that we had after World War II.

Today, I'm sad to say this, but because of our insufficient support for our schools, not just payment for teachers, but the fact that kids in this country that should have preschool, have no preschool in America, that all over America, there are cities where there's not a single K-12 school that any senator would send their kid to.

And to go to college, you've got to bankrupt your family. And if you don't go to college, you're one -- which is 70 percent of the people that graduate in high school, we have absolutely nothing in place that will train you to make this instead of a minimum wage. We can fix all that.

But today, our education system is instead of liberating people from their economic circumstances is actually -- is actually making worse the income inequality that we have. It's -- and we've got to change that.

I don't think we can change our economy without changing our commitment to public education in this country. We need to make it a 21st century offering to our kids and our grandkids, not a 19th century offering, which is what they have today. And I think we can do it. (APPLAUSE)

DANA BASH, CNN HOST, TOWN HALL: Senator, thank you. We're going to take another quick break.

Stick around. A lot more of CNN's Democratic PRESIDENTIAL TOWN HALL, live from Atlanta, right after this.

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BASH: We're live in Atlanta with a PRESIDENTIAL TOWN HALL with candidate Senator Michael Bennet. I want to get right to the audience, Senator. And this question comes from Christian Hartley, president of the Young Democrats Chapter at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. He also works for a political communications company -- Christian.

CHRISTIAN HARTLEY, STUDENT, MERCER UNIVERSITY: Senator Bennet, in 2008 --

BENNET: Do you have a resume with you?

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HARTLEY: No, not on me.

BENNET: All right. Well, I'll let you know where to find me (ph).

HARTLEY: In 2018, you were criticized for supporting a bill that would weaken oversight of the banking industry, an act that critics said could lead to a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis. How do you defend your past record of supporting the deregulation of big banks?

BENNET: Thank you very much for the question. I was criticized for that, you're right. And I took the right vote. It was the right vote for my state, and the right vote for the country.

Both Dodd and Frank said that the attacks on -- the claimed attacks on Dodd-Frank were false. It didn't matter to other Democrats, they (ph) were attacking Democrats on this. But they were.

And the reason I supported the bill was that small banks and small credit unions in my state, which are very important to serving rural communities in Colorado, had trouble keeping up with the regulatory requirements of Dodd-Frank.

And for years, they had pointed out to me that they hadn't caused the financial crisis, which is true. And I said to them, "When I have a chance to help fix that in a bipartisan way, I will." Because we lost 40 percent of the bank headquarters in Colorado as a result, partly, of those regulations. That is why I voted for the bill. I kept my word, and I believe I did the right thing. Thank you for the question.

BASH: We're going to go to another audience question, Deb Dahlmann who runs her own packaging consulting business -- Deb.

DEB DAHLMANN, BUSINESS OWNER: Good evening, Senator. For the past two years, our country has been jerked around like a wagon being towed down a bumpy dirt road --

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DAHLMANN: -- behind an angry toddler on a tricycle. We seem --

BENNET: I don't know (ph) what you mean.

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DAHLMANN: We seem to be in danger of losing our place as the leader of the free world. If you are elected, who would be the recipients of your first three official phone calls? And what would be your message?

BENNET: I think that's a great question. I think I would call our allies in Europe and say that we are open for business once again. Because we know how important this alliance is to -- to freedom in the world and to all of us since World War II. It's not a Republican or Democratic president that hasn't made a call like that. I would make a call like that.

I would call the prime minister of Israel, and remind them that our relationship is strong. And that even when we're critical of one another, we have a particularly important relationship for the reasons that Dana and I were talking about earlier.

And then I would call the heads of Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. And I would invite them to Washington or I would go there and say, "We need to help you solve the problems in your country so that we can end the kind of refugee crisis that's led to the American government, in the name of the American people, separating children from their families at the border of the United States of America. That should never happen again, and never can happen again."

Those are the calls I would make.

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BASH: And, Senator, what about Vladimir Putin? What about Vladimir Putin?

BENNET: Well, I'd call Vladimir Putin. But he probably wouldn't be -- he wouldn't be one of my first three calls, I don't think.

BASH: And what would you say when you made that call?

BENNET: I'd call Xi, too. I'd call Xi, too. And I'd say, "Look, let's figure out a way to reorient our relationship here." I think Donald Trump actually has been right to call out China. I think he's done it in completely the wrong way.

And I think we have an incredible opportunity to create alliances all over the world, from Europe through Asia to Latin America and to Africa, to push back on China's mercantilist practices and benefit workers here in the United States and throughout the rest of the world.

China is running on the law of big numbers. And it seems to me that our answer there is to not go it alone. Our answer is to build coalitions all over the world, to push back in a measured and thoughtful way. And that's not what we've had from this president.

BASH: And what about when you made that phone call eventually to Vladimir Putin, what would you say?

BENNET: I think what I'd say to him is, "We -- unlike the previous president -- we know you've been attacking the United States of America. You've been attacking our democracy and democracies in Europe through social media. And we need it to stop. And if they're -- and if you're not going to stop, there's going to be a price to pay."

BASH: Which is?

BENNET: Which is to sanction them and to create real economic harm for them.

BASH: All right. So while we're at it, last one is Kim Jong Un. Would he be on your call sheet?

BENNET: He wouldn't be on my call sheet because I don't think the president of the United States should call Kim Jong Un until the work is done to set up a negotiation that makes sense. And Donald Trump has done exactly the opposite. So I think it would be important not to send a message from America that we condone the behavior of that regime.

President Trump keeps saying, over and over again, that he somehow has the economic interests of his country at heart. And that's why he's never going to do anything crazy. In fact, he said that's why I'm in love with the leader of North Korea and that Americans can sleep at night.

What we know is the North Koreans haven't changed anything that they've been doing for the last 20 years, and they're not going to change it unless they know that there's an American president who's going to rally the world against them, and I think that's what we need to do.

BASH: OK, Senator. We're going to sneak in one more quick break. Don't go anywhere. CNN's Democratic Presidential Town Hall with Michael Bennet coming up just in a few moments.

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BASH: Welcome back. We're live in Atlanta with presidential candidate, Senator Michael Bennet.

Getting straight to the audience, our question comes from Cindy Moffett. She's an assistant principal for Gwinnett County Public Schools. Cindy?

CINDY MOFFETT, AUDIENCE MEMBER: Good evening, Senator.

BENNET: Good evening, Cindy.

MOFFETT: Given that President Trump is an unorthodox candidate, what would be some key actions or strategies that your campaign is planning in order to defeat him, especially since he seems to have a base that sticks beside him no matter what he or his administration does?

BENNET: So thank you, Cindy, so you so much for the question. Thank you for being an educator and an assistant principal with (inaudible).

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I'd like to use this as an opportunity, since actually you are an educator, to talk about why I'm running and why I think I can beat Donald Trump. I mentioned my daughter, Anne (ph) tonight who, and I made a joke that she didn't want me around, but the truth is the reason she's not here is this is her last day of school. And like students all over the country, she's working hard to try to end the school year in a strong way. And like students throughout the country, she's trying to learn math or English or AP biology or whatever, geography, (inaudible), whatever it happens to be. And that is their job. That's their job.

And by the way, some of the students - and you know this - some of the students are in schools where there is no broadband because they live in a rural community. Some of the students are in urban school districts where the roof leaks or there are 35 kids in a classroom or the boiler is broken, and every day they show up to do their work. Every day.

We live in a country where when kids are in the fourth grade in this country, only 34 percent of the kids are proficient mathematicians in the fourth grade. Forty percent -- I guess 34 percent are proficient readers. Forty percent are proficient mathematicians. I lost Cindy. She knows these numbers.

But still they come back to work and work and work because that's their job. They do not have time to create universal health care in America. They do not have time to fix our broken immigration system. They do not have time to deal with climate, to make sure the planet's not incinerated before they occupy the future. They don't have time to build an economy that works not just for the people at the very top, but for everybody.

They don't have time to make a K-12 system in this country that's actually just, where your education doesn't depend on the neighborhood that you're born into. They don't have time to make sure college is affordable. They don't have time to make sure that our generation starts paying its bills so that they can make the choices they should be able to make.

And as they're doing their work tonight, they're not watching this show. As they're doing their work tonight, they're expecting us to do all of that work. And for the last 10 years in Washington, we have done almost none of that work.

And in the case of Donald Trump, whom you mentioned, he's actually taking us backwards on every single one of those dimensions. Healthcare being the best example where he's taken away from millions of people in America, including people with pre-existing conditions.

And I believe we need to start doing that work, and that's why I'm running for president. Because I think that we have to build a big coalition of Americans. Democrats, Republicans and Independents to overcome the broken politics in Washington, D.C. It will never fix itself. It will only become more bitter and more partisan if we as a country don't come together and say we demand something better. And we are going to create this big constituency for change, a coalition that spans the parties to make it better.

And I think if we do that, we can not only beat Donald Trump, we can fix our broken politics in Washington and we can leave our kids in this honorable country, a future that we can be proud of. That's what's at stake in this election. That's why I'm running, and that's why I think I can beat Donald Trump.

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BASH: Senator, thank you so much. Thank you for joining us tonight. Thank you for watching at home, our studio audience here at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Tune in this Sunday for back-to-back-to-back Democratic Presidential Town Halls with Congressman Seth Moulton, Tim Ryan and Eric Swalwell starting at 6 p.m. Eastern.

"CNN Tonight" starts right now.

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