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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12:03 a.m. ET, February 25, 2020

Steyer says he will support direct payments to descendants of slaves if committee recommends it

From CNN's Dan Merica


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

Tom Steyer said Monday that he would start a “formal commission on race the first day of my presidency” and would support direct payments to descendants of slaves if that commission recommended the policy.

“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,” Steyer said.

He added that his commission would be “solutions-oriented” but would also aim to “tell the story of systematic, legal discrimination, injustice and cruelty for over 400 years.”

CNN’s Chris Cuomo followed up, “If the commission suggested direct cash payments to the descendants of slaves, do you support the recommendation of the commission?”

“Yes,” Steyer said.

“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.”

Steyer has made courting black voters central to his presidential campaign, especially in South Carolina, the state where he is staking his campaign.

See the moment:

11:59 p.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Steyer’s six-word argument for term limits: “Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz”

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

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

Tom Steyer said he supports 12-year term limits for members of Congress, and named three Republican senators as his argument for his proposal. 

“If we want real change, we need new and different people in charge. We need it," Steyer said. "And, you know, look, the six-word argument for term limits: Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz.”

McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, is the Senate Majority Leader and was elected to the US Senate in 1984. Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina, was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1994, and later was elected to the Senate. Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas, was elected to the Senate in 2012. 


11:47 p.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Steyer said he would mandate coronavirus vaccine if necessary to contain spread in US

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

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

Tom Steyer said he would mandate that Americans get vaccinated against the coronavirus if there was a vaccine developed and it was necessary to prevent the disease spreading in the US.

“If and when they were to develop a vaccine, if you were president, would you mandate that Americans take the vaccine?” CNN’s Chris Cuomo asked Steyer. 

“If it were necessary to take the vaccine to prevent the spread of the coronavirus through the United States, yes, I would,” the billionaire businessman responded. 

Steyer criticized President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus and praised former President Barack Obama’s handling of the Ebola outbreak in 2014. 

“What we're seeing is that this is a pandemic that hasn't been handled well,” Steyer said . 

The death toll from the novel coronavirus has risen to 2,698 worldwide, with the vast majority of those in mainland China. The total number of global cases stands at over 80,000. World Health Organization officials say it's still too early to declare the novel coronavirus a pandemic -- but now is the time to prepare.

See Steyer’s response:

11:41 p.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Steyer's climate cred called into question by voter annoyed by mail pile-up

From CNN's Gregory Krieg

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

Tom Steyer faced an unexpected challenge to his climate credentials on Monday night when an exasperated voter asked how the billionaire can really be "pro-environment" when his campaign is sending out so, so, so much mail.

"How do you justify this unnecessary overkill of mailings and printed material in a digital world that would certainly be much more environmentally friendly?" asked Steven, who said he gets three to five mailers from Steyer every week.

The businessman tried to cut the tension with a joke.

“I think we’re also bombarding you with digital material," Steyer said, before turning serious. “But we have tried to use only recyclable materials.”

Steyer then turned to his own behavior, claiming that he is the only candidate not to travel on private planes and talking about a family ranch.

“My wife and I raise cattle, chicken and pigs," he said. "And we’re trying to do it in a way to show that actually you can sequester carbon if you do regenerative agriculture.”

The upshot? That sequestration, Steyer said, more than cancels out his own overall carbon footprint.


11:33 p.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Tom Steyer says his investments in private prisons were "a mistake"

From CNN's Dan Merica

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

Tom Steyer said Monday that it was a "mistake" for his company to own stock in private prisons earlier in his career.

The comment comes after former Vice President Joe Biden criticized Steyer’s investment in private prisons.

“We bought stock in a private prison company 15 years ago. I thought it was the right thing,” Steyer said. “I decided it was the wrong thing and 15 years ago I sold it for moral reasons.”

He added: “I came to the conclusion that I've come to conclude now, 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.”

Steyer has been making significant inroads in South Carolina, especially with black voters in the state. That rise could hurt Biden, who is betting his campaign on a first-place showing in South Carolina.

Hear his answer:

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: