Pete Buttigieg defend his level of experience on Wednesday in contentious exchanges with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, using the debate to argue “Washington experience is not the only experience that matters.”
The most contentious point of Buttigieg’s defense came when the mayor said, “There’s more than 100 years of Washington experience on this stage, and where are we right now as a country.”
Buttigieg’s experience – he leads a city of just over 100,000 people, has only ever been elected by a few voters thousand and lost his only statewide election – has been a central question about his candidacy. And it was clear on Wednesday that his competitors came into the debate looking to questions his qualifications.
When Buttigieg mentioned voting rights, Klobuchar jumped in and said the issue is a “good example of where (Buttigieg) has said the right words” but not followed it up with action and called the mayor a “local official.”
“I have actually done this work,” Klobuchar said.
Buttigieg fired back.
“Washington experience is not the only experience that matters,” he said, nodding not only his time as mayor, but his experience as a war veteran.
“I would submit that this is the kind of experience we need, not just to go to Washington, but to change it before it is too late,” Buttigieg said.
Then Gabbard jumped and said Buttigieg showed a lack of judgment when he suggested using the U.S. military to help combat cartel violence along the border for security cooperation.
“That is outlandish, even by the standards of today’s politics, Buttigieg responded. “Do you seriously think anybody on this stage is proposing invading Mexico? … I’m talking about building alliances.”
The mayor then hit Gabbard for meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“Let’s also talk about judgment. One of the foreign leaders you mentioned meeting was Bashar al-Assad,” Buttigieg said.
Gabbard responded by noting how past leaders met with opposing leaders, citing when President John F. Kennedy met with Soviet Union Premier Nikita Khrushchev and former President Franklin Roosevelt met with Russian leader Joseph Stalin.
Buttigieg interrupted, “Like Donald Trump who met with Kim,” a nod to North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un.