Pete Buttigieg on His Women’s Agenda, Sex Worker Rights and His Succession Obsession


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Conversations about women’s rights and policies have taken center stage as the 2020 presidential race heats up, and candidate Pete Buttigieg wants female voters to know he’s on their side. On Thursday, the South Bend, Indiana, mayor released “Building Power: A Women’s Agenda for the 21st Century,” a plan focused entirely on women. In the proposal—one of the most comprehensive female-focused agendas in the Democratic primary so far—Buttigieg reveals that, if elected, he’ll appoint 50 percent women to the Cabinet and judiciary, close the pay and wealth gaps, and end the maternal mortality crisis.

If it feels like a convenient time for Buttigieg to plug these issues, that’s because it is. He’s gotten some support from female voters but, according to Vox, “could do better.” A Morning Consult poll reportedly has him trailing behind other candidates, like former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, when it comes to female support.

In a phone interview with, Buttigieg says “Building Power” has nothing to do with poll numbers, but a genuine desire to push good policies. “If you want to stand before women and persuade them to vote for you to be president, you’d better have some good answers on how your policies are going to make a difference for American women,” he says.

Though other candidates have proposed similar ideas to tackle racial disparities in maternal health, abolish the Hyde Amendment, and eliminate the backlog of untested rape kits at both federal and state levels, Buttigieg says what sets apart his all-encompassing plan is “the way it looks at leadership, economy, safety, and health all together and recognizes that every issue is a women’s issue.”

Absent from the proposal are sex workers’ rights, something that’s divided the 2020 presidential candidates. When asked about this issue, Buttigieg says the House bill FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) and the Senate bill SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act), which Trump controversially signed into law last year, “needs to be revisited.”

“I think that the goal of addressing trafficking, human trafficking, and sex trafficking is important,” he says, “but we’ve seen how those policies can also have unintended consequences and I think there’s a broader societal conversation to have that, by the way, doesn’t have easy answers or ready-made policy solutions.”

When pressed what that conversation might look like, Buttigieg responds: “It does mean asking whether it’s appropriate to continue criminalizing some things that are right now handled in a way that really creates a lot of risk and vulnerability. And, I think it means asking what we think is appropriate for us to regulate as a society versus decisions we think people should make on their own. And, again, I don’t think there are any easy answers on this, personally. I think there are a lot of conflicting values at stake here. But I do think we should [start a conversation about it], now’s the time to open up for scrutiny some of the assumptions that we’ve grown up with.”

In his limited free time on the road (this weekend he meets with New Hampshire voters at a women’s economic empowerment town hall), Buttigieg makes time to read—he’s currently juggling a book about Roman history and a Tracy Smith anthology—and to watch television. Evidently, the presidential candidate’s got good taste in shows. Like so many of us, Succession is his current obsession. He hasn’t decided who his favorite member of the conniving Roy family is yet, but says he’s partial to Shiv’s savviness and, for comic relief, cousin Greg makes him laugh.

“I’m still catching up on Season 2,” he admits. “Chasten and I try to catch up [on episodes], together but I’m enjoying the show immensely right now!”

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