South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said at a Latino forum in Los Angeles on Sunday that he’d be willing to send U.S. troops into Mexico to combat gang and drug violence.
“There is a scenario where we could have security cooperation,” Buttigieg said.
Even so, he added a caveat: “I’d only order American troops into conflict if American lives were on the line and if it was necessary to meet treaty obligations.”
His campaign later clarified that Buttigieg would only be open to military use as a “last resort” in response to Mexican cartel violence or an outside threat that endangers the country’s security.
Buttigieg’s comments came in response to a question at an event hosted by ABC7 Eyewitness News, where he added he would work to “make drug trafficking less profitable by walking away from the failed war on drugs here in the United States.”
He was the only candidate asked directly about moving troops to Mexico.
On Saturday, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro said he disagreed with President Donald Trump’s call to help Mexico “wage war” on cartels following the massacre of nine U.S. women and children in northern Mexico earlier this month.
“I don’t think the United States should send its military down to Mexico. Mexico is a sovereign nation,” he said.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, who attended the forum and has endorsed Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, said she found Buttigieg’s response confusing.
“We have to regain the trust of the Mexican government and American government and have a collaborative relationship before we talk of sending troops,” Gonzalez said. “That’s a scary thought right now because the truth is our government has been nothing but disrespectful to Mexico’s government, and the last thing we need is to militarize the border. I was unclear about the steps he would suggest need to be taken before that happened.”
Buttigieg’s appearance in Los Angeles came on the tail end of a weekend trip across Southern California, during which he attended the state Democratic Party’s convention in Long Beach and participated in a separate forum about Latino issues hosted by Univision.
Since announcing his 2020 bid for president, the South Bend, Indiana, mayor has campaigned heavily in the Golden State, making more than 50 appearances — the most of any Democratic presidential contender.
He and Castro were joined at the ABC7 event by California Sen. Kamala Harris, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and billionaire California activist Tom Steyer.
All the candidates agreed, to varying extents, about the need to protect those allowed to stay in the country through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.
If the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the policy, Castro said he’d find a way through executive action to protect the so-called Dreamers and their parents “no matter what the Supreme Court does.”
Sanders he’d expand access to health care for undocumented immigrants.
“When we talk about Medicare for All, it means all,” he said. “It means every man, woman and child in this country, including the undocumented. Medicare for all means there are no longer any premiums, co-payments, absurd deductibles or out-of-pocket expenses.”
Steyer said he’d favor a public health insurance option but would not want to overhaul the private health insurance market. If data proves the public option is working, Steyer said he’d work toward the goal of offering Medicare to everyone.
“If the public option we design is so good and so cheap, go to your employer and get them to say, ‘We’ll buy the public option,’” Steyer said.
Harris, the last scheduled speaker, said she would like to see U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “drastically restructured.” She sought to distinguish herself from other candidates in favor of free college tuition for all Americans, including wealthy individuals.
“Just a disclaimer: I’m not gonna forgive Donald Trump’s kids’ loans,” she said.
Asked if she genuinely believes Trump’s kids have student loans, she delivered one of the biggest applause lines of the event: “Who knows? I don’t know how that family works.”