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Pete Buttigieg faces new scrutiny over consulting work, policy ideas in Iowa

Pete Buttigieg faces new scrutiny over consulting work, policy ideas in Iowa


WATERLOO, Ia. — One month ago, Pete Buttigieg welcomed journalists to hours of on-the-record interviews during a bus tour through Iowa. Over the weekend in eastern Iowa, he stood in front of journalists as they repeatedly questioned him about transparency.
When a reporter in Waterloo on Friday asked the South Bend, Indiana, mayor why the candidate hadn’t opened press access to his high-dollar fundraisers, he responded: “There are a lot of considerations, and I’m thinking about it.”
Another reporter then asked Buttigieg if he could give an example of those considerations.
“No,” he said.
The full back-and-forth lasted fewer than five minutes, but Buttigieg’s tone in some of his responses contrasted sharply with his typically lengthier interactions with journalists.
Buttigieg is facing new scrutiny as a top-tier Democratic presidential candidate, and it’s spilling into Iowa. It was evident during his three-day swing through the first-in-the-nation caucus state, which began Friday and is scheduled to wrap up on Sunday.
On Friday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot asked Buttigieg during a presidential forum in Waterloo about a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that he signed when he worked in his 20s for the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. Buttigieg has provided the public a summary of his roughly two and half years there, and has called on his former employer to release him from his NDA..
“You should break the NDA,” Lightfoot told Buttigieg, as Iowans watched.
Buttigieg, 37, responded: “I’m going to give them a chance to do the right thing and then we’ll take it from there.”
Buttigieg is also facing other questions.
At a town hall in Grinnell on Friday ahead of the Waterloo forum, he was asked about his handling of a police shooting earlier this year that involved the death of a black man by a white officer. The death is often linked to a larger discussion of Buttigieg’s relationship with the police and the community in South Bend, and his low polling with African American voters in South Carolina.
Buttigieg, who leads in the latest Des Moines Register/Mediacom/CNN Iowa Poll, told reporters in Waterloo that he welcomes the questions he received in Grinnell, which included criticism from the audience about his policy plans on higher education and climate change.
“I’ve certainly noticed that the better things go for us, the more scrutiny, the more heat there is,” he said. “I welcome that. We’re talking about the American presidency. And you should be able to show that you can handle tough decisions, tough questions … the most difficult questions are often the most important.”
On Sunday at a town hall in Coralville, a small group held up homemade signs critical of Buttigieg. One sign just read: “WE NEED MORE THAN PETE”.
Buttigieg acknowledged the group and said in part from the stage, “We appreciate and respect what anybody else has to say. Although I would humbly suggest that it is better to do it by lifting up your own candidate than trying to tear down others.”
► More: Buttigieg engages with protesters at Coralville town hall
Buttigieg is also getting fresh questions about whether he will open his high-dollar fundraisers to the press, and whether his campaign will release publicly the names of so-called “bundlers” who raise money for the candidate.
It’s unclear whether the scrutiny over the NDA or the fundraisers is widespread in Iowa. Several likely caucusgoers at a town hall at Cornell College in Mount Vernon on Saturday said they hadn’t heard about either issue.
After the town hall, Kay Jahnel defended Buttigieg, whom she described as “truthful.” The Cedar Rapids retiree plans to caucus for him.
“It’s petty-picking at little things,” the 70-year-old said. “I think what’s more important are the bigger issues.”
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said in Boston in recent days that Buttigieg was creating “conflicts of interest” if he doesn’t allow press into his fundraisers, according to reports from her remarks. Buttigieg has called on Warren to release additional tax returns that show her time as an attorney who sometimes consulted corporations.
JoAnn Collins, 70, of Cedar Rapids said she was surprised by Warren’s comments, which she felt were unfair to Buttigieg.
“I like her, but that disappoints me,” Collins said.
Dave Carlson of Cedar Rapids wore a “Veterans for Pete” button on his T-shirt while waiting for Buttigieg’s town hall in Mount Vernon. The 56-year-old, who said he served as an officer in the U.S. Navy, did not know about the debate over the non-disclosure agreement.
But Carlson applauded Buttigieg for not breaking the NDA.
“It says he’s willing to honor the things that he said he would honor,” Carlson said. “But he’s also willing to communicate to say, ‘Are there other options?’”
U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, a Democrat from Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, gave opening remarks at Buttigieg’s Mount Vernon event. The congressman, who is not seeking re-election, has not endorsed a candidate.
Loebsack said he’s not surprised that Buttigieg is facing more questions.
“Being at the top of the heap, you’re always going to get these questions,” Loebsack said. “The scrutiny’s only going to increase, there’s no question about that.”
Barbara Rodriguez covers health care and politics for the Register. She can be reached by email at bcrodriguez@registermedia.com or by phone at 515-284-8011. Follow her on Twitter @bcrodriguez.
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