Democratic strategist knocks Buttigieg free college ad as attempted 'attack' on Warren

Democratic strategist Deshundra Jefferson on Monday knocked 2020 White House hopeful Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegCNN's Ana Navarro to host Biden roundtable on making 'Trump a one-term president' Former Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan dies How Republicans can embrace environmentalism and win MORE over a recent campaign video touting his college affordability plan.

Jefferson, a former Democratic National Committee official, argued during an appearance on Hill.TV's “Rising” that the campaign video was nothing more than a thinly veiled attack against fellow 2020 contender Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOvernight Health Care: Nearly 100,000 children tested positive for coronavirus over two weeks last month | Democrats deny outreach to Trump since talks collapsed | California public health chief quits suddenly On The Money: Administration defends Trump executive orders | CBO reports skyrocketing deficit | Government pauses Kodak loan pending review Harris favored as Biden edges closer to VP pick MORE (D-Mass.)

“There’s a lot of disingenuousness about his plan,” Jefferson said of the Buttigieg proposal.

“He’s trying to find an opening to attack Elizabeth Warren specifically because he right now sees her as his main competition perhaps to get some of these white progressives,” she continued. “He feels maybe he can pick a few of them off of Elizabeth Warren.”

In response to Jefferson's criticism, a communications director for Buttigieg's campaign pointed to the South Bend, Ind., mayor's free college tuition proposal, emphasizing that it aims to invest in the future of working families and the middle class instead of those who can already afford an education. 

"Pete's plan would give 80 percent of families the ability to attend public college for free, and he'd provide significant tuition assistance to all families whose incomes are below $150,000," Sean Savett, a rapid response communications director for Buttigeig's campaign told Hill.TV. "However, unlike some of his competitors, he'd rather invest in the future of middle class and working families, instead of spending taxpayer money subsidizing tuition for the children of millionaires who can already afford it."

Both Buttigieg and Warren have released plans for free college tuition, but have different ideas of who should qualify. Whereas free college tuition would be available under Warren’s plan “for anybody who wants an education,” Buttigieg would only make the option available to families earning less than $100,000. Buttigieg's plan also calls for an additional $50 billion to be invested in historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions.

In a campaign video released on Thanksgiving, Buttigieg emphasized he believes in making college affordable for everybody, but maintained would not provide free tuition to the children of millionaires.

"I believe we should move to make college affordable for everybody," the South Bend, Ind., mayor said in the ad. "There are some voices saying, 'Well, that doesn't count unless you go even further — unless it's even free for the kids of millionaires.' But I only want to make promises that we can keep."

Buttigieg did not specifically mention Warren or fellow progressive hopeful Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Campaign Report: LIVE: Trump from Gettysburg | The many unknowns of 2020 | Omar among those facing primary challenges Trump's personality is as much a problem as his performance Sierra Club endorses Biden for president  MORE (I-Vt.) by name, but both progressive heavyweights have proposed free college for all.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezThe Hill's Campaign Report: LIVE: Trump from Gettysburg | The many unknowns of 2020 | Omar among those facing primary challenges Michelle Obama, Sanders, Kasich to be featured on first night of Democratic convention: report Democratic convention lineup to include Ocasio-Cortez, Clinton, Warren: reports MORE (D-N.Y.), who has endorsed Sanders, criticized Buttigieg over the ad, accusing him of using a “GOP talking point” to take aim at proposals for tuition-free public college.

“This is a GOP talking point used to dismantle public systems, & it’s sad to see a Dem candidate adopt it,” Ocasio-Cortez said in part in a threat on Twitter.

— Tess Bonn