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Opinion

Q&A: Amy Klobuchar on the difference between talking a good game and getting things done

Amy Klobuchar
Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar speaks at an event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in June 2019.
(Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press)

As part of its discussions with candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president, the Los Angeles Times editorial board held a conference call on a recent Saturday with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who spoke to the board while campaigning in Las Vegas. The following is a transcript of the call, lightly edited for clarity.

Nick Goldberg, editor of the editorial pages: I want to open this up to you, if you want to, to give us a short one minute or a minute and a half intro on yourself, and then we can start peppering you with questions.

Amy Klobuchar: I first want to thank you for doing this on a Saturday. I imagine that’s not an easy time to do it, but as you know, the impeachment hearing, being there for two weeks, for those of us who were involved, put us on a way different schedule than some of the other candidates. And we did numerous things by Skype or by phone. And so I really appreciate that. And it’s really great to be in warm weather here in Nevada and in California.

I actually was on the Bill Maher show last night and I said, “Well, I’m so excited because of the California primary.” And he goes, “What do you mean? We don’t count.” I’m like, “You are a Super Tuesday state.” And so I’m well aware of the importance of California in this primary. My pitch is this: For people that are interested in bringing decency back to the White House, we need a big coalition. And we need people who are, yes, [in] our fired up Democratic base, so many of them in California, but we also need independents and moderate Republicans to vote in a big, big way. And you have great models of that in Orange County, how you flip those House seats in California, and what I have done in my own state time and time again.

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That is the kind of procedural answer I have here. I think I’m the best candidate to do this because I bring the receipts of repeatedly winning suburban and rural voters as well as getting the highest voter turnout — sorry, California — in my state of fired-up Democrats. In fact, the highest voter turnout, every time I’ve led the ticket, in the country. So that’s the first thing.

The second is, I know you have a lot of candidates that you’re interviewing, I think you know I was the only one that raised my hand on that debate stage to say that I had trouble with a socialist leading the ticket. I don’t know why no one else did it, but I did it because I think you’ve got to get used to leading and doing popular things and unpopular things. And that has been my track record where I passed over 50 bills as a lead Democrat since I got to the U.S. Senate and worked across the aisle effectively. And my positions in this race may not fit on a bumper sticker when it comes to education and when it comes to healthcare, but I think they are the right ones.

And finally I am from the Midwest, and for me it’s not flyover country. I’m going to be able to be the one on that debate stage who looks at the president and says, “You’re treating the people all across this country as poker chips in one of your bankrupt casinos with how you’re running up the debt and everything else you’re doing.” For me, they’re my friends and neighbors. And I think when you look at the states that we need to win for the Democratic Party, I fit the bill and will be able to bring them in.

Just the final little exclamation point on all of that is that during that last debate when I’m on an even playing field with the other candidates, I’ve shown myself more than nimble on the debate stage. And I was able to make the case from the heart, telling the FDR story and then reminding people that if they are having trouble deciding for between long-term care for their parents and child care for their kids, I know you and I’ll fight for you. And if people are having trouble deciding if they’re going to fill their refrigerator or their prescription, I know you and I will fight for you. And I think especially in California and the Los Angeles region, I’m really on the front line when it comes to so many issues. Big tech and election security, I’ve been a lead on that. Tourism, I lead the tourism caucus and lead the Brand U.S.A. bill, which has been so successful in bringing foreign visitors that spend an average of $5,000 when they visit your great city. Climate change, my first bill I ever introduced. And being able to be a voice from the Midwest as well as being willing to take on immigration reform to the point where every negative ad run against me in ’06 in the Senate race was because I was standing up for immigrants. And being able to work on not one but two immigration reform packages, both when George Bush and [when] Barack Obama were president.

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Finally, I’ve done a lot on housing. I have a really broad housing proposal that I laid out in your city with the mayor of St. Paul and other electeds, and that’s a big part of what I think would be helpful for Los Angeles as well.

Goldberg: Great, thank you. I’m going to kick it off with a question and then we’ll go around the invisible table and I’ll call on people. You were a prosecutor for years. You’ve been a senator since 2007. Can you talk about two or three specific things you’ve done in government that has tested you or challenged you, and what you think made you ready for the enormous high-stakes challenges of the presidency?

Klobuchar: Yeah. I would say the first is just my life growing up where my dad struggled with alcoholism, where I’d be taking the keys away from him driving up north or when we’d be waiting for him for hours. And it really made me, I would say it’s not just about the motive your editorial board has written about several times [on] the importance of taking on mental health and addiction. But it also made me understand resilience. And I was just reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book on leadership, and she noted that four of our best presidents, they didn’t have a lot in common personality-wise, but what they had in common was that they were able to be resilient when times were bad. I also think it made me understand the grays in the world, that it’s not extreme or black and white, that if I just saw extremes, then I wouldn’t be able to love my dad.

Secondly, the first way I got involved in politics was when I was kicked out of the hospital when our daughter was born. She was really sick, and I got kicked out at 24 hours while she was still in intensive care. And [after] she got a little bit better, when I wasn’t even in elected office, I helped lead a bill as the primary witness [to require] 48-hour hospital stays for new moms and their babies. And I was very creative so that I won it, including bringing six pregnant women that were friends of mine to the conference committee. So they outnumbered the lobbyists 2 to 1.

Then when I got to my other job as county attorney, which of course anyone in those jobs right now, you’re always going to take incoming [fire]. But one of the things I did there, which I really didn’t have to because of the times that we were in, which was in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, was I worked with the Innocence Project, not just on the DNA review of all our cases, but also on taking on videotaped interrogations. I actually debated the Queens D.A. once on this on the side of videotaping. And then finally pioneered a new way to do eyewitness identifications where the cops are blind so they don’t know who it is [whose picture is being shown], and they show the witnesses the pictures one at a time instead of all at once. That was extended into my work in the [Senate] Judiciary Committee, where I was one of the co-sponsors — and I think anyone like Van Jones would tell you, a very helpful co-sponsor because of my prosecution background — on the First Step Act. Which can be followed by the Second Step Act, which should be incentives for nonviolent offenders to have shortened sentences. And I know you’ve grappled with this big-time in the state of California.

When I campaigned we’d never had a woman win in Minnesota, and I kept being told, literally, by editorial boards not nearly as big as yours in northern Minnesota, “I don’t know if a woman can win. A woman’s lost twice.” And so I was steeled to that kind of stuff, which I think you need to be in this race from the very beginning. And I always say I would be honored to be the first woman president, just like I was first in all my jobs, but I am running on my merit, and I’m don’t think that is the reason to vote for me. The reason to vote for me is because I can get things done for people.

And then finally, just my work in the Congress. I have been creative about getting Republicans to do some big bills, like the backup paper-ballot bill with Sen. [James] Lankford (R-Okla.), which we got gut-punched on by the administration and [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.); like bringing in less expensive drugs from safe countries, a bill that I did with [former Sen. John] McCain (R-Ariz.) and now with [Sen. Charles E.] Grassley (R-Iowa); the election bill, the Honest Ads Act, which is huge, which we can talk about later, I hope, with political ads. And then if I look back at what I learned from some of this, it’s really finding common ground where you can, because courage is not just standing by yourself — and I’m in Vegas here, in the corner of the boxing ring — jabbing at people. Courage is whether or not you’re willing to stand next to someone for the betterment of this country.

And I say the one big lesson I learned — of any bill that I think we could have done better on, it was actually the Affordable Care Act, which I’ve been a staunch defender of, but I wish a few of us would have joined forces to push for taking on pharmaceuticals. Because no one wanted to, we weren’t going to get the votes. But we had so much leverage back then because they were trying to pass it and there was only a one-vote margin [in the Senate]. Lesson learned. And now I’ve been taking that issue on ever since. And it’s the No. 1 issue for a lot of voters out there because they see these escalating prescription drug prices and really nothing’s been done to bring them down.

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Jon Healey, deputy editorial page editor: On that topic of passing legislation, we are so polarized. I just wonder what you can point to in your record that says on a really big lift, you would be able to get things done in this environment.

Klobuchar: Of the people who are on that stage, or actually have been running [for the Democratic presidential nomination] from Congress from the very beginning, when we had a massive number of candidates, I have passed more bills by far, as a lead Democrat, than anyone else in the field. Including one on drug shortages, including literally getting the funding to build that [Interstate 35W] bridge over the Mississippi River, including rural issues and broadband and the like. And including getting $380 million and now double that for election security funding. This, I point out, is put out per capita, which means it’s a good help for California.

So I think the track record speaks for itself. If you look in early on, when I announced, there was an article in one of the [Capitol] Hill newspapers, I don’t remember which one, but it said Republicans gush over Klobuchar. It’s nothing I’m using right now for Super Tuesday, but I think that is because I build trust with people, and I think that matters in a president.

I’m not naive; I know what Mitch McConnell’s all about. But I do know where the bodies are buried. And [on] some of these things that are so key to the Los Angeles area, like infrastructure, there is significant Republican support for moving that through. The president was just afraid of how to pay for it.

Immigration reform, look at what’s happened. [President George W.] Bush — top priority for him, he just waited too long in his presidency, defeated by right-wing talk radio. Then Obama’s in, we have a downturn, he can’t do it right away. But nevertheless, in the second term, we’ve got all these Republicans that are willing to vote for a very extensive comprehensive immigration bill. And [before that] I was on the Judiciary Committee for the second [2007] bill [S 1639], and [Sen.] Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) asked [Sen.] Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and me to be in the first group. We were the only two senators that worked on it with [Sen. Lindsey] Graham (R-S.C.) and [Sen. John] Kyl (R-Ariz.) and the like.

And then just recently when we were trying to make that “Dreamer deal” and got gut-punched by the Homeland Security secretary and the White House, I was in that room. [Sen.] Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and I were probably the most progressive people in there, and it was a bunch of moderate Democrats as well as people like [former Sen. Jeff] Flake (R-Ariz.) and people like [Sen.] Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and people that might be unexpected. And we made that deal, and then we got gut-punched.

So what does that all lead me to think? That it is ripe to get immigration reform done. The changing demographics in this country, the Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO, the need to have workers in things like home healthcare and the like where we don’t have enough workers. And so I actually think this is an exciting opportunity to work on that issue.

But when we get to the naivete and making sure that we are not a Pollyanna about Mitch McConnell, there are certain issues like climate change where I think — given the unbelievable actions of the [Trump] administration in California to even shut down the attempts to do gas mileage standards and literally threaten the car companies who are willing to hang on, like Ford, with antitrust violations — I think the president is going to have to use the bully pulpit and stand her ground on these issues, on climate change. And I think given what we’re seeing in red states now in the middle of the country with the flooding, that there is a real opportunity to do that.

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So like in everything else, it’s not one-size-fits-all. Putting out my 100-day plan with 137 things that are legal that a president should do without Congress, that’s a good start. That’s like what FDR did those first 100 days. But then it’s picking up those major pieces of legislation, including gun safety, that need to be done in the first year. And that’s what I’ve pledged to do. And I think being straight with people about what you’re doing. When I put down that 100-day benchmark, I think that’s the beginning. And then the second is building on the relationships that I already have, to figure out what they’ll work on. And then the third is using the bully pulpit and pushing over the things that they don’t want to work on.

Now the tax reform piece of it, it’s going to be integral to paying for some of this stuff, reversing some of the Trump tax cuts to pay for infrastructure and the like. But again, I go back to the whole concept that we win big. So you’ve got a candidate that can win the Senate races in Arizona and Colorado and beyond.

Kerry Cavanaugh, editorial writer: You come from a Midwest state with a large rural population. How concerned are you with the concentration of jobs and economic opportunities in big cities and coastal regions? And how would a Klobuchar administration try to spread the wealth and encourage that investment across the country?

Klobuchar: That’s a great question because I think that’s the only way you build the political coalition to deal with things like housing, which you guys know so well, as well as child care and the like. So, I think people sometimes are very surprised to find out that rural child poverty is actually higher in certain areas, because of the lack of services, than it is in [urban] areas. That there are these child-care deficits where literally people can’t even get into a child care center because there isn’t one. And so my plan is to actually build a big coalition around these issues, which includes investment in a lot of these areas. Because that’s the only way you’re going to get the political clout, and it’s actually the best thing to do. It’s cheaper to live in some of these mid-sized towns like Duluth; I just use that example as it’s buried under two feet of snow, but it has a lot of innovative businesses in it. Or like so many of the cities of that size in California.

And the way you do that is making sure that you say that you’re spreading the wealth, you’re putting in incentives. You look at certain strongholds, like what San Jose has done — I just mentioned that because I got their endorsement — when it comes to tech in certain areas of the country. And you try to use the incubators to get more businesses going.

We’re in a start-up slump right now. We are down 30% in our country for start-ups. It’s why Tim Scott, a Republican senator from South Carolina, and I started this [Senate] entrepreneur caucus as well as another one we did on diversifying tech, because we’ve got to figure out what’s holding people back. And I think part of it continues to be some of the healthcare cost issues. But it is also consolidation making it harder and harder for people to start the next Google instead of just being swallowed up by this Google.

And you see that not just in tech, I’m not picking on them. It’s pharma, it’s ag and the like. So I think this is actually an exciting thing to work on, with start-ups, because start-ups are easier to start up in a regional area where they’re also easier to start up if you have less expensive place to get employees and to get work. You’ve got to be able to have broadband and everything else that comes with it to do it.

Robert Greene, editorial writer: Hi, Senator. You mentioned the First Step Act and a possible Second Step, and I wonder if you can talk a little bit about your position on recent reform efforts to go even further. You did mention California, but doing things like shortening sentences or eliminating money bail and diverting addicts and the mentally ill from the criminal justice system, reducing penalties for drug possession. In your view, how far is too far to go down this kind of road?

Klobuchar: The No. 1 duty of a commander in chief is to keep people safe. And that should be the No. 1 duty in government. And that includes, of course, keeping people safe from crime. But I will always believe that your job is to convict the guilty and protect the innocent. And when I look at the criminal justice system, I always say you want it to be efficient, but you really don’t want it to be like a business because you don’t want to see repeat customers. You actually want to get people out of the system and have them gainfully employed. And you probably know Minnesota is not just land of 10,000 lakes, but land of 10,000 treatment centers, including Eagleton Betty Ford that I think’s expanding in California. (Now my staff’s checking that to see if I was wrong, what I just said. I just read it.)

So I think a few things. You mentioned a few of the ways you do this. I’d say No. 1 is to give people the help they need. And just based on my experience, there’s a huge connection with addiction. And that’s why I’m such a huge proponent of drug court. When Ted Kennedy died, I took over the lead for pushing for funding for federal drug courts, which are not as prevalent as state [drug courts], just thinking of the kind of crimes you have. But we have started a federal drug court. Helping to get more funding to state drug courts, where a lot of the cases are. And I’ve actually spoken at so many drug court graduations because it’s one of the most amazing things that goes on in our criminal justice system. Veterans courts, mental health court, just trying to figure out pathways where people can get the help that they need and the follow-up that they need.

The other piece of this is, you mentioned cash bail, and I’m really interested in what California has done legislatively. I think it’s a worthwhile model. Not easy, like any model would be. But it’s certainly worth looking at as we look at how we create incentives for states to make changes to the cash bail system, which so obviously hurts people of color as well as people of less income.

My daughter actually is the legislative director, at the ripe old age of 24, of a City Council member in Manhattan. And she actually worked on that cash bail bill that they are passed in the City Council in New York City. And so there’s just some really exciting work that we’re doing on that. And I actually just put out a policy on criminal justice changes.

OK, so other things would be a clemency board, separate and apart from the Justice Department, advising on pardons. That actually came out of a case, for me, in California. A woman named Josephine, who was one of the people that was pardoned by President Obama. She literally had served 24 years when she wasn’t doing drugs, or directly selling drugs, until President Obama gave her clemency. And when I talked to her, I said, “What are you doing now?” She said, “Being the best grandma in the world.” So we need to see more of that. I also think building on the First Step Act [to enact] the Second Step Act, when 90% of people incarcerated are in state and local jails, and making sure that you have those incentives in place.

I think the other piece of it is, when people get out, you know, the “Ban the Box” issue, so that’s not the first question they’re asked on interviews. Allowing felons to vote when they get out. And you’ve got even some states like Florida, although they’ve had trouble implementing it, that are doing that now.

And so I actually think someone with my background, while you get a lot of grief for being a prosecutor these days, I think my understanding of the criminal justice system, my track record of working on reform, both at a time when not many people were doing it and then when I got to the U.S. Senate, would lead one to think this is a good person who can continue the work that others should have been doing now for years, on doing something when it comes to criminal justice reform.

Greene: A really quick follow-up. You mentioned this a time that local prosecutors are taking a lot of flak, which makes me think of Mike Bloomberg. He found it necessary, or appropriate, to apologize for his stop-and-frisk policies. And I wonder if there’s any kind of reckoning due, or apology owed, in your view, from the time that you were a prosecutor in Hennepin County.

Klobuchar: So I supervised 10,000 to 15,000 cases a year, and I cannot account for everything that happened in every case. I do know that the African American incarceration rate, if you look at the pure numbers, went down 12% since I got there. But if I can think of one policy change that I would make in addition to the obvious that weren’t in place at that time, like body cameras for police and some of the interrogation methods and things like that, is that when we had police shootings, really in every jurisdiction I knew of in my state and across most of the country, we would give those cases to a grand jury.

And we did that because at the time we thought, you know, we would never just not look at the case. We would actually present every police shooting to a grand jury, and they would make a decision about whether or not charges should be brought. And when I’m looking at it now in light of the Philando Castile case we had a Minnesota — which was, of course, past my time, but I got involved in meeting with family and have a lot of respect for the county attorney in neighboring St. Paul that did that case — I think it’s much better for the county attorney to take responsibility herself, or the D.A., to make the decisions on those cases.

So that would have been a major shift. I’m not certain it would’ve resulted in changes in any of the cases, but I do know, even though the jury ended up coming back not-guilty in the Philando Castile case, that was the right thing to do, instead of giving it to grand jury, for our D.A. to make that decision themselves. So that is something that I have made very clear, I thought was wrong back during that time and something that I would change if I had the job today.

Carla Hall, editorial writer: Hi, Senator. There have been a number of published reports about you berating your staff, and you do have one of the highest staff turnover rates in the Senate. When you’ve been asked about this before, you point to the fact that there are people who have stayed with you for a long time, and you say you have high standards. But is treating people meanly, even cruelly, an acceptable way to exercise a high standard?

Klobuchar: No, and I think that it’s clear that I could always do better, and I have done better. And the turnover rate actually — which involves a small number of employees for every senator, because they only have, I don’t know, 50 people or so — I actually have done better in the last year than nearly everyone still running for president, except for one or two, I think. I can’t remember. You can look at the numbers. And that’s a good thing, especially while I’m still running for president, that we’ve been able to maintain that.

I would also point to the fact that I had a little different hiring model. There’s a few people like this — I think [Sen.] Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) is one — where we’ve hired people that we know may stay just one or two years. Especially during the Obama administration, where they hired 22 of my staff, which is kind of extraordinarily good, I would say. Or some excellent positions, including John Kerry’s deputy of policy. Actually two of my people, one was Hillary [Clinton]'s, one was John Kerry’s. Barack Obama’s head scheduler. You can just go through people that worked for me that went on to incredible careers.

And then I’d say the other thing is that my campaign, and no one can refute this, our campaign has stuck together through thick and thin. And let’s just say that we were not expected, probably, as I was standing in that snowstorm [when she announced her candidacy in February 2019] where a lot of pundits predicted I wouldn’t even make it through that speech, to make it through the summer, much less to that debate stage in New Hampshire and beyond. And a lot of that was our staff. Some of them were former staff of mine who came back, and we have, literally, everyone has stuck together from the very beginning, including my campaign manager, who’s been with me over 15 years, including my former chief of staff, who’s been with me, she’s here right now — six years? — eight years, sorry. And including just a number of people. And you haven’t heard mean-spirited things through this campaign. I think people have heard nothing but good. And we also have a number of exciting young people that are working on the campaign.

So I just think when you look at me compared to other people, when you’re running for president there can be nothing more difficult than that in terms of the stress and the potential for problems on campaigns because they’re so fast-moving. But we have not had any of that.

And I think the New York Times, I’m sure you read their endorsement, where they endorse me along with my friend Elizabeth [Warren], but you know they basically looked at that. And they also noted that there’s a number of men that have issues with that. That is not to say that it’s OK, and as I said I can always do better and I am doing better.

Hall: I looked at actually your staff turnover rate. The only candidate with a worse record was Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), but that can be wrong now.

Klobuchar: Oh, not at all. First, you need to look at the House rates, and that is people are at the top of the House. They’re all at like 100% turnover, and we’re at like, I think it’s like in the 30s. And, I don’t Gabbard, this is not a comment on her at all. And then secondly, in the last year, you can look [on LegiStorm]. It shows what our turnover rates were for the last year, which were not in the top 10, and below a number of other presidential candidates.

Michael McGough, senior editorial writer: I want to skip to foreign policy for a second. I was hoping you would clarify when and under what circumstances you would send U.S. troops abroad. I mean, you voted for the resolution requiring the president to get the approval for war against Iran. On the other hand, you supported the operation in Libya, in 2015, you supported airstrikes and special forces in the anti-terrorism activities abroad.

Would you, as president, keep special forces in Afghanistan and Iraq without a new authorization from Congress? Would you approve continuing to use drone strikes to take out terrorist leaders? And if you did that, would you ask for new approval from Congress?

Klobuchar: OK. That’s a lot. I want to start with my view of this, and that is that we should go to Congress. Our president should go to Congress for an authorization of military force. I am a big supporter of the work that my friend, Sen. [Tim] Kaine (D-Va.) has done in this area. Not just the resolution I just supported with Iran, but even before that when he was making the case that we should step back and have a new authorization of military force instead of using the old ones, of course one involving Iraq and another as well. And people were using [those] for more extensive activities. And we never were able to get that done, but I think he’s right.

And I think if you were going to commit American troops, and risk their lives in a major effort abroad, then you need to get authorization of military force. And I thought this vote was a really important one. I imagine the president’s going to veto it, but I think it is very, very important.

Obviously, there are things that happen sometimes where there is a limited response. Like, to give another example, I supported Trump’s limited response on the sarin gas, the use of the gas in Syria. Now there are other issues with regard to his policy in Syria. I did not support taking the 150 troops away from the border, because I think that it subjected our Kurd allies, who’ve lost 11,000 of their own soldiers and people because they stood with us — I think it’s a horrible message to send to the rest of the world, including actually Israel, in terms of standing with our allies. I would have actually done more with the humanitarian zone and other things early on in Syria, but we are where we are now. I’m also concerned about the foothold for ISIS that can create.

So back to Afghanistan and Iraq ... we may as well go on a tour here. I would, of course, leave limited troops there. I think [in regards to] Afghanistan, we need to bring our troops home. People deploying right now were not even born when we first got into that conflict, and now it is time to negotiate some kind of a peace settlement between the Afghani government and the Taliban. Would I have, at whatever time it was in the morning, sent out a tweet in my bathrobe — I actually don’t know if he [President Trump] was wearing a bathrobe, but — about inviting the Taliban to Camp David when he didn’t even have a deal? No, that was the worst. But I would work with our allies. I think Pakistan and India could be very helpful here.

And I also would, once that was negotiated, leave counter-terrorism and training troops there in limited numbers. Of course, the same in Iraq. I don’t think this is the moment to take all our troops out of Iraq, given what the president has done here, the decision he made with [assassinating Iranian Gen. Qassem] Suleimani.

And then as for Libya, you asked about that. That, to me — a little similar to the sarin gas, but in a broader way — was a humanitarian catastrophe where [Moammar] Kadafi was about to slaughter his own people. And I think it’s still a very difficult situation in Libya, and I think we have to continue to work with our allies and our partners.

The drone strikes you asked about, I would consider other use in extremely targeted settings, in consultation with military advisors, and in a way that is consistent with our commitment to human rights. And I think, overall, you can find my foreign policy — I gave a big speech on this at the Council on Foreign Relations, on the five Rs, which is to renew American leadership across the world, and to repair relationships with our allies that [Trump] has so damaged, and to renegotiate ourselves back into international agreements like the Iranian nuclear agreement, the Russian arms agreement, to respond appropriately to threats around the world, and then finally to reassert American values. So it’s worth looking at that to get a fuller view of my foreign policy.

And I think the other thing I’ll note is, [former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie] Yovanovitch’s view, which she expressed so eloquently at that hearing. He has hollowed out the State Department and so much of our leadership in so many other agencies as well, that a new president — and actually this is an exciting opportunity — is going to have to come in there and try to bring back people that have left, but also have a call to action for people to serve our country overseas. And I think it could actually ignite a lot of interest in serving in government, which is such a contrast to what Trump has been doing.

McGough: I just have a real quick follow-up. Is this an issue that you draw distinctions between yourself and your opponents? I was thinking particularly of Sen. [Bernie] Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Warren. Should we go on the assumption that you would be more willing to use force than they would be?

Klobuchar: I can’t comment on each individual action. I just, I’ve laid out mine and where I’m coming from. And you can see those votes I’ve had in the last 12 years in the Senate. And I think that it’s just a case-by-case decision. And there’s been some things I’ve disagreed with them on on the debate floor. I think one of them was actually with the Pete [Buttigieg] on the Mexican cartels. I wouldn’t have called them terrorist organizations. The USMCA [trade agreement], I think you saw my disagreement there with Bernie, in Technicolor, as well as [Tom] Steyer. That was interesting, between the two of them. Being someone that’s actually been in the arena and the need to — maybe you don’t get the perfect agreement, but this one has some significant labor changes. And it’s so important for us in dealing with China to have a North American trading bloc, which is very different than [Sanders’ position]. And I think that, I’m sure there’s ways I differ from Elizabeth, but you’ll have to check on those and you guys can ask me.

Karen Klein, editorial writer: Hi, Senator. Since the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, and certainly during the Trump administration, we haven’t been hearing that much about how to improve our K-12 schools, what needs to be done to turn around performance on various levels for all students. And I wondered what your thoughts were about how we can improve public education in the country?

Klobuchar: Yeah, sure. So this is near and dear to my heart. I went to the public schools, my daughter went to public schools, and she actually was, for years, in schools that were free and reduced lunch majority, back from middle school on. One was 90%; she was there for two years. So I have seen not only the suburban schools I attended, but also the inner-city schools that my daughter attended, and the differences between the schools. My mom taught second grade until she was 70 years old. So I am all-in on working with our public schools.

So you are right, there hasn’t been a lot of work on the issues before us with public schools. And I think part of that is we have one Betsy DeVos as education commissioner to this day. When I talk about that 100-day plan of mine, the biggest whoop and cheer comes from my statement that in the first 100 seconds I can fire Betsy DeVos. And I think when you have someone that polarizing as education secretary, it’s going to be really hard to make some of the more nuanced changes that we need to make. So let me suggest some of my ideas.

I am really into matching our education system with our economy, and when you look at it that way, that is good for our preschool and K-12. Because when you look at the fact that we’re going to have over 1 million openings for home healthcare workers in this country, to me that means making sure they’ve got a good K-12 education, and then they’ve got benefits like childcare and the like. Which is why I don’t want free college for all, because I don’t want to put hard-earned taxpayer money into sending a certain percentage of kids that can afford it to college on the taxpayer dime. I would rather put it to workforce training and helping with our K-12.

And then you look at [the fact that] we’re going to have over 100,000 openings for nursing assistants. That means a good K-12 [education], and then one- and two-year degrees that I would make free. Then we’re going to have over 70,000 openings for electricians that we do not know how we’re going to fill in this country. We are not going to have a shortage of [people with] sports marketing degrees. I’m sure there’s a number of them in L.A., just as there are in Minnesota. We are going to have a shortage of plumbers.

And so looking at it that way you come up with these solutions. You come up with that K-through-12 funding. And I would pay for that by [changing] the estate tax rate. I would bring the estate tax to the level of exemption it was under Obama, which was $3.5 million. It’s now gone up under Trump to over $11 million. That literally brings in $100 billion that could be used for investment in our schools.

Also, something key in your state is infrastructure for schools, which is part of my major infrastructure plan. Having known that in Baltimore, a lot of the schools, a number of the schools, didn’t even have heat in the last few years.

So my plan is: One, raise the teacher pay and get some federal funding into our schools directly. Two, doing what I call progress partnerships, which are when a state puts money in, then money can come in from the federal [government] if they meet certain requirements about investing in underserved areas, as well as one of my favorites, which is helping kids prepare to get these one- and two-year degrees while they’re there. And then the third thing is these one- and two-year degrees that I think are so critical, the fastest growing job openings we have, making those free and then doubling the Pell Grants for college.

But I think this combination, to get back to your question, on K-through-12, with the funding, as well as the progress partnerships, as well as funding I.D.E.A. [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act], as well as infrastructure investment is really the answer.

Goldberg: When you say that you’re not comfortable having a democratic socialist on the Democratic ticket, what exactly do you mean by that? What is it that Bernie Sanders stands for that makes you uncomfortable?

Klobuchar: So what it is, is I think it is not where our country is. I know there are troubles right now with capitalism, and there have to be better checks and balances, and the world has gotten more and more unfair in terms of income inequality. But I think that some of these proposals [by Sanders] would not make things better if ever this was to actually happen. That’s my first answer.

My second answer is that there is no way, I don’t think, you’re going to build a big coalition, even if you eke out a victory, that we need to win in states like Arizona and Colorado to actually get these things done. And that is the difference between a plan and a pipe dream. I think my proposals are bold when it comes to climate change and when it comes to education, but I show how I’m going to pay for it, and that’s the difference between a plan and a pipe dream.

The other piece of it is, I was in the private sector for 13, 14 years, so I have some understanding of that compared to some of the [other] people up on that [debate] stage. I also think that equips me to be able to deal with things like tech. One of my big clients was MCI, and I got to see the change in the local and the long-distance rates when they were the scrappy competitors that got into the market and took on the monopoly. I also think that when it comes to things like “Medicare for all,” I don’t think kicking so many — 149 million — Americans off their current health insurance in four years, that makes no to me. I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Since I’m in Vegas, I remember in one debate, I said to Bernie, “I don’t think you should be ... going for a number that’s not even on the wheel.” Two-thirds of the Democrats in the Senate are not on that [Medicare for all] bill. A lot of our new governors that got elected in swing or red states do not support that. All these new House members, most of them that are in hard districts like in Orange County, do not support that. So I think you’ve got to be realistic. The Affordable Care Act is now nearly 10 points more popular than the president of the United States, so blowing it up makes no sense politically.

What makes sense is taking on pharma, which I’ve done since I got there, including working with Bernie, including working with a number of other Republican senators. Building on addiction and mental health work. And then finally, what we should be talking about is long-term care, because no one’s said anything about it. It’s not just Medicaid and Social Security, it’s creating incentives for people to buy long-term care insurance, and for people to be able to stay in their homes. Those to me are realistic things where we can get to work and get things done, as opposed to his philosophy.

Healey: If we could go back to one thing you mentioned about trade, you talked about your support for the USMCA. Could you pull the camera back and talk generally about your approach to trade policy? Because President Trump has definitely moved us in a direction toward protectionism and managed trade, and he actually has some support along those lines in labor. And Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) from time to time has praised the steps he’s taken. What would your general approach be, and then how would you apply that to the problems posed by China?

Klobuchar: So I look at it this way. Over 90% of our potential customers are outside of our borders. And our goal should be to make stuff in America and export to the world. And every time you hold an American-produced good in your hand, you’re holding the equality and quality and the hopes and dreams of the people that made it. So that’s my fundamental first thing.

The second is targeted trade enforcement. By the way, if you can show you me what you say when you have a trade agreement as opposed to blowing it off, you’re going to get more public support. We just had this situation in Minnesota with Chinese steel dumping. This happened during the second term of President Obama, extending into Trump’s [term], but we did something big on it. We passed a bill, I brought [Obama’s White House Chief of Staff] Denis McDonough up there, we met with the mine owners and the steelworkers, and we were able to get the administration to make some major changes in how they enforce the law.

I literally went to the bowels of the Commerce Department when they had started to make headway, and brought [food] to the lawyers and the accountants, and there were like hundreds of them that no one has met that have to do the hard work every single day working on those things, and no senator had ever visited them. So I just think promoting that trade enforcement in this complex world is going to be really, really important.

I have voted for some trade agreements, like USMCA and [the] South Korea [free trade agreement], and I voted against others. I look at things on a case-by-case basis. I do think that some of the improvements that were made to USMCA were really helpful. I also worked with the Canadians. I head up the Canadian American Inter-Parliamentary Group, and for a while they were going to be left out of that trade agreement. And I got a bunch of Democrats and Republicans, 15 senators, including people like [Sen. Pat] Toomey [R-Pa.] and others to go with me to a very, very long dinner with the Canadians over at the embassy and the ambassador to figure out what needed to be done. I’m not saying I made the difference by any means, but then [Sen.] Rob Portman [R-Ohio] took the baton from there and worked with the [Trump] administration on getting Canada back into that agreement.

I think that Trump’s anti-globalism is of course not just about trade, it’s about how he talks about people and countries that could be huge trading partners for us, like Africa, as the Chinese continue to invest in rail there. I just think the intangible piece, to get away from the crossing the Ts and dotting the I’s on every trade agreement, the intangible piece is how he talks about the rest of the world.

Finally, you asked about China, and to me the way you take on China is with a united front. That’s one major reason, as I said on the debate stage when I was debating Tom Steyer, who I know is a billionaire and I’m not, about the need to have that trade agreement is having that coalition in North America to be able to take on China. We know they’re stealing our blueprints, subsidizing export industries, and I mentioned the dumping of steel. And the best thing that we can do is have a united front, including working toward a European trade agreement with the EU. Of course, that will have to have a separate one, or have part of one, with Britain. I wasn’t a big fan of Brexit.

And then the other piece of it will be engaging with the Asian countries again, with some changes to the original trade agreement [the Trans-Pacific Partnership] there. I think that that will be very important as well if we want to take on China.

Goldberg: What’s it going to be like coming out of the Trump era after four years of alienating allies, and disrespect for domestic institutions, and political polarization? Do you think that if you were to become president, is the country going to snap back into normalcy, or is this going to take an enormous amount of rebuilding?

Klobuchar: It is, but remember there’s a lot of people in those countries that still love America. There’s a lot of leaders that are waiting this out because they want to have a president they can work under. As you know, it is not just these big-ticket items like the Iranian nuclear agreement, which is of course so important, but it is also just things that happen in developing nations and partnerships and trust so that they’ll help out in a country where we can’t.

And so much of that has fallen by the wayside. The international climate change agreement. How are we going to be able to develop the next technology like we have in so many other instances, to be able to sell stuff if we have such bad relationships when it comes to working with the rest of the world? I think there’s eagerness to get back to some normalcy in our relationships where we don’t have a president that takes on the entire kingdom of Denmark.

One of my funnier things is I used that example at a debate, and a bunch of Danes started following me around at all my events like a cult from Denmark, and they would wave little Danish flags every time I mentioned it. So you see, I’m already making those relationships better. [Laughter.]

I think that would be a piece of it. I think the second thing is just a change we’re going to have to see in our country, to wake up one morning and not see any mean tweets at 6 in the morning. It’s going to be a lot less exciting to cover. I’ve actually thought about this a lot, being a kid of a journalist, that the press will be continuing to look for stuff that looks like it because that’s what they’ve been used to the last three years, going onto the fourth, and I will just be so much different.

I think you’ve got to try to do a lot of work with Congress, and trying to get them on board in a positive way on a number of issues. I think there’s got to be less drama. There’s enough drama being the president all the time when things happen, and you have to respond and explain it to the public. My dream is you get to a place where I would give an address and people wouldn’t be afraid to listen, even if they didn’t vote for me, just because they do that out of respect and they want to know what’s happening, as opposed to now where everyone mutes to volume because they’re afraid of having their kids hear what the president’s going to say.

That is really getting back to my first point, that this is a decency check, it is a patriotism check on this president, this election is. It is not just an economic check, because there are a bunch of moderate Republicans and independents out there that show up at my events, including today in Henderson, [Nev.], who are basically saying — with the media hearing and all — “I’ve been a Republican, I was a veteran, and I am changing my registration to caucus because I can’t stand this anymore.”

I know [Trump] still has some numbers and a clear base in the opinion polls, I’m not naive about that. But there is a whole lot of people who voted in 2018 that voted for Democrats in counties like Orange County who hadn’t done [so] before. My big advice to all our crowds is we better not screw this up because we have got to be able to bring people with us.

Cavanaugh: This election will be won by whoever can get the most people to show up.

Klobuchar: Yep.

Cavanaugh: And in 2008, there was so much enthusiasm, passion. Can you make people enthusiastic and excited and thrilled about you? Is that an issue? How will you make people just die to go vote?

Klobuchar: So I did that in my state. I know that sounds unlikely, but I did. We had the highest voter turnout. People were so excited about my campaigns really over and over and over again, and it helped with a number of things, including flipping the state House every single time I’ve led the ticket. Every single time it goes from Republican to Democrat, because I’m willing to go to rural areas and things like that.

But just to comment on what you said, you are right. We need a fired-up Democratic base in all of our glory, and they are fired up. If you look at the day after the inauguration when they started marching; the day after that, when 6,000 women signed up to run for office; 10 days after that, when people spontaneously showed up at airports to protest that refugee order; 100 days in, my favorite march, the March for Science, and my favorite sign: “What do we want? Science. When do we want it? After peer review.” And just continuing, to [Alabama Democratic Sen.] Doug Jones’ election and to that guy in New Jersey who lost that legislative race because on the day of the Women’s March, he said, “I hope they’re home in time to make dinner.” And he got defeated by an African American woman. So I see this fired-up base.

But one of the things you said was, it’s who gets the most votes. Well, we know that wasn’t true in Hillary’s case because she got the most votes. So it is getting the most votes, of course, because you want a national mandate, but it’s also winning in those states that we have to win to win [the election], and that’s states like Pennsylvania. And just as people get to know me more, I just saw a poll last week where I was ahead of Trump by six points with doing no national advertising, in front of two of the top-tier candidates that are running. It’s states like Wisconsin that we have to win, and states like Ohio. And I do have a knack of winning in those areas.

I also think that you’ve got to look at those Senate seats. If you want to get gun safety legislation done, which you badly want in California, and you want to get climate change legislation through, which is a national imperative, and immigration reform, we’ve got to win those U.S. Senate seats in Arizona, and in Colorado, and Maine, and a few other places, and hopefully hold on to Doug Jones’ seat. It’s just pure math, as Andrew Yang would say. It’s math, and you’ve got to look at those states as well, and ask what candidate can best do that, and put together the coalition.

Hall: Do you have any thoughts about how you would approach homelessness as an issue?

Klobuchar: Yes, so I think the first thing is the housing policy that I’ve laid out. One of the things in there, which is different than a lot of the candidates, is to take on the Section 8 backlog in a big way — a big thing in Los Angeles, where 4 million families are on the waiting list for public housing, Section 8 housing vouchers. And in many places the wait time is two to three years. It’s absurd.

And I have shown how I’m going to be able to pay for this, which I do for all my plans, with some changes, most of them to the Trump tax cuts and a corporate minimum tax. And then also putting in incentives for housing infrastructure, connecting people to housing by putting in emergency and long-term housing, and increasing access to case management.

The other thing I would say is, mental health help for people. Many of the homeless have mental illness, and getting that more, as I talked about earlier, out there and available. A number of our veterans are homeless. A lot of states have been working on that.

And then finally, just the goal of reducing child poverty 50% in 10 years — this is based on an Academy of Sciences report — as well as 100% in a generation. And I think that would also be helpful.

Healey: Very quickly, President Trump wants to run on the economy, and polling data suggests there’s plenty of people in the United States who think we have a very strong one. And then you have views like Andrew Yang’s, where he talks about the sort of apocalypse to come from artificial intelligence. Where do you fall on that very wide spectrum, and how do you sell the American public on the vision that a new leader at the top of the economy, regardless of how well we’ve done in the past three or four years, will be a better thing?

Klobuchar: Well, I would extend that back to the end of President Obama’s [first] term, as we got out of the downturn, where you see unemployment going down each year. That’s kind of a nerdy answer, but I think it’s important to know. I think that the answer there is, one, [Trump] has really done nothing to help people share in this prosperity when it comes to things like child care, the cost of things, taking on antitrust. We haven’t even talked about some of those big tech issues and the like. He talks the talk, but then he doesn’t do anything about it.

Doing something for people, for homelessness as we just discussed, but also for people that just want to stay in a neighborhood and be able to afford housing, retirement, long-term care, all those things I mentioned. They are not only key to shared prosperity, which people feel. The workers out there that start to wonder, “Wait a minute, he’s living in this nice house, he’s got this great job, he made all these promises, and I’ve got to go and get a loan out ‘cause I can’t afford the mortgage.”

I think that case is important, but the second, which I think with California being such a pioneer in so many ways, it’s thinking ahead to these pillars of our economy that we need to work on. That means immigration reform, you can’t just sit there and not do anything about it. It means climate change and the havoc that’s going to wreak on our economy if we don’t do something about it. It means other things, like I mentioned tourism and things where we just have not seen the kind of thinking ahead. Infrastructure, where we could make things so much better if we put in some money so that goods can go to market and people can get to jobs. It’s just that simple.

I think making that case, as well as the case of how he basically, when things are down, he doesn’t rise to the occasion, he whines. A lot of people in America can’t afford to whine, they just have to work harder.

Goldberg: Thank you so much.

Klobuchar: Thanks for spending your Saturday with me. Thank you. Bye.


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