Klobuchar met with The Times’ editorial board Dec. 10. She put an emphasis on the practical — what she genuinely feels she can achieve in her administration — as she addressed big questions on economics, health policy and foreign policy. The board aimed at getting a sense of the vision underlying that pragmatism.
Here is a transcript, with [annotations in bracketed italics], of the 90-minute discussion, which was filmed for a special episode of “The Weekly,” The Times’ TV show on FX and Hulu. The transcript is unedited.
Kathleen Kingsbury: So Senator, we’ve all watched the debates. Many of us have heard you on the trail. We’ve heard you talk a lot about health care in the past and the Middle East and your past boyfriends. [LAUGHTER] So we want to ask you some questions that we haven’t heard you answer so far. We’re going to just jump right in. I hope that’s OK. National polls show that the former vice president, Joe Biden, is still leading in a lot of places. Your platform in many ways is very similar to his. [Though former Biden and Klobuchar are both moderates in the race, most polls have consistently shown Biden leading Klobuchar by at least 20 percentage points.] Make the case for us of you versus Joe Biden?
AK: Sure. The No. 1 case is that I am someone that has a record of bringing people with me and winning in districts that eluded the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016. And the, I guess, proof point is what happened in Minnesota where Secretary Clinton, who would have been a great president, had her lowest percentage in a state that she won in the country. And then I went on, as I’ve done now three times, to win every rural congressional district, including the ones bordering Iowa, North and South Dakota, including the Iron Range, northern Minnesota, where the steelworkers are and including Michele Bachmann’s district. And you don’t do that just by a fluke when you do it three times.
And how I’ve done this is by going not just where it’s comfortable, but where it’s uncomfortable. We also had the highest voter turnout in the United States of America when I have led the ticket and flipped the statehouse every single time from Republican to Democrat because it is truly a purple state.
I have done that because I view these races not as a personal victory for me, but a state and a national victory. And when you look at it that way, you bring people with you. You bring other electeds with you, and you bring voters with you.
While a lot of people have talked about that on the stage, they actually don’t have the track record of doing it. And I think in such a critical election that that should really, really matter.
The other thing about me is that I am from the heartland, and I think that that matters in this election as well when you look at the states that we need to put together to not just have a victory at four in the morning, but to win big. Those states include states that are very similar to mine: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio. As I have said several times, I want to build a blue wall around those states and make Donald Trump pay for it.
Those states have significant, of course, manufacturing but also agriculture. I’m the only candidate that’s left in this field who asked to be on the Agriculture Committee, [who is] a senior member of that committee and that really knows these issues. And it’s an area where Donald Trump has completely messed things up.
Finally, I am in a new generation of leaders. I’m well aware I’m only one of two women that are left on that stage after my friend Kamala made that difficult decision just last week. I wish she was still on the stage, honestly. And I think that despite some of the common wisdom of who can beat Donald Trump, I think a woman is a strong candidate to run against Donald Trump. And one of my challenges is to convince some of those people who may be in Vice President Biden’s camp just because they think he’s more electable or in Mayor Buttigieg’s camp that actually I’m the one that can win. [The question of electability, as it pertains to gender, is one that hangs like a cloud over the 2020 campaign. A recent poll conducted by Ipsos for The Daily Beast showed that three-quarters of respondents were comfortable voting for a female candidate, but only one-third thought their neighbors would agree — often something people say when polled to share a view that they personally hold but are embarrassed by.]
KK : OK. We have a lot of other questions for you. A growing number of Americans, especially in the states that you just named, believe that the economy is rigged against them. Yet you are calling for incremental change relative to other candidates. [Klobuchar’s economic policies have separated her from the progressives in the primary contest, such as Warren and Sanders, even as she and other “moderates” have staked out positions to the left of where Clinton was in 2016. She does not support a wealth tax or Medicare for All, and wouldn’t fully repeal Trump’s tax law. She has said she would have lowered the corporate tax rate, though not by as much as Trump. (Updated) This week Klobuchar’s campaign contacted us to tell us that she is, in fact, open to a wealth tax.] How do you make the case that that is sufficient for the existing challenge, and how do you reach the more progressive members of the Democratic Party?
Yeah, I don’t agree with the premise. I don’t think it’s incremental to want to go to carbon neutral with our environment, and to finally get something done on climate change. And my plan, which is similar to Gov. Inslee’s plan, and I think he really did us all a favor by getting in this race and making that such an issue. My plan is carbon neutral by 2050 and 45% reduction by 2030. It involves the day I get in as president, signing us back into the international climate change agreement and then putting back in place the clean power rules as well as the gas mileage standards, something that you have written about, that I questioned the head of the antitrust division just recently about, about how even when California has been trying to move forward with those gas mileage standards, the administration has chosen to attack the companies that are trying to work with California and threatening antitrust violations, which is completely outrageous.
So those are three examples of things I would do immediately. I don’t think that’s one bit incremental. Nor is introducing sweeping legislation to price carbon. Other examples: Immigration reform. Two presidents have valiantly tried to get that done. George Bush tried. [In May 2007, Senate negotiators, including Klobuchar, announced a bipartisan deal for comprehensive immigration reform that would have offered legal status to most of the 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States at the time. At the time radio shows and the CNN host Lou Dobbs railed against President Bush’s immigration policy on nearly a nightly basis, helping to sour public opinion against the deal, as well as lawmakers’.] I know because I was in the small group that was picked to work on it. Sheldon [Whitehouse] and I were the two new senators in that group, and I saw how hard he was trying to get it done, but he was defeated. At the time it was Lou Dobbs and right-wing talk radio.
Then it was tried again when President Obama was in, and I was on the Judiciary Committee in 2013. That was a really big, good bill, supported by the AFL-CIO and the Chamber [of Commerce].
We can do it this time. I can do it because I’ve been intimately involved in these negotiations. Because I’m someone that knows exactly where the bodies are and who supports what and which senators were involved in the DACA bill and the compromise we tried to do on Dreamers. I think that’s a big plan to get that done in the first year, and I think it is completely doable. It’ll help our country in so many ways. It’ll help us economically and it will also help us with some of the border issues.
And another big plan: Public option. Barack Obama tried. I think our health care premiums that are in place right now, that people know we have to get this done. Taking on pharmaceuticals. I am the one that has done this from Day 1, never wavered. Lead the bill in negotiation for Medicare. I’ll lead the bill bringing in less expensive drugs from other countries. The bipartisan bill first was Sen. McCain, now with Sen. Grassley. And I’m the one that has taken on pharma from the very beginning. They know what I’m going to do when I get in there, and we need a president that knows, again, how to get this done.
The fact is that I have passed over a hundred bills since I’ve been in the U.S. Senate, not volleyball resolutions, but actual bills. Every one of them bipartisan. [Klobuchar has often focused on issues that attract bipartisan Senate support, such as lowering the cost of prescription drugs, and in 2016 was ranked first on the list of senators with the most bills enacted into law.] I think it shows compared to every other candidate that’s left there, maybe with the exception of the vice president who, of course, passed legislation when he was in the Senate, that I have that ability to get things done. So being bold isn’t just giving some flowery speech. Being bold isn’t just having the right talking points or getting people cheering. Being bold is about actually getting things done. And being a progressive, the last time I checked, meant that you should make progress, and I have done that and will do that as president.
Michelle Cottle : So now with a nod to one of your more dramatic debate moments, what is the difference then between —
AK: I was going to say that were many, which one is it? [LAUGHTER]
MC : The difference between a plan and a pipe dream. [During the fourth Democratic debate, Klobuchar went on the attack in response to Warren’s Medicare for All plan, saying, “The difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something you can actually get done. And we can get this public option done.”]
AK: Right. So the difference between a plan and a pipe dream is that you can get something done, that you have a plan for how you get it done, but you also have the ability to get it done. So maybe one of the reasons that some of my ideas are slightly different than my opponents is because I have factored that in. I’ve certainly factored it in my hundred-day plan, which I think shouldn’t be lost and I appreciated your newspaper actually devoted some time to looking at it.
Several of my opponents have come up and said this was a really good idea. It’s over 137 things, so these are not pipe dreams, [but things] that you can do without Congress, legally. [Klobuchar was the first candidate to release a detailed plan for her first 100 days in office, which included 137 items (the last one reading “and more!”). Roughly half entail rolling back actions taken by the Trump administration. Half a dozen are pieces of legislation, and the rest are executive actions from increasing the minimum wage for federal contractors to targeting robocall scammers.] And I love Congress, but I think we have to set a new tone. When FDR did the first 100-day plan in this country, he did it because we were in an economic crisis. But he also did it because he wanted to change the tone. And we need that more than anything else right now. We need to have a trust of government, a trust in institutions, a president that isn’t going to send out mean tweets, and this strong belief that America can be America. That we can actually get things done and take on big challenges. And you do that by changing the tone immediately. So that’s something worth looking at. It’s on our website.
But the other thing about the plan and the pipe dream, so one of those reasons I led with those things, is because that’s going to be a way to make people feel we’re part of a country that’s moving forward again.
Other examples of that, for me, it means we’re not just going to say things that sound good on a bumper sticker. [Klobuchar here is referring to proposals by her opponents.] And some of these ideas have merit, don’t get me wrong, but I also look at what are you promising people if we actually can’t get this done, if we actually don’t even have the support with a good chunk of our own political party.
So I look at things like the college issue. There I think — and this is a policy thing for me — how do we connect the education system we have now, which needs a lot of help through K through 12 — something near and dear to my heart because my mom taught second grade until she was 70 years old [“People still come up to me and say she was their favorite teacher,” Klobuchar said of her mother, Rose, when she died in 2010. “She loved to make teaching come alive, including dressing up each year as a monarch butterfly for the second-grade insect unit.”] — how do we hook that up into our economy and where the jobs are?
What bothers me is if we don’t look at what the fastest growing jobs are right now, which are one- and two-year degree jobs. [According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fastest growing jobs in the country include: home health aides, personal care aides, information security analysts, occupational therapy assistants and a large number of other occupations that, as Klobuchar points out, don’t rely on advanced degrees like MBAs.] So we’re not going to have a shortage of MBAs or CEOs. We’re going to have a shortage of plumbers. We’re going to have a shortage of home health care workers. We’re going to have over a million home health care workers open those jobs in the next 10 years, and we’re going to have a hundred and something thousand openings for nurse assistants and we’re to have 64,000 job openings for plumbers. And so how do you make sure that we are, one, paying people enough — that’s the dignity of work — to do these jobs, but then also making sure our education system is fitting with our economy? Where does that lead me to with the pipe dream and the plan? Well that says, OK, what’s the best policy, but also how can we get it done?
I think that there is huge support out there even in conservative areas for things like — I’ve watched it in my own state. They vote for bonding referendums in the most conservative [places] if they see that, oh, our high school needs more robotics equipment and we need to make sure that we are matching the jobs in our community because we don’t have enough people working at that plant or we don’t have enough nurses or doctors in the hospital. So they’ll pay for that.
What does that make me think? OK, how can we get the public big time behind this plan? Hook it in with the economy. And so that’s where I end up with one- and two-year degrees free and then doubling the Pell grants, which would help very much with the students that need it the most. Expanding the income level from $50,000 to $100,000, and so that would give a lot more help to the people that need it most. Not sending wealthy kids to college for free, but instead making sure that we’re helping the people that need it the most. [This is an implicit critique of plans by several of Klobuchar’s more progressive opponents who support extensive loan forgiveness or free-for-all tuition plans.]
I would extend that into loan repayments, so that yes, you allow kids to refinance their student loans. If you allow multimillionaires to refinance their yacht, maybe you should allow students to refinance their loans. But you also fix that loan payback program that Betsy DeVos has so messed up. And you fix that for those in public service, including teachers, but you also actually extend it, and you extend it to other jobs, in-demand jobs. And that could really help us to match up those degrees with what’s happening in our economy. And of course investing in HBCUs and all of the areas where you’re going to see where the students are that actually need the help.
Nick Fox : Why can’t the richest country in the world simply provide free higher education in public institutions?
AK: I think part of this is we have to look — even when you look at countries that do this more, I think they try to match their economy with what their jobs are. So I would rephrase it in a different way than, “Why can’t the richest country in the world do this?” I would say, “Why can’t one of the most advanced, if not the most advanced countries in the world figure out how to make our education system work for our students so that they’re able to be functioning members of our economy in a good way and are able to make a living?”
Because it’s not just about what their degree is. It’s also about when they are doing a job that we need them to do — like working in a nursing home or fixing someone’s plumbing — how do we make sure that they have enough to raise their family? So I would just look at it differently.
I don’t think we should be telling everyone that they should get a four-year degree. I think we should figure out what they want to do with their lives, with some incentives for them to do things that work in our economy and getting more people into technology and science and nursing instead of sports marketing degrees. And if you do that, you sure better make sure that they have a higher minimum wage, which I strongly support.
You better make sure that they have child care access, which, if you put in Patty Murray’s bill, will help people to afford child care even if they’re in the gig economy, which is about a third of our workers right now.
If you make sure they can get a decent retirement, when a third of our workers are in a gig economy and they don’t even have access to a 401(k), much less a pension. Chris Coons and I introduced this bill for portable savings accounts, and as president I could get it done. It is completely looking at this in a different way. Stopping the misclassification of workers that you looked at.
So I would phrase that question differently. I don’t think this is about everyone going to every single college. I think this is about looking at our economy and making sure our workers are being able to have a high quality of life and raise a family with the jobs that we have available now. [Again, a number of 2020 candidates have released plans calling for free public four-year college for all, including Sanders and Warren. Klobuchar said her problem with those plans “is they literally would pay for wealthy kids, for Wall Street kids to go to college.”]
NF : And that’s fine, that’s a —
AK: But that’s a question of where you spend the money.
NF : Well, it’s all — two different —
AK: So I may not want to spend the money on everyone getting a four-year degree when I think I should spend the money on child care and retirement and helping people that are the home health care workers, that we need as we look at the silver tsunami — which I don’t call it anymore, it’s too negative — silver surge coming our way with the aging of our population. [By 2035, America’s elderly population (65 and older) is projected to outnumber its children. The growth of the aging population has been a focus of Klobuchar’s campaign. In July, she released a plan to provide new cure and treatment options for chronic diseases afflicting older Americans, such as Alzheimer’s, by 2025.]
KK : Your platform calls for 100 actions in 100 days , mostly by executive order. We’re [already] living with an administration that has used a lot of executive orders so far. I want to read a statement that you said, “After four years of Donald Trump, a new president can’t wait for a bunch of congressional hearings to act. The urgent problems our country is facing require immediate action.” [While Warren has staked out territory as the wonky, deeply policy-oriented candidate by releasing detailed plans, Klobuchar’s 100-day plan was an effort to show her understanding of the different levers of government power. Klobuchar’s team looked closely at the legal authority her administration could use without congressional action.] How is that an improvement over the status quo?
AK: Because he’s been doing things that are illegal, not only the subject of this impeachment hearing right now, but also what they propose. They’re against the law. Whether they are using an emergency declaration to justify a wall or whether they are putting forth agency changes. And one of the more interesting things, I haven’t seen the latest numbers, but I think Brookings put out comparing their administration to say, the Bush administration, Clinton administration, Obama, how many of their rules and regulations have been overturned. It is worth looking at. It’s an astronomical difference between the other agencies and the other presidencies who are actually those administrations trying to obey the law. [Trump’s Executive Order 13771 required that “for every new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination.” During his first year in office, he eliminated 130 rules and regulations, including rules on the environment, labor, health care, education, immigration and civil rights.]
You have someone that has been blatantly, flagrantly disobeying the law across the board. So I wouldn’t do that. I am a lawyer, I’m on the Judiciary Committee. I believe strongly in the rule of law.
What we have put together is a, I consider, smart group of ideas that you can do that are legal. And that includes things like I mentioned the three climate change ideas. That includes things like, here’s one you might not have guessed, closing the “boyfriend loophole” for gun purchases. [In 2017, the editorial board ran a nine-part series examining domestic violence and guns, including a call to close the so-called boyfriend loophole. The series was recognized as a Pulitzer finalist for editorial writing.] That’s my bill right now. I lead that provision and Debbie Dingell took it on in the House after I introduced the bill. That is in the Violence Against Women Act. It’s what’s stopping that bill. And as president, I could actually close that loophole so domestic abusers can’t get AK-47s or any other kind of gun. I could close that loophole on my own. That is legal.
You can get a waiver for bringing in less expensive drugs from other countries. That is legal. You can do numerous things, and I could go on and on, without Congress. And I think that’s good. At the same time, of course you’re starting up, I want to do big bills. I can’t do immigration reform with the exception of changing some of his policies at the border without Congress.
So you can do two things at once. I’m a mom. So you can do these things you can do legally by rule and you must then start, because I come in, big consensus, we move quickly. You start doing these major priorities in getting these bills through Congress.
Jesse Wegman : Senator, you’re saying that President Trump has passed executive orders that are illegal. That depends on the court’s judgment of that. The courts are obviously being populated with more and more of President Trump’s own appointees. Don’t you think it’s possible, and even likely, that those appointees might look not as favorably on a President Klobuchar’s executive orders?
AK: I suppose. But I really suggest you look at the list because it’s really defined. You can start the gun violence research at the CDC. There’s a bunch of things that actually are just decisions of his administration — there are some things that Obama had done that they reversed. The domestic gag order, the international gag order, the funding of Planned Parenthood. These are things that were executive orders that you can change. So there’s a number like that. And then there’s some things that are new ideas. So look at the list because I think every one of them is legal.
John Broder : Sen. Klobuchar, you’ve mentioned your climate plan a couple of times, which also includes a carbon pricing mechanism. Talk to us a little bit more in detail on how that works. Just as a reminder, I covered the 1993-94 debate over the BTU tax and the 2009-2010 debate over cap and trade. Both of them contributed to the loss of the House by Democrats. [Clinton proposed an energy tax in his 1993 State of the Union, which was passed in the House but rejected by the Senate after a coordinated, largely business-driven lobbying effort against it. In 2010, the cap and trade bill — which began as a Republican plan — was shelved after facing industry opposition.]
AK: Yes, and I was actually part of that cap and trade debate. I was on the committee at the time. [Klobuchar was a member of the Senate Commerce Committee.]
I obviously supported the bill, but I remember thinking among many things that was the worst name of a bill ever, “Cap and Trade.” I think everyone thought it was fine because former McCain in the debates with President Obama had said he was for cap and trade. And then I would be in parades and people would yell, “No on trade, no on caps.” [Opponents labeled the bill “cap and tax,” and Tea Party members seized on it as a symbol of everything wrong with Washington. Even Sen. John Kerry criticized it with the statement, “I don’t know what ‘cap and trade’ means.”] It was a bad name. So I would just like to start with that.
OK, so the answer to me is you have to put a price on carbon. You can do it many ways. As I said at the town hall here in New York that some of this may depend honestly about, do we take back the Senate? Which I believe we can do if we win big, and I think the polls are starting to show that I’m right. If we can win in Kentucky and Louisiana in the governor’s race the day after Donald Trump goes down there, we can win in some of these Senate seats. So I think you can do it, one, by a tax on carbon. I think economists would prefer that. It’s the easiest, most straightforward way to do it. You can do it with the cap and trade proposal and you could do it with a renewable electricity standard.
JB : What would you do? Which would be your choice?
AK: I would work with Congress to figure out — I would be supportive of all three of these things. I think the most straightforward way to do it is on some kind of a tax on carbon, but I am open to looking at other ways because that is the difference between the plan and the pipe dream. Because I’m being realistic about how we get things done. And you could do a combination.
You could do a renewable electricity standard, which was, by the way, my bill [Klobuchar introduced a bill to create an aggressive renewable electricity standard in 2007, which would require electricity providers to generate or purchase 25% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025. She has since reintroduced the legislation in various forms, including a similar 2011 bill co-sponsored with Sen. Tom Udall and others.] when I first got to the Senate. After cap and trade went down, the environmental groups came to me and said, maybe we should look at this. But you could do that at the same time you do some kind of a tax.
I believe this is going to be the Armageddon issue that a president is going to have to stand up for because these other ones I mentioned, taking on the pharmaceutical companies, you already have seen some Republican cracks on that. And I think they know they have to get this done. Immigration reform, they know they have to get this done.
Workforce training, infrastructure, financing, so important to this area. I was the first candidate to come out with a trillion dollar plan, [Klobuchar unveiled her infrastructure plan in March 2019 as her campaign’s first official policy rollout. Her campaign said it would be the top budget priority of her administration.] which includes green infrastructure.
But when it comes to climate change, after you do those first three things yourself and a few other things you’re going to be able to do, a president really has to make this the line in the sand when it comes to negotiating and working with Congress. I think more important is to look at what are the issues that we can push in this campaign to get people with us beyond the coast. For so long it’s been about rising sea levels, which of course are very scary. The Greenland ice sheet melting, which I’ve personally seen.
But we have to start making the case to the people in the middle of the country. What does that look like? Raging fires like you’ve seen in Colorado and Arizona where those firefighters died. It is the weird weather events. It’s the wet cropland and making it impossible to either harvest or plant. It is the doubling of homeowner’s insurance, an argument that is not made enough across this country. It is the floods that we saw this last year in places like Iowa and Nebraska and in Missouri.
It’s the binoculars of a woman named Fran [Last March, Fran Parr’s home in Pacific Junction, Iowa, was swamped by 9 feet of floodwaters. Parr has since given at least seven Democratic candidates tours of her flooded home. She decided to endorse Klobuchar, she told Radio Iowa, after hearing the senator’s plans to deal with mental health.] that said, “Look through these. That’s my house. I bought it with my husband and we lived there with our 4-year-olds. And it’s nearly a hundred years old, there’s still horsehair in the plaster. It’s been sitting here for nearly a hundred years and I love the kitchen. I love the way the light comes in the kitchen.” And I looked through the binoculars. I say, “Where’s the kitchen?” She said, “You can’t see it anymore. It’s underwater.” Then I say, “Where’s the river? Is this the river Fran?” I thought, “Fran, you bought a house by a river,” because there’s raging water. She says, “No, no, that’s the highway.” She says, “The river is two-and-a-half miles away, and it’s never come this close before.” That’s climate change in the middle of the country.
Why do I do that? Because an overemphasis in a political debate on numbers and those kinds of things just makes people’s eyes glaze over. And I think so much of what we have to do is talk about what this is really meaning right now to people. Tie that to the economics and how we can make this work.
And third, and most importantly, since everyone’s plans are really quite similar, maybe with the exception of Bernie’s, I think what we need to do is to make people understand that we’re going to keep them whole. [Klobuchar’s climate plan is estimated to cost $1 trillion. She would raise $50 billion to $150 billion through clean energy bonds, and would ask Congress to increase the corporate tax rate to 25%. She would also increase the capital gains rate and establish a “financial risk fee” on banks.] And the only way, as you know, having covered this, you do that is with a carbon tax, or some kind of fee on carbon because then you can take that money — I think I estimate a trillion in our plan — you take that money and you plug it into a few things, research and technology into this.
My infrastructure plan is different, funded differently and separately. You plug it into incentivizing those new jobs in those areas that are going to be hurt the most by this transition. And it shouldn’t just have to be green energy jobs. And you do it by helping people with their bills and people who it’s going to affect how much it costs for them to get their energy. Why do I emphasize this? I emphasize that because we’re not going to pass it if we don’t do that. That’s the difference between some of the things you talked about.
Because it certainly felt different than how we talked about cap and trade. And also because I’ve lived this. My grandpa was an iron ore miner in northern Minnesota. Those mines would open and close. He’d have to go get a job logging and then they’d open again. I lived this. I remember driving up with my dad to Duluth and seeing a billboard when I was pretty young and it said, “Last one to leave, turn off the lights,” because things were so hard up there. They came back roaring back. I won’t go into all of the things about the iron ore mines and what we did, but more than that, it was about tourism. It was about new businesses. If you’ve ever heard that Epicurean cutting board, that was there. They did a bunch, and now it’s a thriving town under 22 inches of snow. [LAUGHTER]
KK : We still have a lot of questions to get through.
AK: I’ll make it shorter, I won’t filibuster.
JW : Senator, could you give us some names of people that you would consider appointing to the Supreme Court?
I’m not going to give names of people. I think that — could be something that — I don’t think it’s the right way to govern. But I will tell you the kind of justice I’d like to see. I think we have some great models in a Sonia Sotomayor who I helped work on that nomination. Elena Kagan, also, Stephen Breyer and may I not forget the notorious RBG. I think you have some models of what a justice would look like to me. And I also think that you have someone who has, if you look at the nominees that I made to the Federal District Court, a women named Mimi Wright, who’s extraordinary in Minnesota. Susan Richard Nelson. Put in an African American judge, African American U.S. attorney. Here’s an interesting point. The first openly gay marshal in United States history, openly. But I did that with a woman named Sharon Lubinski. [Susan Richard Nelson is a federal judge nominated to the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota by President Barack Obama. Sharon Lubinski, also a nominee of Obama’s, became the first openly gay United States marshal.] These were all people I recommended to President Obama, and he took my recommendation. So that’s my track record. You can look at as well as my work as a prosecutor and how I view justice.
JW : And can I just take you back briefly to the issue of executive orders and guns specifically. You mentioned the boyfriend loophole, but you’ve laid out an aggressive series of actions you would take. [Klobuchar has said her priorities on gun control include universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons and limitations on magazine sizes.] How would you go about doing that without alienating the millions of gun-owning Americans?
AK: Great question, because people don’t ask it enough. So I am the only one on that debate stage who has, again, won in areas that have a lot of hunters. My state is a big hunting state with a proud tradition of hunting and fishing. So when I look at these proposals, I say, “Do they hurt my Uncle Dick in his deer stand?” They do not. The assault weapon ban that I’ve long supported from when I was a prosecutor, that does not hurt him in his deer stand. The universal background checks don’t hurt him. The magazine limits don’t hurt him. All of these are common-sense ideas. So right now we have seen a shift in politics on this and if we screw this up it’ll be on us because we should not screw this — the shift in politics — majority of Trump voters support universal background checks. Majority of hunters support universal background checks. [A staple of Klobuchar’s stump speech has been her “Uncle Dick” test — for each measure she asks, “Does this hurt my Uncle Dick in his deer stand?” Her uncle (and Aunt Jane) live in Wisconsin.] Obviously they don’t quite support some of the other things in as big numbers, but I think you can get them there.
JW : Would you support a mandatory buyback for assault rifles?
AK: I would support a voluntary buy back. None of that will matter if you don’t get the assault weapon ban in place right away. And then you go from there. So instead of going there, where we have to go is how do we bring them with us. And we’ve seen what happened. Law enforcement has tried. They tried again. The guy, that chief in Houston was incredible yesterday, but we failed to get it reauthorized, the assault weapon ban, for instance. It’s not the only thing, but it’s one thing. The moms tried after Sandy Hook. They set a good foundation, but they failed in the U.S. Senate. We failed. They didn’t. We failed.
And then you go to Parkland and something changed after Parkland. It was when those kids stood up and all the other kids across the country saw them, and people started talking to their dads and their grandpas. Boys stood up for the first time in a big way, and it made a difference. That is why we passed universal background checks and closing the Charleston loophole and closing the boyfriend loophole in the House of Representatives, because of the new people we had put in the House.
This is the moment that the Senate has to change and this is going to be one of the big issues in this campaign. I just see this trend and they are in the pocket of the NRA. I saw it firsthand. I — as the one seated across — you can watch the video, President Trump, after Parkland, in the White House with a group that had come there to advocate for gun safety legislation. I have a little piece of paper — I was sitting next to Pence — where I wrote down how many times Trump said he wanted universal background checks. Nine times. I made hash marks nine times. And the next day he met with the NRA and he folded. [Trump has frequently alternated between promises to pursue gun reform and promises to defend the National Rifle Association. After a spate of shootings last summer, Trump vowed to pursue “background checks like we’ve never had before,” then met with the NRA’s chief executive Wayne LaPierre and backed down.] That’s the story that people have to hear because he folded and he always folds to those interests. He folds to the pharmaceutical companies. He doesn’t have the backs of the people of this country. So that’s how you win and that’s how you make the case. But yeah, do I condemn hunters? No, I have them in my family.
KK : Go ahead.
JW : I just wanted to ask you also about your record on criminal justice. You obviously worked as a state prosecutor and you’ve touted that record and obviously a lot has changed as well in recent years. [Klobuchar was a prosecutor for Hennepin County, Minnesota, between 1999 and 2007. She embraced tough crime policies, including harsher sentences for nonviolent offenders such as drug dealers and graffiti taggers.] Can you talk about how you would handle — we’re at a relatively low point in crime in this country, or a low commission of crime — can you talk about if there was an uptick in crime, how you would respond to a public call for a return to that period where there was sort of a tougher approach, more incarceration, the sort of the things we’ve seen that have done so much damage?
AK: Sure. That’s a great question because I actually have a track record on it. So I was not a state prosecutor. I actually headed up the county attorney’s office, the biggest prosecutor’s office in Minnesota, that was bigger than actually our attorney general’s office because it wasn’t just prosecutors. It was half prosecutors and it was half civil.
I provided the legal work for the biggest public hospital in our state and did — it was a big law office actually. And I did that for eight years. And so the way I approach my job is that we were ministers of justice. That our job was to, yes convict the guilty, but protect the innocent. That our job was not to be like a business and that we didn’t want to see repeat customers. So my priority was to make our county safe, but it was also to figure out how do you best make it safe. [Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, The Star Tribune, a Minnesota newspaper, emphasized Klobuchar’s “tough on crime platform” and “police-have-endorsed-me, law-and-order campaign,” according to a Vox report. Klobuchar wrote of her intent to “put repeat and violent offenders behind bars” and “hold judges accountable for sentences.”]
So that’s why I did a lot of work when it came to drug courts, something I continued in the Senate. I have been the lead on getting the federal funding for drug court. [Klobuchar received an award from the National Association of Drug Courts Professionals for her work advocating government support of drug courts in the Senate.]
And that is a really good way to get people out of the system and get them the treatment they need. I did a lot of work with mental health and a lot of this came from, the reason I came up with the proposal on this is because I think it is the really not talked about issue. One in five Americans struggle with mental health sometimes in their lives and as you’ve done with your reporting on the opioid epidemic, there’s a lot of dirty hands when it comes to that. And a lot of money is going to come in from this master federal settlement that should be used to help people. Comes from the heart for me. My dad struggled with alcoholism his whole life. By the time he had his third DWI, he was faced with this tough love situation: jail or treatment. And he chose treatment, and his life changed. In his words, he was pursued by grace and I believe everyone should have that same right.
So with criminal justice, number one, what I think we need to do is pass the Second Step Act. I was a co-sponsor of the First Step Act [The First Step Act, a bipartisan prison reform bill signed into law in December 2018, “is showing that past injustices can be corrected,” the editorial board wrote last June.] and involved in that bill. I thought it was very important for racial justice. I thought it was important for the economics of our country. If we are cutting out a bunch of people that should be able to participate in our economy and vote and everything, that’s wrong.
Second Step Act would look at the fact that 90% of the people incarcerated right now are in state and local jail. And it would create incentives to reduce those sentences. If you ask what happens if the crime rate goes up and how would you respond? Well, I of course, in eight years as prosecutor, there were all kinds of heinous crimes that happened during that time. So you should look at how I responded. What I did is advocate for changes that would work. We needed better computer records. There were judges that were pretending that they knew someone’s record when they sentenced them, “Hey kid, I know what you’ve done before”; blank screen. It was easier for Target to find a pair of shoes with a SKU number in Hawaii than it was us to figure that out. And we did that.
Actually, Gov. Pawlenty, there was a horrible murder that occurred in the rural part of our state and to his credit, did he advocate for the death penalty? Which by the way, I’m sure he did at some point, but he didn’t then. He advocated for better computer records with me.
And I have been long against the death penalty. My husband is a scholar on the death penalty. He’s written seven books. He wrote the preface for Justice Breyer’s dissenting opinion, that Brookings published. So if I did something like that, I’d probably not be still married. So I have my own strong views about this. So you don’t see me calling for those kinds of things. I call for things because death penalty, states that have it, have worse crime rates a lot of time. I call for things that I think makes sense in each situation and policy solutions that work and that was my history. You can talk to the Innocence Project. I was one of the first prosecutors that did a different form of eyewitness identification, that you would show the pictures, not all at once, but one by one instead. [In 2006, while Klobuchar was serving her second term as Hennepin County Attorney, her office developed a pilot program to improve eyewitness identification procedures, including “blind sequential lineups,” in which subjects are presented to the witness one at a time.] I did a DNA review of our whole office. I tried my best and there are things that you’d do differently now. Back then for police shootings, we used a grand jury. Everyone was doing that in our state, every single prosecutor’s office. I think it would be better for the prosecutor to claim and take responsibility for those decisions now. So I would have done that differently. So you always look at these things you would change.
But I think overall with criminal justice, you hit it on the head. It’s not how you’re doing when — crime is low, it’s what you do — in my case, crime, it stayed pretty steady and went down a little when I was in, and African American incarceration went down 12% during my time in my county — but the question is what do you do either when it’s up or I think really illustratively it’s when there’s a heinous crime. What do the electeds do? Do they go for the lowest common denominator or do they go for what’s really a solution?
KK : So I want to change directions a little bit.
KK : Bear with me. Who has broken your heart?
AK: Besides a few boyfriends that still gave me money when I asked them? [LAUGHTER] Who has broken my heart? OK, so here we go. Lindsey Graham’s broken my heart lately in the political system. [Sen. Lindsey Graham has transformed from a Trump critic, who called the president “xenophobic” and “race-baiting,” to one of his most staunch supporters. He told The Times Magazine, “If you don’t want to get reelected, you’re in the wrong business.”] Just because I like him and know him really well and traveled with him and Sen. McCain all over the, all over the world. I’m just more thinking of Sen. McCain and how much I miss him right now because I think he would have been really strong on Ukraine and on standing up against some of the things the president did and he’s no longer with us. And Lindsey and McCain and I were actually on the front line with former President Poroshenko in a blizzard on New Year’s Eve, and I think about this now every New Year’s Eve — because John McCain wanted to show — after Trump got elected — wanted to show those countries that we were on their side.
And so of course I was disappointed with how the Kavanaugh hearing was handled. I think everyone could see me on TV to see that, but I just hope that he has the ability to rise up here, and has a very important job right now as chair of the Judiciary Committee and certainly smart enough and has shown some tendency in the past to stand up for things and I just wish he would do it again when it comes to this conduct and a whole range of issues about our judicial system.
KK : Have you spoken to him directly about that?
AK: I did. After the Kavanaugh hearing, we had a little skirmish and leave it, put it behind us. [After Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, where Klobuchar grilled him on his history of alcohol use among other subjects, Graham said she owed the justice an apology for participating in a “smear campaign” against him.] But one thing he did do that was good is — the work that we did together on the — he took over the Honest Ads Act from Sen. McCain when Sen. McCain died. And that’s my bill where I took on the social media companies — before it was cool — to say that they should have to put disclaimers and show how they pay for ads and have them on file. He did that with me, and he’s done a few other things with me.
KK : So the last time I saw you was in a small town called Wyoming, Iowa. Many of the people there, as for other millions of Americans, have church and religion at the center of their communities. Can you talk a little bit about your own spirituality? Do you believe in God? Who are your closest spiritual advisers?
AK: Mm-hmm. Well, I believe in God. I have a deep faith. You just heard me talk about my dad, and I don’t think he would have come through that without his faith and our family’s faith and would have been able to be where he is now. And so for me, that was just an important part of my life growing up. He didn’t go to church. My mom couldn’t drive until I was 16, unclear why this happened. She got her license when I was 16 and took her first drive out and ran into the plate-glass window of a carwash. But other than that, it was all good. [LAUGHTER] But when we would go to, she would still take the cab to church. We weren’t rich by any means, and yet she wanted to have us go to church, and he wasn’t there. So she would take us in this cab, and I would always have to say, “Add 50 cents please,” which is my earliest memory of going to church because I felt if I forgot this, that then the driver would be denied a tip. And I later found out the tip was baked in already, but she just wanted to teach me that you’re supposed to add a tip. So that was my life.
I was in the, and still am, Congregational, the UCC church, and there’s one right by our house right now in Minnesota. And so that was important to me growing up. And then when I got to the Senate, I joined the Prayer Breakfast, which is not as maybe, I don’t know what you guys think that it’s, it’s actually a really amazing thing. It’s usually like half Democrats, half Republicans. Senator Coons just — I chaired it for a number of years and Sen. King is involved in it. It’s just Sen. Kaine, and about 80 of the senators speak there every two years, I’d say, 70, 80 over their time. And they don’t always talk about religion. They talk about something personal in their life. We can never talk about what they say. I think one of them was public after he died. Sen. Inouye came near the end of his life and spoke about what it was like to be in World War II, and it was this amazing thing and his recovery in the hospital. So not a lot of religious discussion in his presentation on that, but that’s what it’s like. And everything’s that said in that room, stays in that room. And there’s a number of Republicans involved in that who’ve been really helpful on things like foreign aid. I’ve gotten to know them because of that. And then I actually got to chair the National Prayer Breakfast with Johnny Isakson at a very interesting time. I will not tell that whole story, if you want to know it later, I will. And when President Obama was first elected, and so I’ve spoken there as recently as a few years ago. So that is my faith.
My faith in terms of a single spiritual adviser, I like Barry Black, who’s the chaplain for the Senate. He’s an amazing guy. I am someone that doesn’t talk about it a lot. I think it’s personal, and I respect the separation of church and state. So I don’t — you don’t see me talking about it all the time in my remarks.
Just one other thing I want to say though about that event you were at in Wyoming. This is a legislator who changed parties. He was a Republican and last spring he made, in a very dramatic fashion on the Iowa Statehouse floor, said why he changed parties. [Andy McKean, the Iowa lawmaker who changed parties, wrote about why for The Atlantic in May.]
And he’s the one who gave me the idea for the last debate — to [refer to] Mr. Welch who was the Army counsel who looked at McCarthy [Joseph Welch, then a Boston lawyer, confronted Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1954, as the Wisconsin senator pursued a relentless anti-Communist campaign. Many suggest Welch’s comments eventually led to the end of McCarthy’s crusade.] and said — that guy was from Iowa, Joseph Welch. He looked at McCarthy and said, “Have you no sense of decency? Have you no sense of decency?” That was a kid of immigrants who grew up in a small town in Iowa.
And the reason I bring that up is because you saw what happened at that event. That event, because that guy had changed parties and this is not a blue district, was about a third Republicans, about a third of his friends that are kind of apolitical and then a third like Democratic-base people. And what you saw in that room when [State Auditor Rob] Sand spoke — the newspaper just featured a story on him. When he spoke and when Andy McKean spoke and when I spoke, what you saw there was what I’m talking about with this coalition of people, of not shutting people out.
Yes. This election is an economic check on our country, and that’s why our debates had been so focused on things like health care and college and what we’re going to do on foreign policy. Yes, but it is also a patriotism check. It is a values check. It is a decency check, and that’s what you felt in that room. Because they just can’t stomach having this guy in office for four more years.
They are the rancher that told me that he couldn’t, the last he had voted for Trump, but when he saw him standing in front of that wall, and I thought that wall was “the wall.” But no, it was the CIA wall with those stars on it of the agents who died in the line of duty, that that was it for him. And then when he saw the Boy Scout rally, that was really it for him.
Or the New Hampshire voter who’s standing in a line of our great fired-up democratic base who have stickers on that say “Climate Change Voter;” “Supreme Court Voter;” “I’m a reproductive rights voter.” This guy has no sticker on. And I say to him, “Ah, you don’t have a sticker on.” And he whispers to me, “Because I was a Trump voter. Don’t tell them, they don’t know. But I can’t vote for him again.”
That’s what’s going on in this country. And so my profound message is, we cannot screw this up, because there are people that see what’s going on, regardless of even what they think of impeachment. They see this going on, and they don’t want their kids to have this guy as president. And that’s why when we look at the differences on issues, we have to remember that what unites our country is bigger than what divides us.
KK : So I actually want to change directions again. As you well know, there has been a lot of reporting, including in The New York Times, about the work environment that you have in the Senate. One of the more troubling parts of that reporting, to my mind, was the fact that you have the highest turnover in the Senate. [A Times report in February 2019 explored Klobuchar’s history of harsh behavior toward her staff. The website LegiStorm reported that her Senate office had the highest rates of staff turnover for years, and Klobuchar herself said: “Have I pushed people too hard? Yes.”] Why don’t talented people want to continue to work for you?
AK: [LAUGHS] But they do. I hope you meet the people outside in the hall, which includes Tom Sullivan, who was my deputy for years and ended up as John Kerry’s chief policy person or his brother, Jake Sullivan, who I brought to Washington. He’s not out there now, but he’s a great example. I have hired people of extraordinary talent, and that is the reason that I passed over a hundred bills.
I know I can be tough on people and push people, and you can always do better. But I ask you to look at some other metrics. And including, if you look at the latest, my turnover rate is actually less than any of the other presidential candidates from over the last year, because I keep track of it, except for I think Bernie and Michael Bennet. [Sen. Cory Booker and Warren had higher staff turnover rates than Klobuchar in the fiscal year 2019, according to Legistorm. However, Legistorm advises against making one-year comparisons, saying “For comparison purposes, we discourage one-year-only comparisons between most members and those who have special reasons why staff might leave the office.” Klobuchar had the highest staff turnover rate of all senators in the fiscal years 2001-2018.] So just look at the update on that.
Also, I have a number of people that have gone on to great things. I had a different hiring model, and there’s a few other senators that do this. I have hired people that I kind of know may go work at the time for President Obama after a few years. But I wanted their talent. Many of them come back. I’ve had over 20 people that went to high ranking positions in his administration.
The other proof point you’ve got, which I think is quite significant, is my presidential campaign. I may not be the leading candidate right now, but I have beaten like 19 people, including every governor. And so you can’t run a presidential campaign if you have a dysfunctional work environment. My campaign manager is the same one I’ve had for 14 years. My state director has been with me for seven years. My chief of staff is out there in the hallway. She’s on the campaign side, but the acting chief of staff has been with me for four years and is on her third baby. I’ve hired a lot of women. They have a lot of babies. They leave, they come back, whatever. It’s just a different hiring model. And so I am very proud of the work that we’ve done and the standards that we’ve set and like I said, you can always do better, but look at my presidential campaign and how we have hung together and talk to any of your reporters that have dealt with them. [In response to reports of her aggressive behavior, Klobuchar has previously promised to “do better” by her staff. One former staffer, Zach Rodvold, compared Klobuchar’s office environment to Navy SEAL training — tough but rewarding.]
MC : Now, did the negative stories about this sort of thing make you self-conscious or constrain you in any way when you were on the trail or on the debate stage?
AK: I think any candidate is constrained because you’ve got a hot mic with you. [Klobuchar has sparred with Sen. Warren at several recent debates, confronting her about the reach and expense of her health care and tax plans.] [LAUGHTER] Ask some of the other candidates. And when you look at, even through all my Senate races, I have been always, I think, displayed grace under pressure. Whether it was the Kavanaugh hearings, whether how I’ve acted in the debates, whether how I act when I’m out on the trail and you get some, the occasional angry question. I think that’s really important in a president right now. Because we’ve got a guy that goes after people and says bad things about people and goes after immigrants and people of color literally almost nearly every day. And so having someone that shows that grace under pressure, maybe that means you don’t have a viral moment. But I think that’s going to be important to people who are tired of the noise and the nonsense and the extremes. And as I’ve told them, they have a home with me.
MC : Now I’m going to shift topics.
MC : And give you what you knew was coming. Have you had early thoughts on a running mate?
AK: Oh. Well, Minnesota is the home of vice presidents. The joke is that moms bounce their new babies on their knees and say, after Mondale and Humphrey, one day you can grow up to be vice president. So I have intimately known Vice President Mondale is a wonderful mentor to me. [When Klobuchar was considering running for attorney general in 2006, former Vice President Walter Mondale advised her to hold off; soon after, she won a Senate seat.] And through this campaign I’ve actually gotten to know some of the kids of Geraldine Ferraro who are here.
MC : But they can’t come from the same state though.
AK: No, right. Oh, OK. [LAUGHTER] I probably — he is 91 so let’s start there. But —
KK : Mondale’s not on the short list?
AK: Which , I guess in this race is the new 37 or something. But he is a good adviser on those kinds of things. I think you need to have someone that complements you personality-wise if you can. Someone that the most number one thing, and I thought Tim Kaine was a great example of this, someone who could take over. [Tim Kaine was widely seen as a pragmatic vice-presidential pick, someone who could appeal to moderate Republicans and independents.] That’s got to be your number one goal. And it feels like at this point in America’s history here that people are going to look for that because they get how important that is. So that’s one thing. Complementing your style, complementing your areas of expertise I think is important. And it is, it’s the most critical decision that you make.
James Dao : And what would you want to compliment your area of expertise with?
AK: [LAUGHS] I think that, well I just, I think it depends, but I think having someone for me, because I’ve had a lot of actually expertise. I’ve managed a major agency and I’ve also been in the Senate for a long time. And so I’ve worked on a bunch of different issues. [Klobuchar has served on a number of congressional committees, including the Judiciary Committee, Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and Commerce, Science and Transportation. She also led the Hennepin County district attorney’s office in Minneapolis.] So I don’t see it quite like the same when Jimmy Carter came in and was governor and didn’t have that Washington experience. But having someone that has managed things, has been able to work well with people like I do, I think will be important.
I don’t think you have to pick a gender for your running mate. I think what’s most important is that you have a Cabinet that reflects America and that means a very diverse Cabinet. And it also means people that have diverse political views. I think both in a vice president and in a Cabinet, one of the key things you want is people that are not sycophants. You want people that will be willing to disagree with you, hopefully not publicly, but be willing to tell you very strongly how they feel so you get a different perspective on things. I think that is one of the most dangerous things that’s happened with the Trump administration right now. Not only the people right around him, but the people in that Cabinet. When you lose people like Gen. Mattis, and other people, that could be the counterweight. You want people that have different views and look different than you, but also think different than you and that doesn’t just have to be the vice president. It’s also in who’s on the Cabinet.
Lauren Kelley : Senator, you alluded earlier to the fact that you’re running to become the first female president of the United States. I’m wondering how on the campaign trail you’re dealing with a couple of competing realities that we see in the polls. On the one hand you see voters say that they would be really excited to vote for a woman for president more than even a white man. On the other hand, you look at the likability numbers for individual women candidates and they’re in the single digits. So I’m just wondering how you think about that reality as you’re on the campaign trail?
AK: I think it is on me to make my case to the American people. I addressed that some in the last debate, and I was an interesting person to address it, about can a woman win? Because I actually have gone out of my way to make clear that I’m running on my merits, which of course I still am and I will, and let me just explain that. When I’ve run for the DA’s job, I was the first woman in that job. When I ran for U.S. Senate in my state, two very qualified women had — one the secretary of state, one a majority leader for the state Senate — each decade had tried to run and lost. And I made it my mission to focus on, not that I want to be the first woman in this job because that had happened in their campaigns. But then I’m the right person for this job, and I’ll have your back.
I will never forget being in a room of steelworkers, and retired steelworkers and their spouses, in which one woman named Rose Brodovitch raised her hand and said, “I’ve never voted for a woman before because I think they should be home with their kids. But in your case, I’m making an exception.” I later heard from the mayor there, the woman mayor, that that was the moment she realized Rose Brodovitch had not voted for her. [LAUGHTER]
As I sat there, trying to address these men, they were like, someone said: Can a woman win?
I first tried: well, a woman has won in Texas, so I bet a woman can win here.
Then: Well, I’m not running as a woman candidate. I’m running on my merits and being accountable and getting things done like you’ve know I’ve done as Hennepin County attorney.
And finally I said — wouldn’t work now — “Last time I checked, half the voters were men. So if I was just running as a woman, it wouldn’t work.” And they go, “Yeah.”
I think what that is, is everyone, regardless of who they are or what gender, that they want to know that someone has their back. That is how I have done my work, and it’s been very straightforward concept of being a representative and what I would do as president. You listen to them, and you try to get things done. That is why, in my own state, the one very clear poll of me versus Trump where they know who I am, I am 18 points up on Trump, eight points more than the vice president. [Klobuchar’s opponent for Hennepin County district attorney called her “nothing but a street fighter from the Iron Range.” Decades later, she continues to seize on that image, emphasizing her ability to win where other Democrats have not, especially in Republican-leaning areas across Minnesota.] I do better with men than any of the other candidates, and I have tended to always have a lot of support with men.
So, for me to say on the debate floor what I did, which you need to dispel thoughts that you have to be the tallest person in the room or the skinniest person in the room or the loudest voice in the room. That took a lot because — but I think it is a barrier, and I think that it is on the two of us that are left on the stage as the candidates to dispel that.
And you don’t always have to talk about it, but men have voted for women. They voted for Laura Kelly to be governor of Kansas. They voted for Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan. They voted for — and those are executive jobs. So I lead with those. They have done, that and they will do it again. But right now it’s a mess. There’s so many candidates. They have to understand who they are. So that’s how I look at it. It’s just, it’s they — the men will come around.
KK : So we have about 40 minutes left, and we still have a lot more questions to get through to.
AK: OK. OK, sorry. Sure.
KK : OK. Mara?
Mara Gay : Sure.
KK: OK, go.
MG: Senator, when asked whether you support reparations, you’ve demurred and said that the important thing is to invest in communities that have been so hurt by racism. [During a March interview with Meet the Press, Klobuchar said a reparations program “doesn’t have to be direct pay for each person” and can instead mean investing in communities harmed by racism. ] What should that look like?
AK: Well, first of all, I’m on the bill, the reparation bill. I’m a co-sponsor of Cory’s bill, which is the counterpart to, I think it Sheila Jackson Lee’s, if I’m right. [Booker’s bill establishes a commission to study and develop proposals for reparations for African American descendants of slavery. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee introduced a House bill last year that would also establish a commission to consider proposals for reparations.] Anyway, but it is the counterpoint.
MG : For education?
AK: Well, it’s the reparation commission actually. That’s the reparation bill that everyone is on because that way you’re going to be able to get recommendations on what the best way is to do that.
MG : What do you think the best way is to do that? [Legislators and civilians alike have wrestled with the question of who should qualify for reparations, and what form they should take. Many have proposed some modern interpretation of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s promised “40 acres and a mule.”]
AK: I don’t know. That’s why we’re doing the commission. But I think, and I think a lot of people would say this, but I think one of the ways you could do it, which is what you’re referring to that I’ve talked about, is investing in communities that have been in poverty for literally centuries, but decade after decade after decade. [Vox’s Dylan Matthews argued that an American reparations program might look like Germany’s fund for victims of the Holocaust, which has largely focused on cash payments for individuals and has paid out nearly $89 billion as of 2012.] Rep. Clyburn has a bill that Cory leads in the Senate and as president, this is something I would want to get done. And that’s looking at federal funding — I think it’s for agriculture areas, but you could extend it on to make sure — here’s more investment. I think the other piece of it — and maybe that’s what the reparations commission would recommend, I don’t know what they’re going to recommend.
You cannot get away from the fact that we have had institutional racism in this country. All you have to do is see the story of the woman in New Orleans that goes in and says my hands are swollen in the maternity ward and the doctor doesn’t listen and she loses her baby. Or the vice president of a company in Minnesota who goes shopping and is followed by security guards the entire time. Or the fact that African-American women make something like 60 cents for every a dollar that a white man makes.
So we know that it’s there, and you have to have a president that gets that and is willing to say it. From there, you move not just to reparations but to actual economic opportunity. Even beyond that, what is the candidate’s position? You have heard mine, bits by piece in these debates. That what we need to do is make sure that people have opportunity, economic opportunity. And that means everything from education, that means everything from preschool and actually taking this on in a systematic way. It means child care and work-family leave.
I head up the diversify tech caucus that I started with Tim Scott. We also started this entrepreneurship caucus because we’ve had this startup slump. We’re 30% down, which hurts people of color and hurts new entrants into a marketplace. Consolidation hurts people of color. When you look at what I’ve taken on, all of these really are focused on economic opportunity.
MG : Senator, as a follow-up, what role do you see racism playing in American politics today, and what would you do to address it?
AK: Sure. It’s a major undercurrent and fact in American politics today furthered by the president, who I’ve clearly said I believe is racist and it is furthered by the rhetoric. It’s furthered by the criminal justice system, which we’ve discussed. It is furthered by the economic injustices. Because I think it was Martin Luther King said, what good is it — I’m paraphrasing — to integrate a lunch counter if you can’t afford a hamburger? [Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. emphasized the civil rights movement’s connection to the labor movement; in a speech to sanitation workers striking in Memphis in 1968, he said: “What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?”] And then most fundamentally it is exacerbated by our voting system. So let me, if I could do that.
Because I lead these bills. Because I’m the ranking on the Rules Committee and I am, at this very moment, advocating with Sen. Blunt to have laptops open during the impeachment hearing, which will be a big deal. I know you guys are on editorial so you don’t know about this, but your reporters can’t bring in any laptop into the Senate hearing room, and that’s just a little side note. [Every member of the editorial board has prior experience reporting, whether covering the White House in D.C., tech policy and the information wars, health policy or social policy issues around the country.] OK, let’s go to your stuff.
So voting, on voting. I think that No. 1, if you keep people out of the franchise, they are going to feel excluded from our democracy. And states that include them like Minnesota or Colorado where I just was, people, even if they don’t vote for the candidate that wins, they feel that they’re part of the democracy and they’re part of our government. Those states had the two highest voting turnouts in the last election.
So what do we do? One, I would, as president, make a huge priority on passing my bill to [automatically] register every kid to vote when they turn 18. Imagine. There’s no reason we can’t do this and it would add over 20 million people to the rolls. No. 2, I would stop the purging of the voting rolls. Stacey Abrams addresses this in such an incredibly visceral way. She says just because you don’t go to church or synagogue or mosque for three years, does that mean that you lose your right under the Constitution to worship? Just because you don’t shoot a gun does that mean that you lose your right under the Second Amendment?
That’s the point here and so Sherrod [Brown, senator from Ohio] and I have the bill to stop the purging.
Setting up independent commissions in every state to stop gerrymandering. That’s another bill that I lead.
And then of course reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act, which has led to so many of these, what the North Carolina federal court called “discriminating with surgical precision,” about the voting laws out of those states. I would take it on because I realize right now it has lost its bipartisan flavor, that’s putting it mildly. I think there’s two ways you can do this, and then, of course, a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and get dark money out of our politics and there’s tons of different things you can do on the road to that. What is missing here is, I look at how we won gay marriage or how the country won gay marriage. And, yes, it ended up being in court, but it was a libertarian argument in a lot of states like mine. So in — my state, a group which did an incredible job to defeat — which was the only time it was defeated — a constitutional amendment in a purple state that would have limited marriage to man and woman, basically. It was a libertarian argument, and I think that’s what we need about voting. [In 2011, the Libertarian Party of Minnesota was among the first groups to stand up against the so-called Marriage Amendment, “recognizing that marriage is a fundamental human right and should be a private matter between individuals,” according to its website.]
Angie Craig who won in Minnesota in a really hard congressional district — that was in our last election — she ran an ad of people, that, it looked like it was a very rural ad. Her district’s exurban and rural and suburban. [Rep. Angie Craig flipped Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District, beating out incumbent Republican Rep. Jason Lewis. The district had gone to Donald Trump in 2016 by a 1.2-point margin.] People standing on bales of hay trying to talk, and in the ad their voices are muted. You hear nothing. And the argument is big interests are drowning out your voice. When you watch that ad, that is a libertarian ad that she ran. So I think making that argument’s going to be key. I think the other argument is security, national security.
This gets into getting Sen. Lankford and my bill finally passed to get backup paper ballots in the 11 states, including New Jersey, in your big newspaper region here that doesn’t have them, which is outrageous. [Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Klobuchar’s bill to get backup paper ballots was stymied by Republican opposition in the Senate. Klobuchar told the Council on Foreign Relations: “This is not a partisan issue. It is about protecting our elections by having good equipment, by having audits, and by having backup paper ballots.”] And shoring up our elections. In this whole area you can make some security arguments.
The third is that if their political party doesn’t change with the times, with the changing demographics in the country, with immigrants voting, with African Americans, they’re going to fall off the cliff. Maybe not this election, but by the next one. And so I think you have some really strong arguments to use about voting, and we just have to be smart about how we do it.
The ultimate argument is to win big. The fact that we can’t even get backup paper ballots forced through, that we can’t even get the social media companies to have to keep ads on file by law, that’s pretty outrageous. And it shows how hard they’re trying. And the culprits are right in front of us because they have not denied the fact that it’s Mitch McConnell and the Trump White House that literally made calls to stop Lankford’s and my bill from going to the floor. Sen. Blunt had held the hearing and they called Republicans because they didn’t want the bill to advance. So you tie it into a security argument.
KK : Senator , we were going to actually ask you some specific questions around Hispanic voters and LGBTQ voters, but just for the sake of time, I think we’re going to pivot hopefully to technology if Charlie wants to kick us off and then to foreign policy because I think those are the two areas we really need to bust through.
AK: OK. briefly I’ll just say one minute on each?
KK : Yes.
AK: LGBTQ. In the one hundred day plan is, of course, reversing the ban on transgender in the military. And I have been a strong supporter of the Equality Act, which is the next challenge for the community. [Klobuchar first voiced her support for marriage equality in April 2012, after Obama said he had evolved on it. That summer she became a vocal opponent of Minnesota’s marriage ban for same-sex couples, which was voted down by 4 points.]
You can literally get married in one state and get fired the next day. So I’d put those two as priorities. As far as Hispanics, I would say the number one is comprehensive immigration reform, and I think we discussed that. [Klobuchar has trailed most of her Democratic rivals in Hispanic support, particularly Biden, Sanders and Warren. ] To me it is an economic issue. It is a moral issue, yes.
But you’ve got to make the case that the way the Trump administration has been handling this, you have losing people out of our economy. We don’t have enough workers in nursing homes and hospitals. Seventy of our Fortune 500 companies are headed up by people from other countries. [Immigrants and their children founded 45% of Fortune 500 companies, according to analysis by the bipartisan group New American Economy.]
Twenty five percent of our U.S. Nobel Laureates were born in other countries. Immigrants don’t diminish America. [Thirty-four percent of U.S.-based Nobel Prize winners were born outside the country, according to analysis by the Institute for Immigration Research at George Mason University .] They are America.
KK : OK.
Charlie Warzel : So pivoting to technology a little, you just said recently you were doing this before it was cool. Taking on big tech, thinking about issues like privacy. I wanted to do just a quick sort of lightning round of questions about your personal relationship to it. Do you personally have a social media account that’s not your public facing one?
CW : Do you have a lurker account?
AK: No because — oh, you mean — wait. What was the name of the Romney account? [When Mitt Romney told The Atlantic that he had a secret Twitter account, Slate quickly identified it as Pierre Delecto, based on the Romney family accounts it followed among other clues.]
CW : Pierre Delecto.
AK: Pierre Delecto. No. And for that reason. [LAUGHTER]
JW : You could choose a different name.
AK: So tricky.
CW : There’s a long history. Carlos Danger. [Carlos Danger was the pseudonym that former Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner for explicit online exchanges with women.] There’s a lot —
AK: I think it would be discovered if I did that. I just haven’t. I just talk to my friends on the phone. [LAUGHTER] Although I’m not stuck in the Chuck Schumer flip phone moment, although maybe —
CW : Do you use other popular social networks? I mean, are you —
AK: I mean, I have always had Instagram, which I personally like. I hope that Facebook doesn’t ruin it. And I like that with the photos, and it’s just a different way to communicate. Of course, originally I was on Facebook also before that was cool in our 2006 Senate race. Very funny sideline. A kid who’s now working on Citizens United was my — no longer a kid — and was my campaign manager last cycle, Joe. [Joe Radosevich was campaign manager for Klobuchar in the last election cycle and is now political director for the group End Citizens United.] He was a college student.
He went up to my campaign manager at a big meeting and he says, “I got an idea. There’s this Facebook thing you could do.” This is ’05, 2005, you can do it. But you got to be affiliated with a college. He’s explaining the whole thing. And so the campaign manager listens, and at the next meeting in front of everyone, the campaign manager says, “Joe, you know what? I’m going to let you do this, but I got to tell you, this thing isn’t going anywhere.” [LAUGHTER] I’ve used all these social media ways and done different things over the years.
CW : What’s an app on your phone that you have that might surprise everyone in this room?
AK: Oh, I don’t think it surprises you that The New York Times crossword puzzle, because I have —
CW : Pandering!
AK: But I do it. I’m telling you the truth! I do the mini puzzle every single morning, and I compete with Maggie Hassan. One time she did it in 18 seconds. Then she takes a screenshot and sends it to me. [LAUGHTER] But we don’t do it every day, to be very clear. I don’t want you to think that’s all senators do. So I like that app.
Well, I always try all these fitness apps. And that’s one of the reasons, by the way, I got Lisa Murkowski to do this bill, which I will get done as president. [Klobuchar and Murkowski introduced new privacy legislation in June that focuses on protecting consumer data collected from health tracking devices and apps, along with DNA tests.] You guys talked about privacy a lot. We have done nothing! But this one on health care. I mean this is right for action privacy. So I have — that app. Let me just think. I have a lot of different things, and — oh yeah, I look at the furniture ones sometimes.
CW : I do want to get to privacy.
CW : Just two more quick ones. Do you have an Alexa or a smart speaker?
AK: Yeah. OK. Yeah, I bought one of those.
CW: If —
AK: Yeah, and then I got worried when I read everything. So I unplugged it and hid it in a drawer. [LAUGHTER]
CW : OK.
AK: I like all the things, because I am —
JB : Still spying on you.
AK: Yes, I got one, but I had fun. I would play holiday music, this would be last holidays. And I always enjoyed it and then all of a sudden I realized every time a senator called, I was unplugging it and putting somewhere else and I thought this is ridiculous. And so I’ve stopped using it.
CW : That’s good. That’s good operational security.
AK: Yeah, thank you.
CW : Are you an Amazon Prime member?
CW : Are you an Amazon Prime member?
AK: Yes. But I think I’m not updated. Boy, I don’t want a Pinocchio on this because I have not used it for a while since I started running. I think my husband’s had to buy a lot of stuff. [Klobuchar hasn’t staked out the same tense relationship with Amazon as some of her rivals, especially Sanders, who has criticized Amazon’s warehouse working conditions and called on the government to investigate the company.]
CW : Got you. OK. And then just one sort of meatier question about privacy. Organizations like the FTC have reached these recent settlements, Facebook and Google obviously. And a lot of people feel like they’re slaps on the wrist rather than meaningful enforcement —
AK: Might be, yes.
CW: — that’s actually going to change the companies.
AK: Like the Facebook one recently, yes. Which I just came out on.
CW: What does real enforcement look like?
AK: Oh, I love this question. So I think that real enforcement looks like having the resources to do it. And there is just no way right now that our FTC and the antitrust division of the Justice Department is going to be as sophisticated as these — what are already trillion-dollar companies. So that is why, that’s this first fundamental thing, is that I’ve been pushing for more resources, so they could do it. By charging an extra fee on mega-mergers. I got Sen. Grassley to actually do this bill and, as president, I would completely get this done because it’s an outrage. [Klobuchar and Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act, introduced in June, would update the fees paid when filing for a merger, in part to raise revenue for antitrust authorities.]
What does antitrust enforcement look like or taking on big companies look like? Probably best example in the last few decades is AT&T, and that is a long time ago. But there, the Justice Department through a Democrat and Republican president took it on. Long distance rates went up, the companies were broken up. So what does it look like now? It means looking backward at some of the deals like, say, Facebook, Instagram, that I just used as an example. It is what has been going on in online travel, which is a travesty. You think you’re getting all these deals on all these different sites. They’re owned by two companies, 90% of them. [Klobuchar reintroduced legislation last year that aimed to modernize antitrust enforcement, including through mechanisms to better assess the impact of merger settlements.]
It is then, as you move forward, changing the standard for mergers. So I lead that bill in addition to the resource bill, which would be to change the standard, as maybe you looked at it, for mega-mergers and changing that so the companies would actually have to show that their merger would not hurt competition. That is not a crazy idea. And also looking at all mergers and changing the standard from substantially to materially affect competition.
I think that this consolidation issue is the most underrated discussed issue of our time. We are entering another Gilded Age. It is hurting consumer pricing. It is certainly hurting entrepreneurship and we’re starting to see some inkling from some of the new Republicans that they’re interested in it. And I think the time is now to move.
CW : Can the FTC ever do it or are they just too outdated?
AK: The FTC? Yes. I favor — Mike Lee, who’s my counterpart on the antitrust subcommittee, is sort of obsessed with his dual — I don’t want to go into the dual mandate of the Federal Reserve, but you know they’re right about this thing. And I think they were able to work it out. They’re able to work it out right now — the review they’re doing of tech between the chairman of the FTC and the — and this is during the Trump administration — they’re at least reviewing this. My major focus is that both agencies are functioning. They just have to be able to work together to divide — their jurisdiction, but both have to be highly functioning.
KK : So —
AK: And this is beyond tech, you understand? This is pharma. It’s one of the reasons we’re not seeing this. And I think it’s actually one of the most exciting things to work on. And you can make the case to the public that this is about capitalism, entrepreneurship and it cannot work if all the power is in certain companies’ hands.
Alex Kingsbury : I want to ask you about Afghanistan. Did you see The Washington Post story yesterday that showed that for decades civilian and military leaders have been lying to the American public?
AK: Yes. It’s an outrage.
AKingsbury : What did you make of that story?
AK: So I didn’t know everything in that story. We’ll start with that. But I have said in this campaign very clearly that I think we need to bring our troops out of Afghanistan. [Klobuchar largely agrees with the other Democratic candidates that it is time to bring home troops from Afghanistan, but unlike some others, she has previously signaled that she would be comfortable leaving some military footprint in the region.] Those that are being deployed now were not even born when this started. And so the answer is to have a president that doesn’t just talk the talk or say it when he decides he needs a distraction in the news and say he’s going to invite the Taliban to Camp David and then never follow through on the negotiations.
Or as he did two weeks ago, [when he] announced that he wanted to — he was jump-starting these negotiations right now and then you find out neither the Ghani administration or the Taliban even knew he was going to say it.
So what I would do, if it is not done yet, and I hope for our country it is, that there is some kind of an agreement even before I could be the president. But you want to have an agreement that as much as possible keeps the democratic reforms in place in Afghanistan, that respects the progress that’s been made on women’s rights and civil rights. You want to have an agreement, unlike what Trump usually does, where we’re working with our allies and have an agreement that works. I’m just anticipating what your questions may be. Do you leave some troops, do you leave some — well it is The New York Times, you follow up — troops behind and you could have troops there for counterintelligence and training and things like that. But the whole idea is to bring the troops home.
AKingsbury : So this war’s been going on for a long time. And I’m wondering if you think that Congress has done an adequate job of overseeing it? If they —
AK: No. No, I have been frustrated —
AKingsbury : The public has been lied to repeatedly.
AK: Yeah, I have been —
AKingsbury : Someone’s to blame for this.
AK: Yeah. And I have been frustrated in general with our role in foreign relations. I am in the Tim Kaine camp here and Angus King and a number of others of us that believe you should have an authorization of military force if you’re going to continue. And that we need to revisit that with some of these engagements.
Obviously there are engagements that would not require that, but that when you’re going to have any kind of — when Trump started talking about sending the ships over to Iran and those kinds of things, I was outspoken on that. [In June, Klobuchar slammed Trump for seemingly being “10 minutes” and “one tweet” away from war.] I think you would need that. But I think overall it is time to bring our troops home from Afghanistan. You’d also save, I think, it’s a lot of money, that could be used for many other things.
Serge Schmemann : Senator, can I ask you about China?
AK: It’s $300 billion.
SS: About China. The Chinese have been repressing fairly ruthlessly.
AK: With the Uighurs.
SS : The Uighurs and other Muslim minorities. Can or should the United States take action on their behalf?
AK: I think the United States should be standing up much taller on this front, both with Hong Kong, and you see Congress acted on that front with authorizing some sanctions and passing a law which the Trump administration grudgingly signed. But I think when it comes to the Uighurs, the stories that your newspaper uncovered of kids that are off in college and then they come home and there is no family, there’s no parents, and they’re off in what appears to be some kind of modern day camps where they have been sent. And it’s outrageous. And it, unlike some of these things, it seems like something you could really work with your allies — again, not alone — to push a resolution and get those people home. It’s a human rights debacle and a crisis and we should be elevating it on the international stage.
JD : Can I follow up on that? How big a crisis do you think Hong Kong is and if early in your presidency, China were to flood Hong Kong streets —
AK: China would have?
JD : To flood Hong Kong streets with troops and crack down violently, what do you think you would do?
AK: Well, first of all, again, standing taller and working with our allies I think would be key. [Klobuchar has said that “in economic terms,” China is America’s top national security threat. She has favored strong trade measures, but criticized Trump’s trade war with China and noted that it has hurt Midwestern farmers.] If you remember how this all started, it was when Carrie Lam wanted to get a new law that would have allowed the extradition of political prisoners, well all prisoners but including political prisoners. And that’s what sparked this. She has since backed down from that, but it just shows that this spark, this protest — and you’ve got to allow for these protests and you’ve got to push on civil liberties for people. But again, I think the best way is to stand with allies, something this president has refused to do, so many times. Any time there’s a choice in a moment where he can choose, he stands with dictators over allies, or tyrants over innocents. He gets us out of these international agreements, and I’m going to give a speech on this at the Foreign Relations Council tomorrow about some of my ideas about reasserting American leadership, rejoining these international agreements. And basically —
KK : Since you brought up allies —
AK: Go ahead.
KK : Do you feel comfortable with the United States having nuclear weapons in Southern Turkey at this point given Erdogan’s behavior?
AK: It’s one of the reasons that — I was asked this and maybe it was when you guys were doing — no, it was the debate before that. Why I think that we should not push Turkey out of NATO right now, but instead be pushing them. I strongly disagreed with the president’s decision to withdraw the 150 troops from Syria on the border. [During the October Democratic debate, Klobuchar was the first to raise Trump’s decision to abandon the Kurds, asking in response to a question on impeachment: “Leaving the Kurds for slaughter, how that makes America great again?”] And everything that has happened after that is really actually quite predictable. Including the initial slaughter of the Kurds, who’ve stood with us, who I met with a number of other senators, including Kirsten and Lindsey, who we’d promised all these things too. And then when they’ve fought on our side and lost like 11,000 people, we don’t stand up for them. So I think that we would want to still keep those strategic nuclear weapons there, but it’s all the more reason that we want to keep pushing Turkey and working with Turkey, but at the same time, I don’t think we want to give up that foothold right there.
KK : And President Trump has made several unilateral moves in relations to Israel. Things like moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem. If you took over would you reverse them as president?
AK: OK. And just one more thing on nuclear because I know we’re doing around the world in, how many? Two hours or something?
KK : Really 20 minutes.
AK: Then I’ll get to Israel. I brought this up a few times. The Russian nuclear agreements are very, very important, and he precipitously got us out of one in the last year, which he shouldn’t have done. And now the New Start one will be coming up in the first few months of a new president’s term. Putin has recently made some statements on that, but I think that would be a high priority for me for negotiations.
For Israel: I am a strong supporter of Israel. I still see it as our beacon of democracy in the Mideast. But I have been horrified by some of the things that Trump has done, which has eroded support for Israel in the United States and I think has lessened their security position. I would not reverse the embassy change, but I do think that some of the things that he did recently when the administration said that the settlements were not against international law. That is in violation of long-standing American policy.
And if we truly want to build support for this democracy, then we have to restart these negotiations for a two-state solution, which I would do. When I went to Israel with a number of senators, I went only — it was just me and one other senator that did this — and met with the Palestinians. I think that their economic future is important, and I would push for a two-state solution.
I will say that I also have voted for, see my record, for funding for Israel security. I still think that they are in a really tough neighborhood in a really dangerous position. And made worse by what Trump just did with Syria because now Iran has a foothold there. [Klobuchar has criticized the Trump administration’s policies on the settlements, but she previously declined to say whether she would reverse Trump’s decision on recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and she said she would not reverse the decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem. However she said the embassy decision “would have been better if that was done as part of a negotiation for a two-state solution. I think it’s unfortunate it was done the way it was done but I wouldn’t reverse it.” Asked by The Times whether Israel meets international standards for human rights, she said “yes.”]
And so one of the things that I see as this really high-stakes opportunity for a new president is to bring in American support again in a big way for Israel. And you do that by stopping these Mitch McConnell divisive votes, making it a wedge issue, trying to play politics instead of looking at what the challenges are ahead. I think that we need to emphasize Israel’s historic support for women’s rights, working on climate change, all of these things that have been lost because of Trump’s continual effort to use this as a partisan pawn. Maybe the worst moment of which was when he tried to — when he pushed the prime minister, who’s been all a part of this as well, to stop two members of Congress from visiting.
KK : So we have about 15 minutes left. I want Binya to be able to ask you at least one economic question, one health care question, but I do actually want to go back to something you just said, to follow up. Why wouldn’t you move the embassy back?
AK: Because I’ve always supported having the embassy there.
KK : OK. Binya, do you want to jump in?
Binyamin Appelbaum : Yeah. You’ve described an infrastructure bill as your top fiscal priority, and you said that you would pay for it by raising corporate taxes. Why not just pay for it without raising corporate taxes? Why make it contingent on a tax increase? What’s to worry about borrowing at a time of low interest rates?
AK: Sure. I am really worried about our debt. And maybe right now the interest rates are low, we don’t know if that changes. But actually my infrastructure plan does have a lot of bonding and other things that would be benefited by what we’ve just talked about. So just to go over my plan: It is taking the corporate tax rate from 21 to 25. I’d actually bring it up to 28 and use $100 billion of that for the child care plan we just talked about, and work family leave. And $200 billion of it to start a debt reduction fund because I think we do have to start paying down on this, or it’s going to be on all of your kids’ and grandkids’ shoulders. [Klobuchar estimates that by taking the corporate tax rate to 25%, her administration could raise $400 billion. Her proposal is less aggressive than those of Buttigieg and Sanders and Warren, who propose 35%, and Biden, who proposes 28%.]
So how mine is paid for, which I think it is very important right now when you have a president that’s treating people like poker chips in one of his bankrupt casinos, who just doesn’t care at all about what he does to this country, that when a Democratic presidential candidate is up there debating him on the stage, that they are able to show how they’re going to pay for things.
In this case, yes, $400 billion from that tax rate change, $150 billion from going back to international taxation, like it was during the Obama administration.
The new change has created all kinds of bad things. The Infrastructure Financing Authority, which would allow matching from state and other things. The Buy America Bonds. Those last two, one is a Hoeven-Wyden proposal and the other one is Blunt-Warner. And like I said, this may be like nerdfest here, but knowing where those numbers are and how you’re actually going to put this together as a president, makes all the difference between getting it done. The difference between a plan and a pipe dream. So that’s how I would pay for it.
BA : Different economic issue. You talked about —
AK: And I could give you guys a list of how we pay for everything. It’s very detailed, including my health care plan.
BA : So you talked at the top about the importance of raising the wages of workers like home health care workers. The measures you described would improve the quality of their benefits package. You mentioned raising the minimum wage. Most of them already make more than that, although not much more. What would you do specifically to increase the wages of home health care?
AK: Mm-hmm. Well, first of all, I would make it easier for them to organize. And that means passing the PRO-Act, which is a bill that’s there right now, and as president I’d be leading on it. Because I truly believe, as a granddaughter of a union iron ore miner and the daughter of a union teacher and a daughter of a union newspaper man, that I wouldn’t be sitting here at the end of this long table if it wasn’t for unions. And that this kind of organizing right now is actually key to a lot of the futures for these workers. You can see it in the numbers in how unions are doing — you can see it in growing public support for unions, which is at 64%. So what I would do -—
BA : The union —
AK: Go ahead.
BA : The union movement, if I may. The union movement has described sectoral bargaining as one of its basic demands during this election. You’ve not endorsed that idea; many of your opponents have. What is your objections to sectoral bargaining?
AK: Well, I would look at doing it. I’d be supportive of it. It’s not really a problem for me. Mostly what I want to see happen is that —
BA : Sorry. You’re in favor of it or you’re not?
AK: No, I am in favor of it. I just want to talk about what I think we need to do in addition to that. [Sanders and Warren have released plans endorsing the concept of sectoral bargaining, in which unions bargain at the level of sectors, like the fast food industry, rather than with individual companies. Klobuchar’s labor platform is much vaguer than most of her opponents’, though she has often touted her credentials as the child of union members.]
BA : OK.
AK: And that is allowing our — putting in a wraparound safety net of things for people in this country. Because it is wages, but it’s not just wages. And not everyone’s going to be in a union even though I want to make it easier to get in a union. So what do you do? You pass this national child care program. The one that I favor says that anyone at over 150% median income, your income, not more than 7% of it should be spent on child care.
If you do that, you’re going to help a lot of these people who, while they may be making a decent wage, they can’t afford to go to work because they have no place to bring their kids and you want them to be in the work force. I would support, as we talked about, the retirement accounts and all kinds of things that could actually be done on a federal level that would create the kind of help that people need. But yes, I think that unions are a big part of this solution.
KK : So let’s end there. Let’s turn to health care. Maybe one question.
Jeneen Interlandi : Sure. You’ve laid out a $100 billion plan to address the opioid crisis, mental illness, suicide prevention. It was exciting because it’s stuff that doesn’t get a lot of attention. Can you talk about, with respect to paying for that, one of the things you’ve called for is a master opioid settlement. Can you talk about how you would ensure that that money gets put to the right use? [Klobuchar made anti-addiction plans an early focus of her campaign, both because of her family experience with addiction and, she said, because of the number of voters she has met who struggle with it. Klobuchar’s “master settlement agreement” on opioids would essentially mean one large settlement with the government and funds going to states to fund treatment and social services, rather than piecemeal settlements with pharmaceutical companies and distributors.] So with the global tobacco settlement, for example, we saw a lot of the money got diverted to shoring up state budgets. How would you prevent that from happening?
AK: Yes, I think you just have to cross the T’s, dot the I’s, have a really clear directive and have a president that maybe has worked in law for 14 years would be a helpful thing. Because I know exactly what you’re talking about with the tobacco settlement. How I paid for the $100 billion was the $18 billion on closing the hedge fund loophole was. It was 14. It’s gone up to 18, the score on it. Fourteen billion from this master settlement, which is for opioids. But there’s no reason you couldn’t use it —
JI : Which hasn’t been initiated yet, right?
AK: No, but if you’re the president and these lawsuits are still going on, and you direct your Justice Department to make this a major priority, and there’s so much abuse and there is record evidence of business people with these pharma companies say, oh, keep pumping them out like Doritos. And giving them cruises for incentives. I mean it’s an outrageous situation and it’s —
JI : So you would prioritize?
AK: Right. So this $40 billion from that, then the $40 billion from a 2 cents per milligram fee on opioids, which the governor here did, I think, in New York. But you do that and then you’ve got — anyway, I’ve laid out the $100 billion, and I just think you have to make this a big priority. There is bipartisan support for this. Sen. Portman and I, and at the time, Kelly Ayotte and Sheldon Whitehouse, led the initial opioid blueprint bill. And I’ve done a lot of work in this area. My state’s the home of Hazelden Betty Ford, so I know what — [The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is America’s largest nonprofit addiction treatment center, created in 2013 from the merger of the Betty Ford Center (named for the former first lady) and the Hazelden Foundation. Its headquarters are in Center City, Minnesota.]
JI : Just a quick follow-up on that. Let’s say you get the money. How do you decide which programs to fund? There’s been a lot of malfeasance with respect to addiction.
AK: I am pretty obsessed with this. I’ve tried to figure out, for instance, Suboxone, and is it really working? This is the drug that you give people to get them off opioids.
JI: That’s pretty much standard of care now, right?
AK: It is. It is. And part of it was developed, actually, these two doctors in an emergency room in Minnesota who were young and they were on call — she’s getting impatient with me.
KK : Sorry. [LAUGHTER]
AK: But they were on call, and they couldn’t figure out why people were getting opioids. They went back and looked at all the records and figured out that half the people had no reason to have opioids, and that half their town, that’s an exaggeration, was addicted. They actually developed this treatment method because they didn’t really have the facilities to do it from Little Falls, Minnesota. So it is a good thing, and it helps a lot, but there may be other treatments that we should be doing. And there’s one other thing I want to stress here: it’s that meth, crack cocaine, these other drugs, especially crack cocaine, is still a big addiction in communities of color. Alcoholism is still there. So I think it’s really important that the master settlement be used for all forms of addiction. Many of these treatment places, they are not opioid-only, and you’re really ripping off certain parts of the country if you don’t also include them in the treatment. And then I, of course, include mental health because it’s the only way we’re going to get the funding to help with mental health, when we’ve had a 30% increase in suicides in 15 years. OK. Yes. [In 1998, big tobacco companies agreed to a master settlement agreement with 46 states, which forced the companies to pay tens of billions upfront as well as additional annual installments. A master settlement with opioid companies could help fill a major gap in treatment funding — right now only 10% of people with drug use disorders receive the care they need.]
KK : We have one final question for you. I’m going to turn to my colleague, Brent.
BS : What would you fail at as president?
AK: [LAUGHING] I like to go out on a limb on a lot of things, but I can’t predict that. I can’t predict what I’ll fail at because I am an optimistic —
BS : But you know yourself. You know yourself.
AK: OK. I would fail at not getting enough sleep, but you don’t want to have that to be too intense or it’ll affect your performance. I would fail at probably not balancing everything I need to balance with my family, which I try my best on. I even got my daughter’s Christmas list to my in-laws today. I would — I don’t know because you don’t know what’s in front of you, but what I do know is that you learn a lot when you’ve had the experiences I have. Fourteen years in the private sector, and then eight years managing as a local official, managing an office of a bunch of lawyers, and doing a good job on it, I will tell you. Then, going to the U.S. Senate, and being there through three different presidents, being there through the economic crisis. [Klobuchar worked for more than a decade as an attorney in private practice. She then became the lead prosecutor in Minnesota’s most urban county.]
One of the last things we did on a bipartisan basis that was hard to do that we did was TARP, which was the right thing to do at that moment. [The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was authorized by Congress in 2008 to keep the banks operating during the financial crisis.] Getting the stimulus, Affordable Care Act, dealing with international treaties and international crises, dealing with the assault from the Trump administration on the judiciary. I have this broad experience that I think helps you deal with whatever comes your way, and repeatedly, when I have been in charge of things, whether alone back there in Minnesota or as part of a group, I have shown what I think is a really important quality right now, which is grace under pressure.
I have shown that I can build the trust of people, no matter what political party they’re in. At some point I think, given that I don’t have $31 million for an ad buy right now, [This is a dig at Klobuchar’s billionaire rivals, particularly Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has spent $100 million on ads in his first month in the race.] but I am rising in the polls in Iowa and some in New Hampshire, I feel like saying, maybe people should just get job references from the five million people in my state.
They won’t all have voted for me, but they at least know that I am a hard worker, that I have people’s back, that I do the right thing. I think that what you succeed in is much more important right now when we have a president that has failed us so many times to stress the optimistic economic agenda, to stand your ground when you must.
And as I run against someone like him, to ignore him when you can but to make clear that when he does really bad things that you call him on it, which I’ve done my entire time in the Senate.
And yes, to even use some humor against this guy, because what he does is absurd. I think that’s how you beat him, but I think how you beat him is going to directly affect how we govern. Because if you just eek by a victory at four in the morning with one state, we’re not going to be able to take on these big challenges we just spent all this time talking about. [Here Klobuchar highlights two qualities that she has touted as her campaign assets. She’s won her elections by landslide margins — a whopping 26 points over her Republican opponent in 2018, including in 43 counties that Donald Trump won in 2016. She’s also known for her retail politics and humor, as an amateur stand-up comedian.] We are not. And if you are someone that comes in that’s dividing people, we are not going to be able to govern and bring consensus back in this country. These ideas I’ve laid out, I believe they’re bold ideas, and we cannot afford to fail. Failure is not an option.
KK : All right.
BS : Leave it there.
KK : Yeah. Great. Thank you.
BS : Thank you.
AK: Thank you.
MC : All right.
BS : Isn’t Minnesota nice?
BS : Isn’t Minnesota nice?
AK: Minnesota? Yeah, but you seem cynical about it.
BS : No.
AK: No, Minnesota nice. Both … First of all, Minnesota and Hawaii have been voted the happiest states, and it’s kind of true. If you go to counters, people are nice to you, and I think that it is just how you treat other people. I have found it, going around, there is some reality to it.
It is also, we’re not perfect. We’ve got a lot of racial divides and other things, but how we’ve treated our refugee and immigrant population, that’s Minnesota nice. We’ve welcomed them in. We have Happy Ramadan signs in front of the synagogues and the Catholic churches. I think that’s part of it, too. It’s just how you treat people.
BS: Thank you for clarifying that for me.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times .