Friday, July 20, 2007; 10:00 AM
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., was online Friday, July 20 at 10 a.m. to take questions about how she juggles serving in the U.S. Senate while raising a 12-year-old daughter.
Mom's in the House, With Kids at Home (Post, July 19)
The transcript follows.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar: Hello. This is Sen. Amy Klobuchar and I'm the new senator from Minnesota ... I first bring you greetings from my state, where, in the words of Garrison Keillor, our poet laureate, "the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and all the voters are above average." Okay, I changed it a little bit.
I'm here to talk with you and answer your questions about balancing my work as a senator and having a family. I try my best and I'm not always that good at it, so I guess that's why they're having me on. So here we go.
Hyattsville, Md.: Amy, you rock! I'm so glad we have more women in the Senate. Keep up the good work. Would you care to venture on who might be joining you in the Senate from Minnesota in 2008?
Sen. Amy Klobuchar: I thought I'd start with a really hard, probing question, so I picked this one. We now have 16 women in the Senate and it is quite a group. I missed the time when they didn't even have their own bathroom ... there was only a men's one. Claire McCaskill and I were the two women elected this year, and we are good friends. I'd love to see even more women in the Senate.
Someone once asked me when we will have achieved equality in the Senate, and I told them I will know it has happened when our women senators' bathroom is as big as theirs.
As for the Minnesota senate race, it is too early to tell!
Eugene, Ore.: Hi. I am not aware if you are a single mom or are married. If you are a single mom, then I have no problem with the topic of this discussion. However, if you are married, then I have to ask why a female senator with a 12-year-old is being asked how she juggles work and parenthood, whereas a male senator with a young child is not being asked the same question. Are male senators not parents? Or are they somehow excused from the day-to-day duties of parenthood in a way that female senators are not?
Sen. Amy Klobuchar: I like this question. First, whenever I hear people say "oh, it must be so hard for you being a senator and having a young child," I think that it is nothing compared to single parents and people who have less money, no health care, you name it. Part of the reason I came here was to change things to we can make it easier for people to have families and get what they need.
As for male senators, there are plenty of men with young kids ... Evan Bayh has 12-year-old twins ... Mark Pryor has young kids ... Jim Webb and Jack Reed have brand new babies. I think it would be interesting to hear from them. I can't speak for The Washington Post, but I think the interest in this story stems from the fact that we still have relatively few women in the Senate, and lately more and more with kids.
My husband probably plays a greater role in helping with our daughter than in some families. I thought of this last night at 3 a.m. Because he is out of town this week, a high school neighbor from Minnesota is helping out ... and she and my daughter decided it would be a good idea to put the security chain on our apartment door. I came home from presiding over the Senate at 2 a.m. only to find myself locked out of our apartment. They were sound asleep. No phone calls worked. Finally the person at the front desk helped me to break in to the apartment. I got to bed at 3 a.m. and was here at 8 a.m. Doing this on your own is never easy, no matter if you are a U.S. Senator or a nurse or a flight attendant. You just do your best.
Silver Spring, Md.: Have you ever considered moving your family to Washington, or approaching your daughter about boarding school?
Sen. Amy Klobuchar: We try to stay together as family as much as we can. Our home is still in Minnesota, but we have a small apartment here in Northern Virginia. Our daughter goes to the public schools here and I go home most weekends. Sometimes they come with me. It isn't easy financially, but I didn't want to miss out on her whole school life, etc. We couldn't afford boarding school and I want us to stay together.
Washington, D.C.: Dear Sen. Klobuchar -- I read the article about you and your House and Senate colleagues with avid interest. Do you have working mothers on your staff? Are they allowed to telework, job share, or any other flexible schedule arrangements? In my experience as a former staffer, it was extremely difficult to combine being an involved mother and a dedicated staffer. Part of the difficulty was that Members expected you to be there -- in person -- whenever they needed you, which is their right. Another difficulty was the emphasis on the face-to-face meetings.
My female friends who are still on the Hill say that they don't get home until their kids are in bed on regular basis. They note subtle discrimination from colleagues who have no family obligations. I also know of several women staffers who were asked to leave after returning from a maternity leave, in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act. My office made it very clear that prestigious Hill jobs are not made for flexibility and that I should look for it in a civil service. What can be done, realistically, to make Capitol Hill family friendly and retain talented women in their 30s and 40s who want to work a 40-hour week and not leave the upbringing of their kids to their spouses and nannies? Thank you for your time.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar: My legislative director, Sheila Murphy, adopted a child on her own. When she took the job I knew she would have to go home every day at a reasonable hour. It is working fine. Last night ... when we had votes until about 1 a.m. ... she went home to be with her daughter, but had the Senate on TV. Someone else stayed in the office. I talked to her several times through the night to talk through various amendments.
Silver Spring, Md.: Sen. Klobuchar -- thanks for taking these questions. Do you think family issues -- childcare availability, kids health insurance, family leave -- are getting the respect and time they deserve in this Congress, or is Iraq running those considerations into the ground?
Sen. Amy Klobuchar: It is always a balance. First, I believe that we need to change course in Iraq, so we must keep going back and back to vote on the war until that change happens. Every time we vote on the war, we pick up more support from the Republican side of the aisle.
At the same time we have pushed many key middle-class issues ... just last night we voted for increased funding for student loans, we raised the minimum wage for the first time in ten years, got the ethics bill passed through the Senate (with a law soon to come, I hope), and next week we start debate on children's health insurance.
We have a bipartisan bill that came out of committee to fund children's health care. The president has threatened to veto this. Let him try and let's see what happens. No matter where I am in my state people know that for the past six years Washington has been operating in a way that doesn't put the people first. Our new crop of senators is devoted to taking on the special interests to change business as usual in Washington.
One more thing -- I've been doing a lot on the sandwich generation ... people my age caught in the middle with raising kids and helping their aging parents. Would love your thoughts on this.
Edina, Minn.: Amy, you came and spoke at my high school (The Blake School) when you were still District Attorney, and I remember being impressed with you then! Congrats on everything! What do you think is the best way to get youth involved and engaged in the political process?
Sen. Amy Klobuchar: I thought it was time for another tough, probing question. Thanks. For non-Minnesotans, the Blake School is a private school in Minnesota. What I remember about the speech is that one of your classmates suggested that I start listing random students and announce that I was prosecuting their parents for white-collar crimes. That was a nice touch.
The best way to get youth involved in the political process is to just show up. Show up at political meetings, causes, marches ... whatever. You meet people that end up being your friends for life, and you are part of something bigger than yourself.
Minnesota: Hey Mom! This is Abigail, and I just wanted to say hi!
Sen. Amy Klobuchar: So I told my 12-year-old to join our discussion, and she did. We're going back to Minnesota this afternoon.
For Abigail: Don't forget to pack your swimming suit, and next time, lose that security chain when I'm not home yet...
I think I found a bookstore with a "Harry Potter" left.
See you soon.
New Haven, Conn.: Good morning, Senator -- thank you for an interesting discussion. I imagine that members of Congress -- and senators in particular -- put in long days of voting, constituent service and meetings with staff and others. How do you wall-off time for your children? Do you ever tell your constituents when you are in your home state that your trip to the mall or the pool is private, not public, time?
Sen. Amy Klobuchar: Good question. I'm not that good at walling off. My husband's favorite story is from when my daughter was six and we were on vacation.
We were at a park and he was mad at me because I was on the phone about a murder case (this was when I was a district attorney). I was talking at length with a reporter about the kind of gun used in the crime. When I finished, a perfect stranger sitting on the bench next to me said "I hope you don't mind me asking you this, ma'am, but are you an arms dealer?" I said, "no, I'm a mom on vacation."
More seriously, we try to do one weekend a month where we don't do official events, when it is something my daughter likes ... like the seven parades on Fourth of July (okay, she kind of liked them) ... I include her. One of the reasons we are here in washington is that there are some nights when we get home at a decent time and then things are almost normal. I took seven girls to see "Nancy Drew" for her birthday, followed by a slumber party; I rarely missed a piano recital. It is no different than most working moms or dads ... you try to do everything and sometimes almost pull it off.
Morris, Minn.: Sen. Klobuchar, what issues do you feel are going to be the most important in the next year, and what issues would you like to see addressed in the presidential campaigns? What advice would you have for college students who want to have their voices heard when it comes to important issues?
Sen. Amy Klobuchar: I have to end with a Minnesota question!
To get at any issues, we need to get at the corruption in the system. By that I don't mean only the trips to Scotland and the cash in the freezer -- I mean putting people ahead of the oil companies and the drug companies and Halliburton. Ethics reform is a start. Campaign finance reform would be good. Public accountability is key.
As for the issues: Change course in Iraq. I favor a deadline to begin bringing our combat troops home. Take a new approach to foreign policy. Take on the drug companies to allow negotiation with the prescription drug companies for prices under Medicare Part D; allow for reimportation. Reduce health care costs in general...
I'm on the environment committee, and have focused a lot on climate change and energy policy. I believe that we need to set the standards high, and the investment will follow. We come from a state where we believe in science ... we brought the world everything from the pacemaker to the Post-it note. Our next challenge is energy. Talk to farmers, the people running the wind turbine in Morris (where you're writing from), ski resort owners in Grand Marais ... they'll all tell you we need to reduce global warming and harness homegrown energy.
Finally, we are starting to bring some fiscal sanity back to the budget. We need to get our priorities straight. I favor rolling back the Bush tax cuts on the top 1 percent, closing tax loopholes in the Cayman Islands, better enforcement, taking back the oil giveaways ... and putting that money into the middle class. We can do this. You just have to keep the pressure on and keep blogging.
Thanks for spending time with me today. I'm going back to Minnesota and hope to talk again.
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