Our guest this morning is Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. After a distinguished legal career, in 2006 she became the first woman elected to the United States Senate from Minnesota. Now in her third term, Senator Klobuchar has earned a reputation as a prolific lawmaker and has one of the Senate's best track records when it comes to getting her bills enacted into law. She's introduced more legislation than any other Senate Democrat. This morning we'll hear from Senator Klobuchar about how she would shape the policy landscape as President, including her views on issues ranging from climate change to infrastructure to healthcare.
Recently, Senator Klobuchar outlined more than 100 things she would do during her first hundred days as President. We probably won't get into all 100 today, but let's get started. Please welcome Senator Klobuchar and The Washington Post's Robert Costa.
Thank you, Robert. Thank you again, Senator.
MR. COSTA: Please, take a seat. Good morning.
MR. COSTA: I'm Bob Costa, national political reporter here at The Washington Post. Thanks so much for joining us this morning for another Post Live 2020 Conversation, and thank you so much, Senator Klobuchar, for being here this morning.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Well, thank you, Bob.
MR. COSTA: Taking some time off the campaign trail. Senator Klobuchar, we cover her on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail now of course. Former prosecutor from Minnesota, U.S. Senator, now running for President.
You're facing a lot of tough questions not only as a candidate but as a U.S. Senator. Big issues in the world. One of them right now is Iran, escalating tensions. Would you support military intervention?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Not at this time. I think that if the President was at all serious about that--you always leave everything on the table, but if he was serious about that he has to come before Congress for an authorization of military force instead of relying on the past authorization of military force which goes way back to 9/11 and involved al-Qaida, which isn't an issue here. So that would be my first response to that.
My second is that we didn't have to be with where we are today, with the news this morning that 17 people Iran claims that they have arrested and that they're going to put to death for what they claim--claim--are CIA connections, or the fact that a British tanker, the crew was taken hostage. We wouldn't have to be there if he had simply stayed in the Iranian nuclear agreement. For so long our--one of our major focuses of U.S. foreign policy was to make sure that Iran didn't get a nuclear weapon. That's why we reached that agreement. It may not have been perfect, but it was something that needed to be done to make sure that we achieve that goal and kept people safe. Instead he decided to leave, basically, our European allies holding the bag, gave leverage to China and Russia, got out of the agreement, and claimed that he was going to make us safer and that he would get a better deal. Instead, where are we now? 17 people allegedly arrested, a crew taken hostage, and as we speak, Iran blowing the caps when it comes to uranium enrichment. So what would I do? I would work to renegotiate ourselves back into that agreement.
MR. COSTA: As part of the renegotiation, if you would reenter the agreement as President, but before that, right now, should sanctions be relieved to try to de-escalate the tensions?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Well, right now I think that if I were to go back in it, there's things you'd like to change with some of the sunset time periods and things like that, but I don't think you want to take the sanctions that are in place on the--that we had in place already on missiles and things like that. But what I do think that we need to do is to look at how we can deescalate things diplomatically. And what I'm talking about here are some of the other sanctions that we've had in place for a long time which supplemented that agreement because it didn't get at, of course, their other terrorist activity.
MR. COSTA: Speaking of diplomacy, as President, would you try to directly negotiate with the Iranian leadership?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: I think it depends on the circumstances. We are of course better when we work with our allies. We're stronger when we work with our allies, which is something that this President doesn't seem to get. And he sort of has this go it alone attitude, which in my mind has not enhanced our security internationally or certainly not enhanced our reputation internationally in what we need when we need help from people. You want to stand with your allies and show that you can do it.
MR. COSTA: One final thing on Iran. You're on the inside, inside the U.S. Senate. Based on your conversations with top officials, your colleagues, is the U.S. heading toward military intervention?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: We've had some briefings on this that are classified, so I can't go through them. But we're always concerned with this President that at any moment he could just decide to do something, and certainly he's sent some more troops over to the Mideast because of this escalating crisis. But again, we have been very firm in our belief, including some Republicans, that if he's going to take any action, you get an authorization of military force.
MR. COSTA: The President continues to attack four minority women members of Congress, freshmen members of Congress. One of them is from your state, Representative Omar. Are you close to her politically? Are you friendly with her?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Well, I know her pretty well. She was a legislator in our state. We have some disagreements politically. I've made that clear. But that really isn't what the issue is right now. The issue is that he has chosen to go after four women, elected members of Congress. He has chosen to tell them they should go home, basically, which is a racist code word, in my mind. And he has specifically singled her out. She is, by the way, a mother of three children, one of them quite young. I don't know if she has security right now, but she in the past has had serious enough threats against her that a man went to prison. So my immediate concern for her is her safety.
The second thing is that we stand up and call this out for what it is. When he stood basking in that chant "send her home," he didn't stop that chant. And two things that came to my mind. The first was when John McCain was in my state, in Minnesota, and someone said something racist about Barack Obama at a townhall meeting right before the election was coming up, McCain put a stop to it and said, "No, that's not true, he's a good man, we may disagree." That happened.
MR. COSTA: Why don't your Republican colleagues do that anymore?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: I don't know, but they have not done that. You should ask them. I think it's because they don't want to piss him off, if I could be blunt. I'm known as being blunt. So that's what it is. Okay, so--
MR. COSTA: We welcome that here today.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. Yes, okay, then the second thing about this, beyond her security, beyond that we should be standing up clearly against this--not just Democrats--but there's really two more things to learn from this. The first is that when he says this thing, it infiltrates through our society at a point where we are already so fractured it's so dangerous. And it's one of the reasons that I'm running for President, because I think we should be moving to a higher plan in our politics and America is bigger than this.
An illustration of this was during the height of his rhetoric during the campaign in 2016. I heard the story of a Minnesota family of four. The parents had been in our state through 9/11 and had not experienced discrimination. As you remember, President Bush stood up and said that we shouldn't be taking this out on all people from this region, or on Muslims. He very clearly said this. And people took it to heart. I remember, I was a prosecutor at the time and I went with the U.S. Attorney and met with our Muslim community to make it clear that we were going to protect them from hate crimes.
Now let's fast forward to 2016. Donald Trump's running for office. The rhetoric's all over there. And what happens to this family of four? They go out to dinner. And they're at a normal restaurant. This guy walks by and looks down at them and says, "You four go home." Exact same words. You four go home. You go home to where you came from. And this little girl looks up at her mom and she says mom, I don't want to eat dinner at home tonight. You said we could eat out tonight. You think of the words of that innocent child. She only knows one home, and that's my state. She only knows one home. That's the United States of America. So we have to remember that when he says these things, it's not just one person saying them. That's why that chant was so significant. He passes that on. He condones that kind of rhetoric.
And the final and last thing that is to me the most important is that he does this to distract people from what I hope we're going to talk about in our remaining time, and that is the issues before us. I have a quote from Toni Morrison that actually Congresswoman Omar put on her Twitter feed, and it says, "The very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work." Right? And that is what he is doing. And we just have to remember that every day it's a trap. Yes, you stand up, but you have to acknowledge that it's a trap. Because he doesn't want to talk about the broken promises and the 10,000-plus lies that this newspaper has documented, the broken promises littering the carpet of the Oval Office. He doesn't want to talk about that because that's what really makes the people that voted for him that aren't the ones at the rallies, that's what makes them step back and think, hmm, maybe I should vote for someone else. This is the pharmaceutical prices that have been escalating and going through the roof. This is the fact that he hasn't done anything on infrastructure when he promises it. This is the fact that we just talked about on Iran.
So it's really important, as hurtful as what he says is, to respond but then to remind people why he's doing it. It is not just to rally up his base. It's to distract from other issues.
MR. COSTA: If you were the Democratic presidential nominee, would you invite Congresswoman Omar to speak at the Democratic National Convention?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: No, I haven't thought through that. I think you should have many voices at the convention, and I think that will be something our party will decide, but I would think that we would have many voices, we always have had, speak at the convention.
MR. COSTA: Including hers?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: I'm not going to extend invitations to people. If only I will have that power, and then I will make that decision. I wouldn't commit to anyone speaking right now at the Democratic convention--well, except Barack Obama.
MR. COSTA: You said the Democrats should focus on policy, but what should they do to counter President Trump, if anything, on race, if he is going to put that at the fore of the campaign?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: I think, again, we have to firmly stand up against racism. After Charlottesville, when he says there's two sides, when the other side is the Ku Klux Klan, no, there's not two sides. So that's the first thing. The second is taking on the issues that will combat racism--and not just the rhetoric of racism, but the actual economic injustices of racism.
And I would start with voting, right? How can you have economic justice and fairness if people can't even exercise their right to vote? And that means everything from the voter suppression that we're seeing across the country, the fact that in the state of Georgia, if the Secretary of State, who was the candidate for governor, hadn't withheld 58,000 voter registrations because of things like hyphens in names, that Stacey Abrams would most likely be governor today of the state of Georgia. So it is reauthorizes the Voting Rights Act, which I will push for as President. Used to be a bipartisan endeavor.
Secondly, looking at innovative ways to make it easier for people to vote same-day registration. We know those states that have it. By the way, some are red states, right? Some are like Iowa that has two Republican senators. I think they have same-day, but they have more open voting laws. You have got Maine and New Hampshire, some of these states that have made it easier to vote. They're not always pure blue states. I just want to make that clear. But what they have in common is they have high voter turnout, whether they're red, purple, or blue, like my own state. Same-day voting registration.
Looking at passing my bill, which says that every kid, when they are eligible to vote, should be automatically registered when they turn 18. This is a country that we have the highest level of technology. Everyone gets their Social Security numbers. People, once they pass their driver's test, get their driving license. Why can't we do the same with voting registration? So things like that. Taking the dark money out of politics by passing a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Looking at the whole panoply of things available to us to do when it comes to elections. I think that's the first thing.
The second is just policies. It is the Africa-American community and the immigrant community that is most hurt when things are done with cuts to programs with heating or cuts to programs when it comes to helping people with education. And so looking at how we can make that more fair is by simply advancing an economic agenda that's about opportunity and not chaos. To me, that means from cradle to grave, right? It starts with early childhood and the fact that kids that know more words do better in school. And so that's all-day kindergarten and that is better pre-school. That's work family leave and that is childcare. Then you go into school and making sure our public schools are better funded and our teachers are paid. And then you go into the college level and making sure that we make that more affordable, especially with one- and two-year degrees, where there's so many openings, so many kids that have gone off the grid that could get back on the grid with getting those degrees and then move on to a four-year degree. My sister did that. She never graduated from high school. She went and got her GED years later, and then got enough confidence to get her two-year community college degree, and from there got a degree in accounting. My dad got a two-year community college degree. So I'm someone that kind of has lived that world and understands it in my heart how important it is to understand that in communities of color and really all over the country there are many paths to success.
MR. COSTA: Robert Mueller is testifying on Capitol hill this week. You're a member of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate. What should Democrats ask him about the attorney general, William Barr?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Okay, I have my own selfish thing I want asked.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Well, it's related to William Barr because at the end of our hearing with Barr, at the very end, I think he was kind of tired, and I went in with one of the last questions. It was my second round of questions. And I asked if Director Mueller and his team had looked at the tax returns and the financial documents. And Barr said, well, you'll have to ask him. And I go, okay, are you going to make them available then to come here? So you don't know? And he said, no, you've got to ask him. Well, we still aren't seeing him in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But I very much hope that someone asks that question. And it's related to Barr because the House members who, if they're listening right now, they will be able to cite that part of the transcript. So hopefully that question will be asked.
I think that there should be questions about what he was told about how he could roll out his report and everything that happened with the summary which he clearly had some issues with when you look at the letter that Mueller later sent saying about that summary and the characterizations of his report. I think that's important. Especially journalists will thrive on if there was some kind of an attempt to squelch Mueller. But I think the real core, Bob, of what needs to be looked at here is of course questions about the obstruction of justice pieces of this. Oh, questions about--now this is a good journalist one--about when these things can be declassified, his views on that. I have been able to see only the volume of the report about obstruction because I'm on the Judiciary Committee. I've been able to see those parts of the classified, which was, I found, interesting.
And so I hope that everyone will be able to see them. I think that they are waiting for these trials to be done involving some of the people that have been indicted. I think it's very important people see that. I have not even seen the volume of the report. Despite all the work I've done on elections in Russia, I've not been allowed to see the classified piece of that report. Only the people on the Intelligence Committee, which is crazy to me, have been able to see that, even though I'm leading the bill on the Secure Election Act, the Honest Ads Act. I'm on the Judiciary Committee.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: That was the rules that we got from the Department of Justice. And I went in there and saw the pieces that I could see on I think it's volume two. Volume one is the Russia thing. If I've got them reversed, then give me Pinocchios, but I think that's right. So but the Russia piece of it had the most redacted, right? And that is the thing that we could most do something about right away, because we should be putting in place rules of the road on the propaganda, especially the paid ads, when 3 to 4 billion is forecast to be spent on social media company--I empathize company--ads, because they're for-profit companies, and they should have to reveal those ads and not just voluntarily in all their crazy ways, in a set way, and also of course back up paper ballots. Why does that matter? If Mueller could have a chance to really go through what Russia did in a way that's understandable to people and that they don't have to plow through a report of which all the pages are redacted, I think that that's going to help us to advance the cause to get something done immediately.
MR. COSTA: You just mentioned your work on election safety. Are the ballots for 2020, the U.S. election voting system, is it vulnerable to interference in 2020, and to what extent?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Yes, I think it is. I think there's some good work going on, like General Nakasone over at the Defense Department, Minnesota born. And many others have really tried diligently.
But what I hate about this story, despite patriotic people trying to protect our elections, is what's happening at the top. And we know now from the Mueller Report it wasn't just 20-some states. They tried to hack into the equipment in 50 states. In Mueller's report he said they were doing it in a sweeping and systematic fashion. If that's not enough for you, Christopher Wray, the FBI director, who I'll get to question tomorrow--so that will be good--Christopher Ray said that it was a dress rehearsal, 2018, for 2020. Dan Coats, the President's Director of Intelligence, has said the Russians are getting bolder, right?
And you also have other interests that might try to hack in. So I think it's a scary time. And I hate that 14 or so states either have partial or no backup paper ballots. New Jersey has no. So if you had a close Presidential race and they hack into a few counties in one state, we have chaos, which is something the President seems to like. And so I cannot stand that they stopped our Secure Election Act, which was a bipartisan bill, Lankford-Klobuchar.
MR. COSTA: Do you blame Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, for that?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Yes--no, I blame the White House. I think he was the person that made the calls and claimed he was doing it personally. Seriously?
MR. COSTA: What does that mean?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: I don't know. You're the White House counsel. And he called Republicans and then also Mitch McConnell did not want that bill to advance. That is despite the fact that Richard Burr was on the bill, Lindsey Graham was on the bill. And they stopped it in its tracks. And not only that, they've stopped the Honest Ads Act, which requires this public airing of what these ads are, just like The Washington Post or ABC or CNN would have to explain what the ads are and who's paying for them. Not true of our friends in the social media.
MR. COSTA: But why? When you're talking to your colleagues in the Senate, the Republicans, and you ask why is this being stopped, what do they tell you privately?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: They don't. They're embarrassed by it. I think they know it should go forward. I think some of them have said that McConnell doesn't want it to go forward, yes. I don't know how they can explain. I mean, why even go to the Senate if you actually are allowing elections to be corrupted? Why would you want it? Either a political party, could be either side, or a foreign government or criminal element--why would you not want to protect our democracy from paid ads that are bought in rubles or paid ads that have fake video? Which is going to be the next thing.
That Nancy Pelosi thing was just a little taste of what we are going to be seeing, that doctored video, on the Presidential level and in the Senate campaigns and House campaigns, where you're not even going to be able to tell if videos are real. Or the paid ad that was sent out with a women--an innocent woman's face, African-American woman from Chicago in the 2016 Hillary race--her face, and it said why stand in line. It was paid for in rubles, targeted on African-American pages in swing states. Why stand in line to vote for Hillary? You can text your vote at 83125.
MR. COSTA: That's not legal.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: That's illegal. But they know it was paid for--
MR. COSTA: So should social media companies and tech companies be social utilities, be public utilities in order to protect election laws?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: I think we need a huge overhaul of how we're regulating them, right? We need privacy laws in place. We need election laws in place. They just cannot get by anymore with saying, oh, we're just so cool. It's like the internet of ideas, and you can put on your cat videos. When they are actually playing a major role in disrupting our election.
MR. COSTA: So why not have them be publicly regulated?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Well, they should be regulated, and we have a number of ideas of how we can do it. But there doesn't seem to be a will to do it if it's benefiting certain people that want to have dirty ads run on their platforms.
MR. COSTA: We are talking about the 2020 election and the result. One final thought. Some Democrats worry that President Trump might not concede. Do you have confidence that if he's defeated he will concede and leave?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: I think he will concede. I think it will be much benefited if we have a mandate and a huge election so he can't mess around with people's heads about the election. So that's just the more votes that are in there to defeat them, the better off we are and then we won't cross that bridge.
MR. COSTA: When you jumped into this Presidential race, you said you were a progressive. You've been a progressive in the Senate, a progressive Democrat.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: A proven progressive. Well, no, I think it's important. I think you want to have--
MR. COSTA: But you also said you're a pragmatist.
MR. COSTA: Is your party moving too far to the left right now in this Presidential race?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: We have a lot of voices in our party. We are not the party where one man, as in the Republican side, Donald Trump, says how high can you jump and everyone says, oh, maybe I'll jump as high as I can. They just go with what everyone's--right now they're doing. We are a party that has different views. That's what happens when you include more people in America, and we have always been that way. So I am buoyed by what happened in 2018, where people came together in our party and were joined by independents and moderate Republicans. Don't forget that coalition, where you think how did we win the governorship of Kansas with a woman candidate, Laura Kelly and beat Kris Kobach.
MR. COSTA: But they weren't all running on Medicare for All.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: I know. I'm going to get to that in a minute. I'm just leading with the positive. I'm kind of a happy warrior. And looking at the proof here is that we came together. We elected more women than ever before. We elected more people of color than ever before. And we won in states that no one thought we could. And if you don't believe me, four words: former Governor Scott Walker. All right? So I can only speak to my views on these things.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: So my views on these have been very clear from the beginning. I have not vacillated. I am someone that believes we need to improve on our healthcare. We need to reduce costs for our healthcare, and there are many ways we need to do it. And the first is that we should build on the Affordable Care Act. By the way, we could immediately do something with cost sharing and reinsurance, but doesn't exactly fit on a cool bumper sticker, but it is something that there is a bipartisan bill and it has been proven to work in many states.
But the big ticket item is to have a public option. And you can do it with Medicaid. You can do it with Medicare. And no, I don't believe we should kick half of America off their private insurance in four years, which is exactly, very clearly what that bill says, the Medicare for All bill. At the same time, I don't think that it is an incremental step to go to a public option. I think that is a bold step. It's something that President Obama wanted to do, and it is a way that we could bring costs down for everyone by having an option for them to buy into.
The other big ticket item that no one has dealt with under Democratic or Republican administrations is taking on pharmaceutical prices. And I have led on that since I've gone to the Senate. The vote on bringing less-expensive drugs from Canada, that was a Klobuchar-Sanders amendment. The bill to allow for unleashing the bargaining power of 43 million seniors so they can get less expensive prices under Medicare? That's a bill that I've led for years. And pharma thinks they own Washington. They have two lobbyists for every member of Congress. They don't own me. And I think this is way past time to work on. So I'm actually really excited about this. A President herself can actually order--can actually apply for a waiver to lift the ban on bringing in less expensive drugs from other countries. Imagine the competitive impact. You can stop pay-for-delays, a bill that Grassley and I have had for years that would stop big pharma from paying off generics to keep their products off the market. They know there's change ahead, but it's going to become much firmer and stronger if I lead the ticket.
MR. COSTA: Vice President Biden has proposed adding a public option to the current law. What makes your plan different?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: No, you should ask him what makes his plan different than me, because I came in first. So I am open to doing it two ways. One is with Medicaid and one is with Medicare. One is a Brian Schatz's bill that I'm a co-sponsor of, which is interesting. It's using Medicaid, which people aren't talking about a lot. Medicaid already covers people of all ages. It, as you know, already allows for negotiation of prescription drugs. So it could be an interesting option. Brian's bill right now does it on the exchange. So that would be one way.
The other way to do it is outside of the exchange, so that anyone can buy into it. We're not just talking about people who qualify for the Affordable Care Act. That is a plan that Tim Kaine and Michael Bennet have that I'm a co-sponsor of, and that would allow for buying into Medicare. So that's another way you can do it
MR. COSTA: When you're talking to voters on the campaign trail and they say they like your style of politics. As you say, you call yourself a proven progressive and who also is a pragmatist, they say, we also like Vice President Biden. If they're choosing between you and Vice President Biden, what's your pitch to them? What sets you apart big picture from VP Biden?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Sure, okay. So the first is that I'm from the Midwest. And the one thing that really unites our party right now is that we want to win, and everyone knows in 2016 we had some major issues in the Midwest. I have actually led the ticket in my state--but a state that's purple--where I have won every place, every race, every time. I have won every congressional district, including Michele Bachmann's, three times in a row. I have won the counties, I have won the congressional districts where Donald Trump won by more than 20 points. And I have not done it by selling out. I've done it by going to where people are, by being honest with them, by looking them in the eye, by being blunt and telling them and listening to them and coming back with solutions. As was pointed out in my introduction, as a result, I have passed over a hundred bills where I have been the lead Democrat through some pretty gridlock times. And these were not volleyball resolutions.
The second thing about me is I'm a woman. I like to say may the best woman win. I think we saw in 2018 that women were allowed to, when they were running, they were able to win in some really, really hard districts. I personally think the politician in America that has most gotten under Donald Trump's skin happens to be Nancy Pelosi, who happens to be a woman, all right? So I just look at those factors and I think that's something you asked would differentiated me from the Vice President.
And then I think the rest of this and issues and things will be left for the debate stage with many to go. I was pleased yesterday. I got my final polls, so I'm qualifying for the fall debates based on the polls, and then--so that will be good.
MR. COSTA: You're a former prosecutor. Do you think Vice President Biden's support for the '94 crime bill should be a problem for Democrats?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: I think it's something that he is explaining and will continue to explain. And I think he's started doing that. I think that--and to take this to a bigger place so we're not just spending this entire election relitigating the past, I think records are important and I think that you should--in my case, I'd make the argument that the fact that I have gotten bills passed, that I've worked across the aisle very successfully, that I am someone that has the respect, I'm in leadership in our party in the Senate--I think those things should matter.
And along with that comes explaining votes, right, and explaining why you did things or if you would change it today. That's all fine. But I think what's most important to the people in this country is a positive economic agenda going forward. And that of course includes criminal justice reform. I view it as an economic issue when you are leaving people out of their economy if they've gone away for so many years that they're not part of--not just part of their families, they're not part of the economy. And that's why I was a strong supporter of the First Step Act, along with a number of the current senators who are running, which reduced the sentences for nonviolent offenders. I came into that as a prosecutor, which I think is a helpful view to have, to hear a former prosecutor say this isn't right; we need to change it. I always used to say we like to be a business, when we're a prosecutor's office, in that we want to be efficient and be accountable for our sentences. But we're not a business in a very important way. We don't like to see repeat customers, okay?
And that means you have drug treatment available and mental health treatment and you look at things in terms of how do you prevent crime and stop kids from going down that road to begin with when they interact with the system. So I have very strong feelings about this. I think we've just begun with the First Step Act, and we have to move to the Second Step Act since 90 percent of the people incarcerated are in local and state facilities. And I think I'm actually a good person to do that. A number of my colleagues have worked on this.
And so one of my funniest things--
MR. COSTA: Let's stay with this, criminal justice.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: But can I just say one of my funniest things on that debate stage is when these guys keep going, "I'm the only one on the stage that's done this." And I felt like going, "I'm the only one on the stage that announced in eight inches of snow, with half of it on my hair." So anyway, there are a number of us that feel strongly about this. But I think having a former prosecutor do it is interesting.
MR. COSTA: One of the former prosecutors you're running against, Senator Harris, as a prosecutor once threatened criminal charges against parents of truant students. She's had to answer to some critics of her record as a prosecutor. When you look back at your tenure as a prosecutor in Hennepin County, do you have any regrets looking now at criminal justice reform and the way things are moving away from mass incarceration towards helping out those who are non-violent drug offenders? Do you have any regret about what you did as a prosecutor?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Okay, first of all, just to give a sense, I think sometimes people think you're like some Perry Mason case with like one case. I had tens of thousands of cases. I think we had about 15,000 cases a year. I had 400 employees there. Really proud of our office.
And just as a side note, we did not use criminal penalties in those kinds of child support cases. No, they were truancy cases, right? In those truancy cases. We did use them in some child support cases, but we did not use them in truancy cases.
When I first got into office the number one demand and ask from leaders in the African-American community and from people in the neighborhoods was that we take on some of the cases of their babies and their kids who had been shot by gang members, basically, and that had just been sat dormant. And they felt it was unjust that those cases weren't being handled. In some cases, the cops hadn't even found the perpetrators. And so we took on a major effort with billboards. I remember in the case of one little boy, Byron Phillips, who was shot on his front porch in an African-American neighborhood. And we found the guys that did it, and we prosecuted and sent them to jail.
Tyesha Edwards, a little girl that was doing her homework at her kitchen table. Sweet, sweet child just home doing her homework so that they could go to the mall later on or something, and gang members shot through her house and killed her at her kitchen table while she was doing her homework. We went after those guys. They went to jail.
But let me go to the regrets. So I just want to make that clear. I think people have to understand that I'm proud of the work of our office, and we did some really good things. We worked with the Innocence Project. We did DNA review of all our cases. We actually instituted a new way to do eye witness ID. And I had good relations with our community because of that.
Back when I was there, a few things. One is the federal sentences continued to be an issue. I wasn't doing the federal sentences. But, you know, I wish at that time that I had advanced for more changes to federal sentences. I think the second thing--and I was outspoken on assault weapon ban and those things, but I wish we were able to do more as prosecutors to make changes back then on the gun laws. Third thing is we used grand juries for police shootings. That was how everyone did it in our state. The thought was, well, you want the community to make the decision so it doesn't look like you as a prosecutor are making the decision and are somehow tied in with law enforcement and so you're not being fair. When I look back at that now, that's changed. And so in our state, in some of the major jurisdictions--not for every case because there can be more cases where the results are a little more obvious, I think--but I think that it is good to take responsibility for those decisions yourself, rather than giving them to a grand jury. So that's something that I would have changed.
MR. COSTA: When you're speaking to communities of color on the campaign trail, do you have a strategy or way to reassure them that you're not just a prosecutor who was tough on crime and maybe tough on their communities?
MS. KLOBUCHAR: Well, first of all, I led with what I believe. At the time, we had a major problem with not getting enough resources and help to those communities. And I don't really shy away from the fact that we did that. Minnesota's sentences, we don't have the death penalty, which is a good thing. I do not support the death penalty. And we have been very good about trying to get people treatment. And I think all of that is good. It's a model nationally.
But like everywhere else, we had racism, institutional, and still do. Institutional racism in our system. So what I assure them is that I will continue to trumpet this cause and take this cause on. Actions speak louder than words with the First Step Act and some of the work that I've done leading funding on the federal level for drug courts and leading efforts to have our system work better. And I think you talk about that, but honestly that is an issue, but it's also economics that you hear a lot from communities of color.
Thank you. Moms and dads, they want their kids to do better. They want to be able to have good schools to send their kids to. They want to be able to have them have good jobs, right? And so just to talk about race issues in the box of criminal justice, I don't think does justice to our communities of color. So it's really important to extend the discussion out to economics as well as voting rights and some of the other issues.
MR. COSTA: You have a hundred-day plan to take many executive actions if you're elected President of the United States. Senator Warren, one of your competitors, is out there with many plans. What do you make of her many plans?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Well, I think again--and I really mean this--I came into politics through I first got involved in sort of a nonprofit thing we had where we were coming up with ideas and we put something out called "idea news" because at the time our party felt like it was lacking in ideas. And I strongly believe in a lot of ideas, and I put a bunch of my own plans out.
But one thing that differentiates me is that I don't just have plans. I have deadlines, right?
MR. COSTA: What does that mean?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: That means that our country is going through, I believe, a crisis of our democracy. People feel left out. They feel like they've got a President that wakes up every day and sends a mean tweet, and directed many times at them, and they want to see it change immediately, and that you can't just have long-term plans that will take years to get done, or not get done at all; that you have to jump-start this democracy. I likened it to the first person that we know of, a President that put forward a hundred-day plan, and that was Franklin Roosevelt in 1933, because he understood that you need sprints but you also need marathons, right? The sprints are what completely changes the dialogue, which means of course no mean tweets, reassuring our allies. There are things that you could do that are legal that you don't need to go to Congress to get done. Signing us back into the International Climate Change agreement. That can be done on day one.
Bringing back the Obama clean power rules. Years of work went into that and Trump just left them on the cutting room floor. The gas mileage standards. And then of course working on sweeping legislation. Closing the “boyfriend loophole”, which is a bill I’ve been leading forever, but a President can do it herself. That’s where with domestic violence cases, if you have been convinced of a serious domestic violence case against a wife or a husband or someone you live with, then you can’t get a gun. Big loophole: If you’re dating someone, that’s okay. Even though half of the domestic homicides involve dating relationships. So that’s a good example of a change I’ve made. Look at our website, amyklobuchar.com. I have over 130 things that you can do in the first 100 days. And I think it gives people hope that you can see some immediate change.
MR. COSTA: Do you support decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: No, I've made that clear, that I think we need to look at that law, but that I do not support getting rid of that entire law.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Because I think this all comes down to enforcement. And you may have cases involving security where you would want to be able to have the tool of that law. But I would certainly greatly--and you can do this in the first 100 days--I would greatly change these policies and the enforcement emphasis and on not separating kids from their families, and closing these private prisons like the one that I visited in Homestead, the Homestead one in Florida. I would do this.
In those first 100 days I would stop these actions against DREAMERs, the 2 million people in our country that came here through no fault of their own, and work to get them on path to citizenship. I would assure the people who are here on temporary status, who came here legally, like the Liberians in my state who have been here for decades working in our hospitals and our nursing homes, that they get to stay, you know, barring some reason they need to get deported because of illegal activity.
I would then work on comprehensive reform. And I have pledged to get it done for the first year. I have worked on this issue in a big way, twice. Ted Kennedy asked me to be part of the group with Lindsey Graham that worked on it when I first got to the Senate. We got close. This was under President Bush's leadership. He wanted to get it done.
MR. COSTA: What about now?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Then again we tried it with Obama. We passed a bill in the Senate with bipartisan support. That bill would have brought the deficit down by $158 billion. Why is this relevant to the border issues? Think of that money. We could use a lot of it toward deficit reduction, but a portion of it--and it would only have to be a small portion of 158--could be used for targeted border issues and to ramp up our personnel on things like asylum cases. I would immediately change the policy so that you could seek asylum in those three northern triangle countries and you could use some of the money to work with our allies to improve the conditions in those countries, make their economy work better so we wouldn't see this flow of people seeking asylum. Those things are practical solutions. The President knows this. He could have been a Nixon goes to China. But he chose instead to chant at rallies and to invigorate his base because he doesn't want to piss them off. And that's what this is about, because there are plenty of Republicans that want to move on immigration reform, but they are afraid of this guy going after them.
MR. COSTA: And the President is focusing on immigration. His voters are. Do you support sanctuary cities?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Yes, I have supported that. This is based on my own law enforcement telling me that they want to be able to--and my own experience in it--that they want to be able to protect people when they're victims of crime. Now, that being said, of course we should deport people who are convicted of serious crimes, who are security risks, right? That I strongly believe. And I was in law enforcement, we saw that happening, and that should happen.
However, I will never forget the case of a little girl--she was 15 when this happened--and her minister at her church was basically raping her, preying on her. And his claim to us when we were prosecuting the case was that he didn't know that she was 15 years old, right? That's what he said. He thought she was older. Because she had put a wrong age on a job application and he used that as a defense. While this was going on, there were threats that they were basically going to go to the feds to get her deported, right, and get her mom deported. And now there's protections and laws so that can't happen. But they were doing that. And we didn't know what was going to happen to her.
We found a video with a major, you know, call it--the celebration when kids turn 15 in the Hispanic culture. There was a video and it was when he was having sex with her, and it said 15 on the back on the church, on the thing. That was a smoking gun. So we got to prosecute that guy and convict him.
But those are the cases you understand that if you can't protect victims just because they are from another country or are undocumented, then they're going to be preyed on even more.
MR. COSTA: We only have a few minutes left, Senator. Just a lightning round here.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Lightning round? Oh, yeah. Let me just drink my water in a Marco Rubio fashion.
MR. COSTA: It's not a small water bottle. We avoid having that to avoid those kind of moments. It's a nice mug.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Yeah, it's very nice. Can I keep it, though?
MR. COSTA: Sure. I don't know. Do you have to file an ethics form?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Do you like how I'm avoiding the lightning round with various techniques? No, I'm kidding. I'm not avoiding the lightning round.
MR. COSTA: Do you support the emerging debt limit deal, extending the budget for two years?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Well, I hope we can negotiate something. I have voted for debt limit agreements before because we don't want to put our country at chaos. But I think it's very important to allow the negotiation. And being in leadership, I know that's continuing. I haven't heard an update this week, but last week I talked to Senator Schumer about it and I know that--as well as Speaker Pelosi--that those agreements are being negotiated.
MR. COSTA: You're on the Judiciary committee. Who on the current Supreme Court is most aligned with your judicial philosophy?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: I think about judges as in a separate category from politicians. I really feel strongly about that and that you have to put up names immediately--I will, of people--I'm not going to give you names.
MR. COSTA: I didn't ask for names. Just on the current court, just so people get a sense of where your head is at.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Well, I love this like picking your best friend at a slumber party.
MR. COSTA: People want to know where you'd lean.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: And by the way, Justice Stevens, could I say, may he rest in peace, a good example of someone who was appointed in a time when things were different and then evolved over time in terms of his decisions. And you want that in a judge.
And what I'm very concerned--you know about my major role during Justice Kavanaugh's hearing. I'm very concerned about putting judges on there who are so rigid in their beliefs that they won't change over time. But of course, I love the work that Justice Kagan is doing and Justice Sotomayor, only because I was involved in their confirmation hearings. Justice Breyer and his opinions on the death penalty are important to me. And then of course how can you--last but not least--
MR. COSTA: I thought you'd just start with Stevens and leave it there.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: --Justice Ginsburg, the notorious RBG. My daughter once had a photo taken at an event where I got some award of some kind with Justice Ginsburg and me and my daughter. And she was like 18 or so. That night she came to me and said, mom I want to put this photo up on my Facebook page. Do you mind if I crop you out? Because Justice Ginsburg is so cool.
MR. COSTA: She'll regret that if you're elected President.
So the debate stage, you're going to be on the debate stage this fall for multiple debates. What's your plan to break through?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Well, first of all, I'm going to continue to do what I did in the first debate, whether break through or not. I believe that those debates are a moment in time where it's not just our Democratic base, but it's also Republicans and independents that are watching those debates. So you have a job of showing how you're going to be as a candidate, which is using the moment to advance an optimistic positive economic agenda for this country. They're not just looking to get rid of the guy--although a lot of people are. They're also looking for what you're going to do as President--and a contrast to President Trump. I was shocked on our debate stage that more people didn't do that. I was able to talk about how his economic plan for the middle class and most of us has been all foam and no beer. I was able to talk about how he's been conducting foreign policy at 5 a.m. in his bathrobe.
MR. COSTA: Is it enough to run against President Trump at this point?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Is it important.
MR. COSTA: Don't you have to run against your fellow Democrats?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Yes, there will be moments in this debate. I understand that, especially looking at my debate one night--I'm again debate one--where you're going to be able to differentiate. I did some of that. I talked about in the first debate how I was concerned about the free college proposals that allow wealthy families to be able to have their kids go to college for free. I think the money should be focused on everyone else that need the help. And I put my idea forward on Pell grants, and also, which we already talked about today, differences on health care and how we proceed there. But I will remind people and I will do that and make a point of it--I always have--but what unites us as a party is still much more important than what divides us. So I think that point is going to have to be made. But you're right. That's what debates are for.
I was particularly happy to see that I wasn't on the stage with every giant, height wise, which I was in the first one. I had, I think, five men over six-foot-two.
MR. COSTA: Who are you next to now?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Someone noted that that means I'm more grounded, when I was [unclear 0:51:09]. But I'm the average height for a woman. I'm five-foot-four and I looked like a shrimp up there. I'm the average height. Yes, I'm going to be next to Ryan, who is tall.
MR. COSTA: Tim Ryan from Ohio.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: and then Mayor Buttigieg.
MR. COSTA: Is it enough to be South Bend mayor? Is that enough experience to be President?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: That will be something we can discuss at the debate.
MR. COSTA: Are you saving it for the debate?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: I think you can come from many--
MR. COSTA: He's your Midwestern competition.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: I think you can come from many different backgrounds, and I think that that is important. And we have had presidents that have come from all different backgrounds, like the current one we have. He did not have a lot of experience in Washington. But I do think I will make the case that having some experience and getting things done does matter. And I know that's not a cool thing to say right now, but I think it should be. And I think that matters and I think it's important to look at candidates not just based on what they say and what they promise. This is a country of hope, not false hope. It's not just based on what they promise, but also what they can show that they've actually done.
I do think that matters, and it matters to voters in this election. They want to make sure that you're going to be able to make the case against Donald Trump, which I think needs to be made with that optimistic economic agenda, by ignoring him at times, and also by using some humor against the guy. He uses humor. And you guys maybe don't think it's funny, and I don't always thinks it's funny, but he does that. And to point out the absurdity, you have to be able to go with the punches.
So when I announced and he made fun of me for talking about climate change in a blizzard, and he called me snow woman, which I thought, well, this works pretty well in New Hampshire. But when he called me snow woman, I wrote back Donald Trump on Twitter: The climate change science is on my side. I'd like to see how your hair would fare in a blizzard. [Laughter] So I think using those kinds of approaches, being blunt, being tough, being honest, is going to matter in this election. And that's what people are looking for in a candidate.
MR. COSTA: Final question--and really appreciated this conversation--a Minnesota question just based on news this morning. The New Yorker has a new story out about former Senator Al Franken taking a new look by the reporter Jane Mayer at the allegations of sexual harassment against the former senator. Would you support a political comeback by Senator Franken?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Okay. That's going to be his decision, but I think he's made it pretty clear to me that's not what he plans right now. He started a podcast and he has been working hard. He helped a tribal school in a big way with something he really cares about recently in our state. I think I have made it clear--I have not read this article--but I have made it clear--it's the historical record--that we are friends. I did not call for him to step down publicly, but I did condemn his behavior, but I felt strongly that it should go through the ethics process, that that was the right place for it to go. And at the time, Senator Isakson had announced that process. And every work place should have a process when claims are made. And there are some that are so egregious, which we know of, sexual assault claims, other things, that immediate action must be taken in the Senate. That process was the ethics process. And so I have been very clear about my views on this. But no, I have not talked about him having a political comeback. I do think that he's going to continue to do good work, and that is his plan now and it's just going to be through different ways, including this podcast that he's put out. So, all right?
MR. COSTA: Thank you, Senator Klobuchar, and thank you for joining us here at Washington Post Live. We really appreciate it. Another great conversation. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.