IPTV Presents Conversations with Presidential Candidates Hosted by DMACC with Sen. Amy Klobuchar

Jan 2, 2020  | 57 min  | Ep 105 | Transcript

IPTV presents Conversations with Presidential Candidates hosted by DMACC has been funded by Goldman Sachs, which is delivering its 10,000 Small Businesses program in Iowa to help entrepreneurs across the state create jobs and economic opportunity. Additional funding has been provided by the Arlene McKeever Endowment Fund, a fund at the Iowa Public Television Foundation, established by a gift from the estate of Arlene McKeever. And by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation.    


The future of the American presidency and our nation's economy are key factors in the 2020 race. In Iowa, the nation's first test for presidential aspirants, candidates face questions directly from voters searching for answers impacting the lives of students, small business owners and everyday Iowans. From Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny, Iowa, IPTV presents Conversations with Presidential Candidates hosted by DMACC. Here is Iowa Public Television's David Yepsen. 


Yepsen: Welcome to the latest edition of our Conversations with Presidential Candidates, an in-depth focus on issues relevant to the future of our country and candidates seeking the democratic nomination for President, all hosted here at Des Moines Area Community College. We'll dive into a series of issues, many dealing with ways to improve the economic lives of Americans. Our goal is to help people make a crucial choice in the weeks ahead. We're joined now by U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. She is a former County Attorney for Hennepin County in Minnesota. Senator Klobuchar was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 and she joins us today for this conversation on Iowa PBS. Senator, welcome.

Klobuchar: Thank you, David, it's great to be on.

Yepsen: It's good to have you.

Klobuchar: Thanks. It's good to be here at DMACC, I'm a big supporter of community colleges. My dad went to one and then my sister actually had a little trouble in high school and she moved to Iowa and was working in manufacturing, then she got her GED and then she ended up getting her two year degree at a community college and then from there she got her four year degree in accounting and has been gainfully employed. So Iowa actually saved her life.

Yepsen: DMACC appreciates the plug.

Klobuchar: Exactly, any time. Well, I just think we have to realize there's many paths to success and this is a great example. And it's great to see you again and to be able to do a Q&A where I’m not on a podium for a change. It's very relaxing. I'm sitting here. So thank you.

Yepsen: Well, we've got a lot of issues to go through.

Klobuchar: Yes we do.

Yepsen: One of the biggest issues in this campaign that I hear from democrats is the question of electability. Who can beat Trump? And they struggle with that. So what is your argument for being the candidate who can get to 270 electoral votes?

Klobuchar: My first argument is right here. I'm from the Heartland. I live in Minnesota not too far away and I am someone where the Midwest is not flyover country to me, I really live here. And for me when you look back at what happened in 2016, no one had ever run against someone like Donald Trump before, but it was clear that our party did not do well in the Heartland and lost in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan and Wisconsin and Ohio and of course Iowa. I have won in areas just like that. I have won every single time in every congressional district in my state including the rural district that borders Iowa that is held by a republican congressman, including northern Minnesota where the steel workers are. And I have done it every place, in every race and every time and I have done it by reaching out to people and I truly believe that we need a candidate that sees what unites our party, but also our country, is much bigger than what divides us, someone who brings people with them instead of shutting them out and I think if we do not learn the lessons from 2016 or even from my perspective more positive lessons from 2018 where candidates that fit their states like Laura Kelly, the new Governor of Kansas who beat Kris Kobach or Gretchen Whitmer, the new Governor of Michigan who ran on the slogan, fix the damn roads. These were not celebrity candidates, they were people that people trusted in their states. And so my theory of the case is you look at my record of winning, you look at my record of getting things done where I have passed more bills than anyone else that is in the Senate that is on that stage, passed over 100 bills where I am the lead democrat, including ones critical to states like Iowa, like on farm bankruptcies or rural broadband or drug shortages. And I think that record of getting things done is going to matter to people. They are tired of having a President who wakes up every morning and sends a mean tweet or uses immigrants as pawns or belittles people that don't agree with him. And I am a very different model.

Yepsen: Let's go to the policy issues, Senator, and there's a lot of them so we'll just start. Income inequality. What do you do about this problem?

Klobuchar: This is a very big problem in our country and it has actually been exacerbated over the last few years. You look at what happened with the tax bill that the President touted and passed, not only did it add over a trillion dollars to the debt, it gave a whole lot to the people at the top, and actually if you don't believe me ask those people that were in that room in Mar-a-Lago after he passed it and I can bet you not a lot of people in Iowa were in that room, maybe no one.

Yepsen: That's the problem. What is the solution?

Klobuchar: Yeah, but I'm going to get there. He basically told us the problem. The problem was he said you just got a lot richer. So the solution to me is to have a President that will go to farms in Iowa and say we have a consistent farm policy and you're going to be able to make goods and be able to produce crops and produce livestock and sell it instead of getting money from the USDA, or we're going to have a President that is going to be able to go to classrooms in Des Moines and say, we've got more funding for these classrooms or go to a clinic in rural Iowa and say we finally brought the cost of pharmaceuticals down. I am someone that has an optimistic economic agenda for this country and I think the way that you reduce that inequality that you asked about is by making sure that everyone has opportunity. That starts with community colleges like this and understanding there are many paths to success and making it affordable. I would do free one and two year degrees. I would invest big time in K-12. And then I would double the programs. I wouldn't do free college for rich kids. What I would do is double the programs up to $12,000 a year which I think is most helpful. I would make it easier for people to get child care. There's huge areas of Iowa where it's really hard to get child care, especially in your most rural areas. I would invest in infrastructure. I'm the first candidate in this presidential race to come out with a major infrastructure plan which includes helping with the levees and the roads and the bridges and the locks and the dams. I think this is a President that made a bunch of promises to regular people that he didn't keep and I keep my promises.

Yepsen: Is there any piece of your program that is called income redistribution, wealth redistribution, taxes?

Klobuchar: I think that all of these things I mentioned are the safety net that people need in addition to an increase in the minimum wage. I think we should increase the minimum wage. I think we should make it easier to make sure you have Social Security. All of these things are going to help people. When it comes to taxes, I was getting to taxes from Mar-a-Lago, I would repeal many of the regressive tax provisions that he passed. He took the corporate tax rate down from the mid-30s all the way down to 21%. I would have brought that tax rate down but I wouldn't have brought it down there. And there is so much we could pay for if we just simply brought that tax rate up. Bringing the international tax rate to where it was under President Obama, that brings in $150 billion over 10 years. Taking the capital gains rate, which has been crying out to be changed and bringing it closer, if not at the personal rate, brings in hundreds of billions of dollars. Doing something about the oil giveaways which sure don't help our farmers in the middle of the country, that brings in $30 billion. Closing the hedge fund loophole, that brings in $18 billion. There are so many ways that we can make things more affordable for people in this country and stop this income inequality because a lot of these things I'm talking about, that money is not going to the people in Ankeny.

Yepsen: One of the focuses that they have here, initiatives that they have here at DMACC is an effort to help small businesses develop. Is there any part of your program that is specifically aimed at helping the small businesses who after all create most of the jobs here?

Klobuchar: Exactly, and it's not just in Iowa. Small businesses are the engine of our economy. So this is what I would do. Number one, create as much access to capital as we can, making some improvements to some of the rules in the small business administration so it is easier for people to get loans, doing something about consolidation in this country. I'm actually the highest ranking democrat on the anti-trust subcommittee. I could go on for an hour but you'll say please don't. And there are changes that we can make to our laws. When you look back at anti-trust you go back to our founding fathers who said they feared the army of monopolies, that was actually not our founding fathers, that was Adam Smith that said that, but many of our founding father actually were very concerned about monopoly power. That is part of why our country started, that is part of why our ancestors left England and so you go from there and you fast forward, it's Teddy Roosevelt, a big believer in business, who led the charge to take on monopolies. Sherman of the Sherman Act was a republican Senator from Ohio. The Granger movement in Iowa was actually led to Iowa having the first statewide anti-trust law for agriculture in the country. And there was just a lot going on in the middle of the country that led to our anti-trust laws. They need to be revamped and upgraded because we have seen a startup slump with small businesses. We are 30% down in the last few years. It is part of why I started the entrepreneurship caucus this year with republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, another state that has a lot of small businesses. Because we want to, one, get more entrepreneurs that are people of color and women. And two, because we want to figure out what laws need to change to make it easier for small businesses.

Yepsen: One piece of this income inequality issue is what is called the racial wealth gap. People of color are not doing as well as white America. What do you do about that?

Klobuchar: First of all, you acknowledge the problem, not admire it, but acknowledge it and that is that there is racism, systemic racism in our country and you see it in everything from an African-American woman going to a maternity ward and saying that her hands are swollen, the doctor doesn't listen, this happened in New Orleans, and her baby dies. Or the Vice President of a company in Minnesota going through a store and being followed by store security. Or as you point out, the racial wage gap. So what do you do about it? First of all, all of the things I've mentioned which even the playing field. If people can afford school, whatever path to success they want, that makes it much better for people of color. If you have an increase in the minimum wage. If you invest in underserved areas, and that is everything from education to infrastructure. And if you make it easier to vote, honestly, Iowa has a good track record of making it easier for people to vote as does Minnesota, but there's one court decision recently out of North Carolina where a republican appointed judge, among others, said that the legislature had discriminated with surgical precision against African-American voters So people are feeling more and more shut out, purging of voter roles, it's unbelievable to me. I said this on the debate stage quoting Stacey Abrams, just because you don't go to a meeting, maybe like this one, for a year you don't lose your right to assemble. Just because you don't go to church or a synagogue or a mosque for four months you don't lose your right to religion and to worship. But in fact, right now in some states where they don't have same day registration, people show up to vote, maybe they voted for decades and they missed a few years, they find out they are aced out, they can't vote, they have been purged. That's wrong. And so when I look at economic opportunity you look at it with all these great ideas we have but you also have to fundamentally look at it so that people aren't shut out of our democracy.

Yepsen: You mentioned raising the minimum wage to $15. In rural America there are a lot of small business owners, business people who say that will hurt those regions, that they can't afford to pay that kind of a minimum wage and it will be a job killer. What do you say to, this isn't San Francisco --

Klobuchar: I understand that but I think what you see across with the bill that we have is that it is phased in, it is phased in with an understanding of that. And then I think overall, even in some areas you see even higher wages. But that is why the idea is to put it at $15.

Yepsen: Carbon tax. Talk about climate change and specifically whether or not you think there needs to be some tax on carbon.

Klobuchar: I do. I think there's many ways you can get there. One is a straight out fee. One is with a renewable electricity standard that a lot of states have done successfully but you'd make that national. And another way you can do it is with cap and trade which is something that actually passed in the House of Representatives a while back. The key to this though, David, and why we're doing it is that we don't, if we don't do something about it, it's going to have graver economic implications for our country. We're already seeing a 50% increase in homeowners insurance because of all the flooding and the fires that we're seeing across our country. You see parts of Iowa where people have lost their homes. It's like my friend Fran near Pacific Junction who had me look through these binoculars and she said, this is my house and I bought it with my husband, we live there with our four year olds, we were going to retire in this house, and I love the kitchen. She said, I love the way the lights, how they come through the window in the kitchen and the sun. And she said, it has been here for nearly 100 years, there's horse hair in the plaster. And I said, well where is the kitchen looking through these binoculars near Pacific Junction? And she says, well the whole first floor is under water so you can't see it. And I said, Fran, is this the river? Because there's this raging water and I figure Fran, you bought your house on a river? She said, no, that's the road. She said, the river is two and a half miles away and it has never gotten this close before. This is right on the Nebraska border. That is what we're seeing across Iowa where farmers can't plant or they can't harvest, it's everything the military predicted when I was sitting in a committee hearing over 10 years ago, our own U.S. military predicted wildfires all over California and in places like Colorado and Arizona, weird weather events, rising water levels, flooding in the middle of the country, tornados, increased hurricanes. It's exactly what we're seeing. And so to me if we don't do anything it's going to be at our economic peril. So how do we do this so we keep our strong economy? One, let's acknowledge there's a lot of gain for us in the middle of the country. There's a lot of gain with renewable energy and what we've already seen with wind, if we build that electric grid right, and if we have incentives for manufacturing and we have new technology so that we will have the next Norman Borlaug out of Iowa who looked at a problem which was starving people around the world and was able to figure out how to fix it and how to get new seeds and things like that so people could create their own opportunities. That is going to happen as long as we set the standards and you just can't only do it state by state. The second thing is to make sure people are whole. When you put this price on carbon we're going to have transitions, you're going to have increases in some people's energy bills and then you have to make sure people are kept whole otherwise we're never going to get this passed. So what does that mean? There's going to be a lot of money coming in from the price on carbon, trillions of dollars, you make sure that money goes back in dividends to people to help them and you make that right baked into the law. In addition to making it easier for people to get jobs in areas where they're going to have a transition out of jobs, not just green energy jobs of which there will be a lot, but other manufacturing jobs. This comes from my heart because my grandpa worked in the iron ore mines in northern Minnesota, I saw what happened when those mines would open and close and open and close, they made the steel that saved us in World War II and then they closed the mines, then they open again. At one point they had a sign, a big billboard outside of Duluth and it said, last one to leave turn off the lights. So I'm not going to let that happen as President. So it's really taking that money and being really smart about how we reinvest it and bringing people with us. There's also all these opportunities for farmers when you look at carbon capture and the pilot we have going right now that Deputy Ag Secretary Northey from Iowa was involved in and that means doing something about winter crops and things like that to capture the carbon. So I just think there's a pilot going on right now, a USDA grant in Iowa. We can expand that, we can do all kinds of things. I actually think we have to start viewing this as an opportunity for our country to lead instead of being the only country in the world that is not in the International Climate Change agreement. Nicaragua and Syria were the only ones not in it when Trump got us out, they are now in it. That is not world leadership.

Yepsen: Another issue that comes up a lot in this campaign is health care. Will you differentiate your position on health care with that of other candidates? I sense from talking to democrats some of them are having trouble sorting out just who is where on this.

Klobuchar: I'm happy to do that. I've been doing it since the very beginning on the debate stage and I'm actually glad that we've had this debate within the party. Again, I point out that what unites us is bigger than what divides us. I point out if you're looking at this practically the Affordable Care Act is 10 points more popular than the President of the United States. I point out that when you come to a river and we've got a lot of them in the Midwest and you want to cross it, you build a bridge, you don't blow one up. And so my theory of the case is the Affordable Care Act was a beginning and not an end and what we should be doing is building on it. I literally said that the day we passed it because I feared that not enough had been done on pharmaceuticals and that's for sure. And so the first thing that you do is do something on pharmaceuticals and that means everything from bringing in less expensive drugs from safe countries, I can see Canada from my porch in Minnesota, we can see those less expensive drug prices. Grassley and I have a bipartisan bill that would allow that to happen. And Bernie and I actually did an amendment together that was very similar that brought in 14 republican votes and that was something like two years ago. It was at midnight but they voted for it. Secondly, unleashing the power of 43 million seniors to get a better deal under Medicare. That is the bill that I lead. I have 34 co-sponsors. As President I could get it done. Putting a cap bring sin $350 billion on pharmaceutical prices. What else? A non-profit public option. This is where there is some disagreement on how you're going to bring premium prices down. I think this is the smartest idea and way to do it instead of kicking 149 million Americans off of their current health insurance in four years which is what the Medicare for all bill says. Third thing, mental health and addiction. I am the first candidate to come up with a big plan on that. That is because for me it's personal. My dad struggled with alcoholism my whole life. By the time we got married my husband and I, my dad had three DWI's and the judge by that point said, okay you've got to choose jail or treatment and he chose treatment and in his words he was pursued by grace, it changed his life, and he is now 91, he has been sober for decades, he is in assisted living, his AA group visits him there and in his words, it is hard to get a drink around here anyway. But the point of it is, is that he had that option and whether people get addicted to opioids or meth or whether they suffer from mental illness like 1 in 5 Americans and the fact that you only have 64 public mental health beds in the state of Iowa is a problem. And so that is why my plan would take that big settlement that is going to come in, in a big way, and make sure you have a President that knows how to get that money out for treatment and get that money out to make sure that we help people. The last thing I'd mention, building on the Affordable Care Act, long-term care, the big elephant in the room. Everyone is relitigating that Affordable Care Act, I do not know why, when what we should be talking about is the fact that we're seeing a doubling of our senior population. We have what is coming in, I used to call it the silver tsunami, but AARP told me that was too negative, so I call it the silver surge. And we can shore up Social Security easily by lifting the payroll cap on where the taxes go. Say it ends at $133,000, hit it in at $250,000 and up and then you keep it solvent after 2034 where it is going to start reducing its payment in benefits. And then finally, long-term care insurance, putting incentives, I have  way to pay for it, you can see it on my website, so that it's easier for people to get long-term care insurance and afford long-term care.

Yepsen: Another issue tragically we are reminded of every day, every other day it seems, is gun violence. What is your plan to deal with gun violence?

Klobuchar: Well, it's first of all dealing with it which this President hasn't done. It's really one of the most cynical things around and that is because I come from a hunting state, just like Iowa, and I look at these proposals like universal background checks or magazine limits and I say, does this hurt my Uncle Dick in his deer stand? And it doesn't. This President, after Parkland, I was seated across from him in the White House because I've been a leader in making sure that convicted domestic abusers can't get AK-47's. That is a bill, by the way, that has recently passed the House and is sitting on Mitch McConnell's desk with 400 other bills that he won't take up for a vote in the Senate. And so I sat across from the President and I watched and made my point and then 9 times I kept a piece of paper with hash marks on it, he said he wanted to pass universal background checks. I kept that paper but he didn't keep his promise. And the next day he met with the NRA and he folded. We are dealing with the situation now where the majority of Trump voters are for universal background checks, the majority of hunters are for universal background checks. And there is absolutely no reason to explain why they are folding and not doing this except the NRA. So my plan would be one, what can a President do herself without Congress? I have found 137 things, not all related to guns, everything that a President can do herself without Congress that are legal, legal. And one of them is you can actually close the boyfriend loophole and make sure convicted domestic abusers don't get guns. But the other things you need Congress for. So I would just push it. It has already passed the House, some of these bills got republican votes, we've got to win big and win some of these Senate seats to be able to get it done but the public is with us. A switch went off after Parkland. That is when those kids stood up and for some reason as much as the moms and parents did a lot, those kids when other kids saw those kids they started talking to their parents, especially boys, and they said to their dads and grandpas, why can't we do this? And it just switched. And you saw Cindy and Abby get elected in the state of Iowa in part because there were people that said, wait a minute, why can't we do this? And then they went to Congress and this is democracy in action, and they voted the right way on those bills, and that is how those things passed.

Yepsen: Another issue that will confront the next President is China and our relations with China. How will you handle China? And specifically what will you do to keep the Chinese from stealing U.S. intellectual property?

Klobuchar: Okay, first of all, China is a bad player. They do steal intellectual property, they also subsidize industries in violation of a lot of different international laws. So, what I would do is first of all work with our allies and set clear, clear standards of what I expect in trade agreements. This President has basically been treating the people of Iowa like poker chips in one of his bankrupt casinos in how he has undergone these trade negotiations. There is an old saying in trade negotiations, keep your promises and keep your threats. He does neither. He says he's going to do tariffs on $300 billion of goods, the Chinese are in this for the long haul, they watch and then a week later he changes to $150 of goods. They watch. And so I think it is really important to have the deliberate goals. I think that it's really important to do this with your allies, it's one of the reasons that I was the only one on that debate stage, and I'm not saying other people wouldn't have said this same thing, but I asserted myself to answer the question, who said that I support the newly negotiated U.S./Mexican/Canadian trade agreement. There's some good things in that, that have never been in a trade agreement including inspection of plants, that's why the head of the AFL-CIO supports it including better environmental standards, including the pharmaceutical front, getting rid of the sweetheart deal that was in the original trade agreement. We must have a trading block with our neighbors if we're going to at all be able to start taking on a major force like China. So I think all of this is, the last thing I'd just mention from my own personal experience is trade enforcement. That means intensely, not with a meat cleaver or we'll say a tweet cleaver, this means going after enforcement. I did it myself when President Obama was in and they weren't doing enough when it came to steel dumping by China. I brought the President's Chief of Staff Denis McDonough up to the iron range in Minnesota, we sat with the plant owners and the steel workers and we told them what was happening. They actually went back and did things differently and started being really focused on enforcing the laws. Guess what? The plants opened, they expanded, they continue to do that. That is because of trade enforcement and having someone that will not let it go and actually not just talk the talk but actually make sure it happens.

Yepsen: Change gears, I want to talk about rural America a little bit. Rural broadband. I've heard every politician say oh we're for rural broadband for years and for some reason it doesn't seem to get done. What would you do differently to get rural America wired up?

Klobuchar: Well, first of all, let's look at my background which is ideal for this. The number one committee I asked to be on was the agriculture committee, a lot of the work that comes out for rural America comes out of the USDA. Secondly, I've been on the commerce committee, so I'm very aware of what is wrong and what has happened. Finally, in the private sector I did telecommunications for a number of years. So I've kind of got their number. All right, here's what I think we need to do. One, we do need to invest and that is part of this trillion dollar plan I have paid for by dialing back $400 billion of the corporate tax cuts, that's 4 points, as well as the international tax rate back to where it was during Obama as well as doing an infrastructure refinancing authority, bipartisan already, and Buy American bonds. So I'd put a good chunk of that into rural broadband. Then you have to make sure, and I've met with one of your smaller rural telephone companies here in Iowa, you've got to make sure that money is going to companies if you're going to do it that way, in most regions it's like that, that are actually going to get it done. There are some phone companies that are just sitting there and they're not actually getting the work done. You also can use part of the Universal Service Fund, which is what we pay into, that helps in urban and rural areas and it helps with local phone service too, which you need for farms and for backups, but you want to make sure that some of that money is going to rural. I've actually worked on some of this with Senator Thune who was the Chair of the Commerce Committee for a number of years and has a state that has a lot of rural broadband needs and so I know where the bodies are buried. I also believe having been to Iceland and having driven around there, I can't help but think to myself, if Iceland with all their volcanoes, has perfect cell phone service and high speed broadband, please tell me why we can't get it in the state of Iowa and actually Iowa is better connected than a lot of other rural states in our country. So we can do this and I have set forward, I said it in the middle of that blizzard in my announcement, and you don't lie in the middle of a blizzard, that we can do this by 2022.

Yepsen: Talk about another issue important here in rural America in both Iowa and Minnesota and this is the whole renewable fuels question and the Renewable Fuels Standard, RFS. What is your EPA going to do about the Renewable Fuels Standard?

Klobuchar: Well, first of all, I would review every single one of these waivers. And for those of you not versed in the Renewable Fuels Standard, this is something that was set forth so rural farmers and workers could have a fighting chance to compete with the big oil companies and there has been some success in Iowa and Minnesota and many other states across the country. So we have this national Renewable Fuels Standard. Every year a few waivers have been granted for small refineries who have trouble meeting the standard. Low and behold President Trump comes in and secretly grants dozens and dozens of waivers, over 75 of them, to oil companies including big ones. Grassley and I did a letter and found this out. Chevron and Exxon they granted them to. I think at the time everyone held Secretary Pruitt responsible and they were mad at him about a lot of things, ethics violations, environmental policy of course. But then what does he do? He comes to Iowa, this is one of my favorite parts of this story, and people are so mad protesting with pitchforks he has to resign a week later. They didn't really have pitchforks. I made that up. So anyway, he resigns and then you think well maybe this has been solved. Not at all. It continued. In fact, when the President went to Council Bluffs to the ethanol plant you still had 31 more waivers granted. They have done a Band-Aid approach to make up for it by really sort of giving back about half of the gallons in the country for one year but nothing retroactively. What has happened? You've seen closed down ethanol biofuel plants across the country. I visited one in Crawfordsville where one guy is left standing who is the maintenance worker and he tearfully brings out this coat rack with 18 uniforms of his former coworkers with their names embroidered on them, Mark, Derrick, Salvador, and he says, these are my friends and they're gone now but I want them to come back. So if you think this trade war and these secret oil waivers to suck up to the oil companies have not had an effect on Iowa, it has. And it's going to be really hard for some of those soybean farmers even if we resolve this to get the contracts back because many of them went to farmers in other countries. It's one of the major reasons we saw burning of the Amazon because there was an international need for soybeans, not to mention the waivers and the damage that they have done. So  I would reverse this policy, I would review all the waivers, I'm sure I would reverse the granting of many of the waivers, I would keep ones that I think are necessary and then I would continue to support renewable fuels in this country.

Yepsen: You touched earlier on paying for education. But what about the debt that students have? Where do you stand on forgiving debt or dealing with the debt question?

Klobuchar: Well, it is a major amount of debt around this country. And so I would start with first of all making sure that everything we do helps us with our economy and helps people participate in the economy. And so I'll get to the debt in a second, but to me that means of course matching what we do with our economy. We are going to have over a million openings for home health care workers and we're going to have over 100,000 openings for nursing assistants, those are one and two year degrees. We're going to have over 70,000 openings for electricians. We are not going to have a shortage of MBA's, we're going to have a shortage of plumbers in this country. So we better look at both loan repayment and how we fund school and what we look at funding in that way. Loan repayment, first of all I believe that every student should be able to refinance their student loans. If a millionaire can refinance a yacht, students should be able to refinance their student loans. Secondly, I would take the loan repayment program that is used for public service loans right now like people who go into teaching, they get their loans paid back in a 10 year period. It's not working well at all. So my first move would be to fire Betsy DeVos. My second move would be to then make that program work better with the red tape that is in that program and have it be phased in. And the third, wait a minute, it to actually include, expand on that program, to include in-demand occupations, things like some of the occupations that I mentioned. And how would I pay for all this including the doubling of the program for four year degrees which is going to make a big difference? That's taking the capital gains rate and moving it closer if not at the personal income tax rate still making some allowances for people that are willing to hold long-term assets.

Yepsen: What do you say to students who are hearing Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren talk about forgiving all student debt? It sounds like a better deal than what you're offering.

Klobuchar: It sounds like a good deal on a bumper sticker. And I understand how bad this debt can be, I do. My husband had huge student debt when I married him, I did marry him anyway, and just for people to have hope out there that have student loans. But I think that it's really, really horrible. I have met with students that have $60,000, $70,000  in debt. So what I would say to them is that I will make this easier on you. I will make changes. But I will actually get it done and that is the difference between a plan and a pipe dream. And I also, because I have met with so many students where it breaks your heart and some of them end up coming to two year community colleges like this so that then they can get a degree that is going to allow them to start paying back on those loans, that happens more than people think. And so that is my first thing. I think the second one is that you do not want our taxpayer money to go to rich kids to go get a free college degree. I'm sorry but I just don't think that makes any sense. You've got nearly 10% of students at state four year colleges that come from families that are making $200,000 and above. That's a national statistic. I don't think that's where we want the money going. We want it going to those programs, to the community colleges, to the HBCU's and we want it going actually, if you're going to have that kind of money, why don't we have it going to support the dignity of work, to make sure that people who are willing to take these jobs that we want them to take like home health care workers, are able to afford child care and get a decent retirement and a decent wage.

Yepsen: I want to ask you about housing issues but in rural America it's the lack of affordable housing is a big deal in terms of economic growth. In urban areas they have a huge problem with homelessness. So what does President Klobuchar do about these two problems?

Klobuchar: My first answer is combine forces. To get this done through Congress you have to have a coalition and the coalition is yes, urban areas that tend to understandably get a lot of attention, and when you see some of the rents and the prices in some of the cities in our country, but it is also a rural issue. Plants that want to locate in rural areas but there's not enough housing stock. People that want to stay where they grew up but they can't get a place to live. The answer is first of all, putting in incentives for affordable housing obviously all over our country and it's not one size fits all the way it is. The answer is more senior housing which is part of this as well. The answer is there is a backlog on Section 8 housing, way, way too big and reducing that backlog with temporary housing. And again, I have a way to pay for this, with among other things a corporate minimum tax which is something that we should have done a long time ago.

Yepsen: Switch gears to immigration. What do you do about immigration problems?

Klobuchar: This is a good thing to talk about in Iowa. I don't think maybe it's the first place that people would think about talking about immigration but you're seeing more and more immigrants in the state of Iowa and I think that is a good thing. And, by the way, it is Hispanic immigrants but it's also people from all over the world. When you look nationally nearly 10% of our undocumented workers are Asian workers. So what do we do? First of all we look at this in a sane way, not like how President Trump looks at it where he tries to make pawns out of our immigrants and go after them to the point where people who look different no matter what their ethnic background have experienced some kind of bullying and discrimination all the time. Best example of that a Somali family in Minnesota here legally, went out to dinner with their kids and a guy walks by and says, you four go home. The little kid looks up at her mom and says, mom, I don't want to eat dinner at home, you said we could eat out tonight. And the mom looks at her and says, no that's not what he means. You think of the words of that innocent child. She only knows one home. That's my state, that's your state, that's the United States of America. So my first answer to this is stop this mean-spirited rhetoric, this divisive mean-spirited rhetoric. The second thing is to have sanity in this policy. This is what you do, comprehensive immigration reform. This is something in 2013 that a number of republican Senators including Senator Grassley voted for, it was a path to citizenship and it would be much better for our economy. It would give people ability to work while they're on this arduous path to citizenship which -- took over a decade. It would make sure that people had obeyed the law, that they want to work, that they learn English. That was that bill. Then you make sure that we look at the people who are here legally on temporary status and allow them to continue to work. That's like the Liberians in Minnesota which finally got that status, they work all over in our hospitals and in our nursing homes. Number three, when you look at this as an economic interest, people look at it differently, we need workers in our fields, we need workers in our factory floors, we need workers in our rural hospitals. When I was in Marshalltown at the VA center there, the head of psychiatry told me his number one ask was actually the bill I have to allow doctors who earn their degree at a United States medical school and their students from other countries to do their residencies here. I have this bill called Conrad 30 which we got done at the end of the year but we should expand it even more because that really helps him. He said, that is what he needs to be able to keep functioning and help the veterans that were in that facility. There are so many things that we could do to make it better for people if we did this in a smart way. That's why President Bush strongly supported comprehensive immigration reform. I know, I worked on it when he was President. That is why Grover Norquist made it his top priority in 2013, it brings the deficit down by $158 billion in 10 years because people come out of the shadows. That is why the AFL-CIO supported and the chamber of commerce. I'm not making this up. Too many people work in the underground economy, they bring wages down, and then also they can't start small businesses that way which employ other people.

Yepsen: As part of your immigration reform should we have a debate over what constitutes a refugee? Should crossing the border illegally be a crime or a civil penalty?

Klobuchar: Well, I'm not for open borders and I think one of the virtues of comprehensive immigration reform is it would give you some funding to get smart border security. I am not in favor of the wall, that makes no sense to me. But I think a lot of that when you look at what the real issues are right now is people seeking asylum, especially from the Northern Triangle countries, and you could basically use some of this money which would be a drop in the bucket for the $158 billion to improve that asylum process, to allow people to seek asylum down in those countries, to help shore up those countries' situation with what is going on in those countries with their economies and other things. So you would reduce the number of those undocumented crossings.

Yepsen: Another issue that concerns a lot of older Americans are these issues of pensions and Social Security. You mentioned Social Security. But what is the federal role in protecting private pensions? The Pension Benefit Corporation is running out of money. Now it looks like the federal government is going to be involved in taking over mine worker pensions.

Klobuchar: That actually happened at the end of the year.

Yepsen: Well, is this is the pattern? Where do we get the money to --

Klobuchar: Well, I think we do have to keep our promises to these workers and there's something called the Butch Lewis Act which helps with the central state's pension which affects a lot of workers in Iowa and in Minnesota, big surprise with the name of it, and so I do favor doing more but it's another one of these elephants in the room that we haven't been dealing with and we must deal with. I'd also add one more thing to that. I mentioned Social Security, which we can keep strong by lifting that cap or putting it in at $250,000 and above again and that will shore that up to keep that safe. But we also have to think about the gig workers that a third of Americans are in the gig economy. They are not in jobs where you have set pensions or 401K's and we're seeing more and more of this. I actually did an event in Des Moines where I rolled out my plan for that and that involves thinking forwardly to how we're going to make sure that these workers have some kind of savings and they're called Up accounts and you make them portable so they can bring them with them, so you can make it allowable when you have a part-time job and that you also allow people to take out the first $2,500 for emergency room expenses or other emergency expenses every year because right now 40% of Americans can't afford a $400 emergency room expense.

Yepsen: Why not on Social Security, Senator, why not just eliminate the cap, tax all income and then maybe use some of that additional revenue to eliminate it at lower income levels? It was done before and it's a great way to boost the economy.

Klobuchar: I am not opposed to eliminating the cap. I'm just thinking practically about a bill that had a lot of support. It was actually Bernie Sanders' bill that created the donut hole from $133,000 to $250,000 and then started it again at $250,000. It just might be an easier way to get it passed.

Yepsen: Talk a bit about water quality, a big issue all over the country, Midwest, Louisiana.

Klobuchar: Yes, oh yeah, there's people from Louisiana that are right here with us, great example of the re-election of a democratic Governor but I'll let that go for a political event, next to Kentucky where Mitch McConnell now has a democratic Governor. And, by the way, one little side note on that and then I'll get to water quality. Please remember we've only been talking about pretty much economic issues here. We haven't touched on international. But remember, this election is an economic check yes about shared prosperity, but it's also a values check, a decency check, a patriotism check for so many people in Iowa and across this country because there are moderate republicans and independents that may not agree with everything that my party stands for in economics, but they believe that our country is better than this guy in this White House and that we should bring them in as part of a major coalition. Okay, now I'll answer your question on water quality. I am from the land of 10,000 Lakes, it's actually more than 10,000, so I am a big believer in water quality. And this President has really set us backwards. He has reversed a lot of safe water provisions and they are enumerated on a list somewhere, it's really quite shocking. And so in my first 100 days I would review all of those and decide which ones and I'm sure many of them we need to bring back. I think we also have to have a strong EPA and we need to replenish that agency again with people who actually care about our environment and enforcing the laws. It has been very hard for a lot of the scientists and workers that work in those areas because a lot of our agencies, including the State Department, have simply been hollowed out. So those are things a President can do immediately.

Yepsen: You anticipated my next question about foreign policy. See, it's right here.

Klobuchar: I didn't see it, I wasn't cheating. I'm not like the President on a golf course. For the record, I played zero days of golf last year.

Yepsen: What is America's role in the world?

Klobuchar: America's role in the world should be as one of a leader, as one of a beacon of democracy and what has really fundamentally concerned so many Americans about this President is that he seems to forget that. He is constantly siding with dictators over our allies, with tyrants over innocents. And that is why I came forward with my 5 R's for a new foreign policy and they're not reading, writing and arithmetic, as well as we know how important they are in this place we're in right now. They are the 5 R's which mean this. One, renew our leadership around the world and that means our leadership toward promoting and supporting democracies. Two would be to repair our alliances with our allies. In my first 100 days I would go visit of course our neighbors as well as shore up our alliances with our European allies and more. Number three, it means renegotiating back into international agreements, which make everyone safer. That includes the Iranian nuclear agreement, which this President should not have gotten us out of and you see the result. He has literally left our allies in Europe holding the bag and given more power to China and Russia. Re-entering the negotiations with the Russians for the nuclear agreement, something else he precipitously got out of, and there’s a new one, different one, the new START treaty that is coming up at the beginning of a new President's term. Responding appropriately to threats around the world and that means not making jokes with Vladimir Putin when someone asks about interference in our elections by the Russians. They didn't use missiles, they didn't use tanks, they used a cyber attack and it's not one bit funny. But that is how he responded. And then the fifth thing is reasserting American values around the world. It really can boil down to one R, return to sanity.

Yepsen: The longest war in history, how long can this sacrifice keep going on? Or is it time for an American President to say to the American people, this is a long-term thing, we will always have a military commitment in the Middle East?

Klobuchar: So, I think it is time to bring our troops home from Afghanistan if that's what you're referring to here because of course we have presence around the world in many places that is important. What I would do, and I have made very clear, that I would bring out troops home by the end of my term, but I would allow for troops to remain for training and for counterintelligence and those kinds of things. We have troops being deployed there now who weren't even born when we got involved in Afghanistan. And as we look at these negotiations with the Ghani government and the Taliban I would have not done what the President did. He surprised both parties by saying he was inviting the Taliban to Camp David, which was a pretty shocking thing to hear when there was no agreement. He then later, after the negotiations had broken down, announced they were being restarted again, which was also a surprise. He did that by tweet. I don't know if it was at 4 a.m. in his bathrobe but that's what he does sometimes. But this was again a surprise to the Ghani government and the Taliban. I would work with our allies, which he doesn't do very well. And I would also make sure that we were not losing the democracy gains we have made there and the gains for women.

Yepsen: Are we still the world's cop? It seems to a lot of Americans that every time somebody in the world dials 9-1-1 that Uncle Sam picks up the phone and they're tired of it. So what do you say?

Klobuchar: We haven't always been the world's cop. We should always work with our allies. There is the UN. There are our allies. And there have been many examples of this around the world where other countries have stepped in and helped in places all around the world, in droughts, in military conflicts. So I think breaking away from international agreements makes that harder to happen. So that is the first thing I'd say. Secondly, you have to look at each conflict and each humanitarian need and do what you can to help. But showing the world that we won't even keep 150 troops on the Syrian border, that we're just going to let the Kurds out for slaughter after 11,000 of them have died at our sides and allow the Turks to come in and do that, that's what he did, giving Iran a bigger foothold in the country of Syria. And you just keep seeing repercussions from that and from the decision to withdraw from the Iranian Nuclear Agreement. So I think you look at each case on a case-by-case basis. But do remember that some of this aid helps us in the long-term. I remember the story that Bill Clinton would tell about having visited a factory that I think USAID helped with in Africa and how he had gotten a shirt there and he hung it in his closet and every time he opened the closet and he saw that shirt he thought to himself, they don't hate us. And you see that with the work that President Bush did with aid and investment, you see that in countries where they are proud to be friends with America.

Yepsen: Senator, we have just a minute left and I want to ask you, why do you think you would be a good wartime commander in chief?

Klobuchar: First of all, I put our country first, not our private interests first, not my partisan interests first, and that is the problem with this President right now. If you're going to send troops off to battle and make those hard decisions you better sure you know where your heart is and that it's in the right place. Secondly, I'm someone that consults with really smart people and I have respect for our military leaders. I voted for General Mattis and I was really sad that he had to leave because he did not agree with so many policies from this President. And I think it's important to surround yourself with people in your cabinet that aren't sycophant, that don't just agree with everything you say just to agree with you, that you better have conflicting views and people that don't agree with you. I think that makes me a good leader. The third thing is that I'm tough. I'm blunt. And I think people have been able to see that on the debate stage. And finally, I have been in the U.S. Senate for 12 years. I've dealt with every major international decision that we've seen and I have respect for the role of Congress and the need to not just go off to war and go to Congress for an authorization for military force.

Yepsen: Senator, I have to be tough. We're out of time.

Klobuchar: You are just as tough as me.

Yepsen: Thank you very much.

Klobuchar: Thank you very much, I appreciate it. Thank you.


Yepsen: I want to thank Senator Klobuchar for joining us for our latest edition of Conversations with Presidential Candidates here on Iowa PBS. For our audience of Iowans and our entire Iowa PBS crew here at Des Moines Area Community College, I'm David Yepsen, thanks for joining us today.

(applause & music)

IPTV presents Conversations with Presidential Candidates hosted by DMACC has been funded by Goldman Sachs, which is delivering its 10,000 Small Businesses program in Iowa to help entrepreneurs across the state create jobs and economic opportunity. Additional funding has been provided by the Arlene McKeever Endowment Fund, a fund at the Iowa Public Television Foundation, established by a gift from the estate of Arlene McKeever. And by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation.   


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