Senator Amy Klobuchar

Iowa Press | Episode
Oct 4, 2019 | 27 min

Just four months until the Iowa Caucuses and candidates are ramping up the time and money spent in Iowa. We sit down with democratic presidential hopeful and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar on this edition of Iowa Press.

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks. 


For decades Iowa Press has brought you political leaders and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Celebrating more than 40 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, October 4 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen.  


Yepsen: Midwestern values, a centrist bipartisan approach. Our guest today hopes that is a recipe for winning over Iowa democratic caucus goers in 2020. Amy Klobuchar served 8 years as the chief prosecutor in Minnesota's largest county. In 2006 she became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Minnesota. She was re-elected to a third term last November by a 24 point margin winning in many areas Donald Trump carried in 2016. Senator Klobuchar joins us now at the Iowa Press table. Senator, welcome.

Klobuchar: Well, thanks David. It's great to be here with you. Thank you. And Kay and Clay, thank you.

Yepsen: Joining us across the table are Clay Masters, Political Reporter and Morning Edition Host on Iowa Public Radio and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.

Henderson: Senator, we have a number of issues we want to talk about but first a couple of quick questions about the impeachment inquiry underway in the House and an investigation in the Senate Intelligence Committee. Knowing what you do as we sit here right now do you believe the President has committed impeachable offenses?

Klobuchar: Well, I think that that is a very major possibility and it's one of the reason I called for impeachment. I wouldn't have called for impeachment if I didn't think that that was a possibility. And unfortunately with each day the evidence to me seems stronger and stronger and stronger. Just this last few days we found out that he was not just trying to dig up dirt on his opponents when calling the head of the government in Ukraine, it also as reports show extended to Australia and China. So it is literally like he is going around the world inappropriately calling world leaders asking them to investigate his opponents. And you look back to the founding of our Constitution, James Madison at the Constitutional Convention actually said the reason we have these impeachment provisions in the Constitution, why he argued for them, was he feared that a President would betray the trust of Americans to what he called foreign powers. And that is exactly what it appears is happening here. There are now, we're now revealed a text back and forth with diplomats who seem to be doing the bidding of the administration and trying to figure out if they could make a deal with a new relationship with Ukraine in exchange for this investigation. It's outrageous to me and we have a solemn responsibility to allow the House to go forward and then the Senate will be the jurors and we'll see what the evidence is.

Henderson: Is there a danger for the country in that it increases rather than decreases the polarization?

Klobuchar: I hope that's not the case and I've been somewhat buoyed by the fact that there have been a few republican governors that have called for this impeachment proceeding to start, that we have had one republican congressman do that and significantly Iowa's Senator Grassley actually spoke out to defend the whistleblower after the President had really coined the phrase, a spy, about the whistleblower when this was by news reports a CIA agent feeling that he had an obligation to come forward about a security risk for our country's security and Senator Grassley was very strong in his language that a whistleblower should be allowed under the law to come forward with reports and shouldn't be attacked or threatened with execution as the President of the United States did.

Masters: Taking a look at this presidential race, polls have shown you in the single digits for quite a while now, but the latest Iowa poll showed that 80% of voters are still trying to figure out what they're going to do on caucus night. What do you do to convince them that you're the choice?

Klobuchar: Well, I think this is still early on and Iowa voters are discerning and they get to know the candidates and that is my hope. They should just call their friends and relatives in Minnesota, hopefully they'll get a good verdict about me and a good report card because I'm someone that does my work, I listen to the people, I go out to rural areas a lot, I'm the only one on the debate stage that asked to be on the Agriculture Committee and have been very proud of the work we've done there negotiating three Farm Bills. I've been very involved in rural issues. I'm also someone that of course is from the middle of the country and there's I think only two of us right now on that stage who are from the middle of the country and the Midwest and I think that is an important attribute for the voters in Iowa. And then finally, I'm someone that gets things done. I have passed over a hundred bills where I'm the lead democrat, much more than any of my opponents that are in the Senate right now. And I think at this moment where you've got this guy in the White House that is making things up, that literally goes after people all the time, that you don't necessarily want the loudest voice in the room, we already have that, you want something different. And I'm someone that tells the truth, I have people's backs. I think that people if they are tired of the extremes in our politics and they are tired of the noise and the nonsense then they should think about me because I'm someone that wants to be the President for not half of America but for all of America.

Henderson: Turning to some of the issues which differentiate the candidates. Let's start with Medicare for all. The poll that Clay just mentioned indicated that Iowa democrats at least are worried that if your party focuses on this too much that that could be a loser in 2020. Others in the party are very insistent that the country needs to move to address health care problems and this they argue is the solution. Why do you differ from Senator Sanders, the author of the Medicare for all legislation?

Klobuchar: Well, first I want to say my thoughts are with Senator Sanders. We're friends. We came in together. He was just in my state a few weeks ago and himself said that we are personal friends and so I'm thinking of him and Jane and hopeful he'll be back on the campaign trail soon. But we just have a difference of opinion on this. I think we have the same goal and I want people to remember that about democrats, that we have a unified goal to make sure we don't repeal the Affordable Care Act right now which would take away so many protections like allowing people to stay on their insurance if they have a pre-existing condition, could affect nearly half of America. This President is trying to do things like that right now. So I always try to remind people that we may have some different policy ideas right now but what unites us is bigger than what divides us. What I would do to bring down the cost of health care is different than Medicare for all. I would actually put forward a public option and that would allow people to decide if they want to buy into that if they are in the Affordable Care Act coverage or you could even do it outside of it. You could do it with Medicare or Medicaid and that's different than throwing everyone off their current insurance in four years which is what that bill says on page 8 and that was my memorable line in the debate where I sort of ribbed Bernie a little bit and said, I know you wrote the bill, but I read it and on page 8 that is what it says. And I don't think that's the best interest of Americans and certainly not for the people of Iowa. That being said, we can't just rest on our laurels and say everything is fine. It's not fine. People want cheaper health care and they want to be able to cover their families and they want to be able to have less expensive prescription drugs which is something that Bernie and I have worked together on extensively and introduced a number of bills together.

Henderson: Republicans are already running ads in Iowa that Iowans are hearing, they say the public option is unaffordable, taxes will go up, they say that democrats are purveying socialism with this. Don't you run a danger in trying to counter that kind of argument?

Klobuchar: Well, first of all, I am not a socialist. I believe in capitalism. I was in the private sector for 14 years and that is an important part of my experience that I haven't been able to talk about a lot but I think it's very important to who I am, and a lot of people in the private sector and I think that we aren't talking about it enough. Secondly, I think that the republicans are going to throw all kinds of stuff at our candidates and the important thing for us is to make our own case. I'm not on Medicare for all. I chose to not be on that bill because of my concerns that I just went over. But they're going to throw it at people no matter if you're on it or you're not on it and the important way you get at this is by having your own optimistic, economic agenda for this country, not going down every rabbit hole with Donald Trump, calling him out on what he hasn't kept his promises on. He said that pharma prices would go down so low your head would spin. He said that on Fox News. They have gone up in double digits for common drugs like insulin. And our goal is to get things done and to make sure that people who voted for him and about 10% of his voters voted for Barack Obama, that's one estimate, I don't know what it is in Iowa, we've got to show those people, bring them with us, not shut them down and say, look he promised you this, he promised you this, he promised you that, it hasn't come true. Levees are breaking because he didn't invest in infrastructure. Climate change, nothing is happening. Immigration reform, nothing is happening and he has made it worse. And then you go to health care and prescription drugs, he has made it worse. We've got to make that case.

Masters: Another thing that Senator Sanders was talking about four years ago that many other candidates in the race are embracing, free college tuition, canceling student debt. You don't go that far. Why aren't you embracing it?

Klobuchar: I embrace more affordable college and paths to success and there are many different paths to success. So I'll start with my plan and then tell you my issues with theirs. So my plan is free one and two year community college. That's something Barack Obama wanted to do. Why? Well that is the fastest area of growth in this country right now. I was just at Abraham Lincoln High School in Council Bluffs and saw the trade program they have going on there. That is because they forecast to have something like 6,000 open jobs, many of them involve degrees that are not four year degrees, many of them really well paying, welding, plumbing, all of these things. So the idea here is free one and two year degrees would help not just the community college, of course the students and our economy, but also the high schools that are trying to struggle with how to pay for having the students do this at the same time, do the right thing. Secondly, for those four year degrees, double the number of programs. That is for people who need help, not for rich kids, for people that need help. Extend it for families making $100,000 or less and double the programs from $6,000 to $12,000 a year. I know it doesn't fit on a bumper sticker but it's the right thing to do for this economy. Tie the loan payback for people going to in demand jobs that we need.

Yepsen: Senator, we've got way too many questions and not enough time. Student debt, forgiveness of that or not? What do you want?

Klobuchar: First of all, I would lower the interest rate. I figure if millionaires can refinance their yacht students should be able to refinance their loan. But then I would also take the program we have now for loan repayments for like teachers. It's a good program. Betsy DeVos is screwing it up. I would make it work and that means you work in that area for 10 years and then you get your loans paid back and I would actually extend it into in demand occupations, there's a list of them, things like nursing and technology to try to steer some of our students into the jobs that we need them to have. And there are all different levels of education levels for those jobs. But I think the bottom line is this, we've got to fit our education plans into our economic plans and needs for our country. That is how you make it work. And what I'm afraid is if you just say to, first of all, why would you pay for rich kids to go to college when you have limited needs and a mounting debt? That makes no sense. That is what these plans do, they can't deny it, that is what they do. And something like over 10% of kids at public colleges come from families that make over $200,000 a year. That is what they would be doing, they would be giving them free college. Secondly, I don't think carpenters should have to pay for the kids of wealthy people to go to college. Secondly, you don't want to steer everyone to a four year degree. A lot of kids want to do one and two year degrees. What we should be doing is figure out if someone decides to be a janitor, someone decides to work in a nursing home, how do you make it so they can raise their family? That means increasing the minimum wage and making sure that we've got good health care and good child care and retirement for them. That's the key. It's not trying to make everyone go on one path.

Henderson: Shifting to gun policy. For years those of us who have been covering democrats on the campaign trail have heard democrats say we're not going to take away your guns, we just want background checks. Now you do have some of your colleagues calling for confiscating guns. How has that changed the debate?

Klobuchar: I don't think it has greatly changed the debate. I think that we all agree on so much. I think we should have a voluntary buyback program instead of mandatory. But that being said, the key is that the republicans haven't done one of these things. We don't even pass my bill to close the boyfriend loophole that basically says that if you have been convicted of serious domestic abuse against your wife then you can't get a gun. That's what the law says now. But if it's your girlfriend you can. And yet half the domestic homicides involve dating partners. Secondly, we don't even have the universal background checks fixed yet. Mitch McConnell won't let that come up for a vote or fixing the Charleston loophole which basically says hey, cops should be able to finish their jobs vetting before they issue a gun permit. Those bills are right now ready to pass and they unify every single person on that debate stage in the Democratic Party. Assault weapon ban, limitations on magazines, those are things that I would do if I was President. So that is what we need to do and we can have debates on some of the other issues on the side but mostly those are the major things because no matter what buyback program you have if people can go out and buy a new assault weapon it's not going to work.

Yepsen: Clay has the next question.

Masters: This is a question about climate change. You're a Midwesterner running for President. You no doubt know that many farm groups are opposed to more regulation. On the topic of climate change what kind of policy would you put in place so you're not angering these farm commodity groups or farmers?

Klobuchar: I love taking the stage in New York City during the town hall, being asked a similar question and stood up for our farmers because I see farmers as part of the solution. We put a pilot program in the Farm Bill that had broad support that actually rewarded farmers for say planting winter crops and other things that could actually capture carbon and be part of the solution. So I see it that way. I see it as part of the solution as we look at plantings and new technologies and just as Tom Harkin's leadership showed with the CRP and CSP and EQIP programs that are focused on conservation in the Farm Bill, you can also do that with climate change. So that's one thing. I think the second thing is we all know we've got to do something. Look at those levees breaking out in western Iowa. Look at the flooding that we saw in eastern Iowa. And this just doesn't stop. So it's got to be a combination of infrastructure. I came out with a clear infrastructure package for roads, bridges, levees, you name it and it is also about putting back in place the clean power rules, the gas mileage standards that this administration has gone backwards on and then coming up with very strong legislation to tackle climate change which includes putting a price on carbon.

Yepsen: Another question in this campaign is the issue of tariffs and our trade war with China. How would you as President stop the Chinese from stealing our intellectual property?

Klobuchar: I would push them but not the way this President has done.

Yepsen: Haven't other Presidents already done that?

Klobuchar: We have reached a point where we have to do something but we do it best with our allies. And what this President has done is he has used a meat cleaver, maybe a tweet cleaver to deal with this problem. And we all know that China is a bad actor, they've stolen intellectual property as you've noted, they have manipulated currency, they have subsidized industries, I've seen that in Minnesota with the steel dumping. But that's an interesting story because at the end of the Obama administration we took that on bigtime, we passed legislation, we went after them for dumping illegal steel that they weren't supposed to allow getting into our country, flooding the market with it at cheap prices. We took that on by itself, not with tariffs on Canada and Mexico, we took it on and went after it and guess what, they started reopening the iron ore mines. That's where my grandpa used to work. And so I know you can do this with pointed efforts. But in this case he went so broad and made so many threats, there's an old saying in trade policy, keep your promises and keep your threats, and he has done neither and so then we become a laughing stock for the world and we're not able to actually negotiate with our partners on our side. So I would go back to the negotiating table and not have involved some of our allies in this in terms of assessing tariffs on them and moved ahead.

Henderson: You mentioned your infrastructure plan. There appears to be republican agreement that something should be done to address the nation's crumbling infrastructure. What in your view would be acceptable to both parties?

Klobuchar: Well, this is something the President promised on election night and we have seen really nothing. This is taking -- the money to pay for it -- so what I would do, and this is why he's backing away from it, I would take the portions of his tax bill that don't help regular people, that is when he went on the corporate tax rate all the way down to 21%, even if you bring it up to 25%, which is still a significant reduction, you get $400 billion over 10 years. Each point was $100 billion. And then you add in the changes he made to the international taxes which didn't help regular people. That's $150 billion. You put in an infrastructure financing authority with a carve out for rural and you make sure that you've got these by America bonds. Together it comes to over a trillion and you use that and I promise you the republicans want to move on this, there's just a guy that's not leading in the White House.

Henderson: Broadband is also an issue in rural Iowa.

Klobuchar: That's part of my plan.

Henderson: Do you need to make broadband a utility, a regulated utility?

Klobuchar: I think you can do broadband, the way I have put this forward, there's a big problem with financing it. We can use money from the universal service fund, you can use all kinds of funding basis for this if we have the wherewithal to do it. They've hooked up the entire country of Iceland and we can't seem to hook up rural Iowa. So I have a plan to get this done by 2022. I always have deadlines. And I think you can do that without making it like a regulated utility.

Masters: Let's say you become the democratic nominee for President. There are people in Iowa who see what is going on with immigration at the southern U.S. border as a crisis. What do you do to address border security?

Klobuchar: Comprehensive immigration reform. This is something that had republican support as well and this is something, especially in the Midwest, and what this is about, it's a path to citizenship and it actually reduces the deficit by $158 billion in 10 years. You take part of that money once you pass the immigration reform, which we have done before in the Senate, and then you can use a portion of that money for better order at the border, with better processing in these cases and those three northern triangle countries where so many of the asylum seekers are coming from, allow them to seek asylum in their home country. These are sensible solutions, ones that this President doesn't want because he wants to play politics with those asylum seekers. That's what he does. He likes to use them as pawns. I look at it more as what's best for Iowa? What is best for Iowa is to make sure we have our workers in our fields and that we have workers in our factories, to make sure that we have a sensible immigration system and we vet people and we do this in a smart way.

Henderson: If you're elected President how would you propose implementing the Renewable Fuel Standard?

Klobuchar: This is a very timely topic. I was just out in Council Bluffs with Congresswoman Axne at one of the ethanol plants there, the very one that the President had gone to when he made his promise he was going to do something about ethanol waivers, that he is now just this weekend starting to act on, but to me it's too little too late and they've already lost 4 billion gallons of ethanol toward this standard across this country. So what I would do is make sure the levels are appropriate so they actually help grow this industry. Oil has been having their way for way too long. I would stop the subsidies on big oil that make it very unfair. And then I would also make sure we have incentives in place to move to cellulosic and other forms of ethanol. And then finally I would make this waiver process greatly reduced. It's supposed to be just for a handful every year and make it transparent so people know who is getting the waivers instead of us finding out, Senator Grassley and I, after the fact that it's Exxon and Chevron.

Yepsen: Another issue of concern to a lot of caucus goers is Social Security and the soundness of Social Security. How do you keep the Social Security fund sound?

Klobuchar: Well, first of all Social Security is our most important safety net in this country. I am a strong believer in it. And what I would do is right now it is projected to go insolvent by 2034 and that's not a good place to be. So what I would do is pass the bill as President and push it forward that says right now you pay into Social Security up to $133,000 a year, put in a donut hole so you don't pay for a while after that, and then once you start making over $250,000 a year, that's a good salary, then you pay in again. And that would actually keep it solvent going forward.

Yepsen: Just a couple of minutes.

Klobuchar: And then I would not privatize it.

Henderson: As an attorney and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee would you change in any way the terms for members of the U.S. Supreme Court or the method by which the court is constituted? Would you expand the court?

Klobuchar: I'd be open to that. None of this will even matter if we don't win this election and win the U.S. Senate, which is my argument that I've won every red county every time. That has got to be our focus right now and I know a lot of people are talking about this but there's no way to do it unless we win big. As far as doing that, I'm open to it. The most important thing immediately there's going to be a number of retirements on the Supreme Court, or at least one, and other places I would predict, I'm just guessing. And so I would put forward very good judges that follow the law and it's not just the Supreme Court it's also the circuit and district courts and you've got to start right away with a plan to get this done. That got delayed during the Obama administration because we were in the middle of the economic downturn but it has to happen right away.

Yepsen: Senator, we've got less than a minute left and I'll leave it to you. What is the most important thing you want democratic caucus goers to remember about you on February 3rd?

Klobuchar: That I bring people together and that is what I've done in every race by bringing in a coalition of democrats, including a fired up base, we had the highest voter turnout last time when I led the ticket as well as independents and moderate republicans. If we want to get any of these things done that we're talking about whether it's climate change, immigration reform, bringing down the cost of health care, we've got to win big and that's me. And I'm also someone that governs with a command of details, as I hope you've seen today, but also from the heart and bring people with me and that is what Iowa is all about, that's what our politics are all about in Minnesota, and I think we need a little dose of that in Washington, D.C.

Yepsen: Senator, thank you for your time, appreciate it.

Klobuchar: Thank you.

Yepsen: And we'll be back next week with another edition of Iowa Press at our regular times, 7:30 Friday night and Noon on Sunday. So for all of us here at Iowa PBS, I'm David Yepsen. Thanks for joining us today.



Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.