Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar tells Santa Monica her pragmatic bipartisanship can honor coastal values and win the Midwest
By Bliss Bowen
Two dozen people were lined up outside the Santa Monica Public Library’s Martin Luther King Jr. Auditorium by quarter after noon last Tuesday to hear presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar, who was scheduled to speak at 1:30 p.m. When the senior senator from Minnesota finally made her delayed arrival, she took a few minutes to exchange handshakes and hellos — and savvy photo ops — with people on the back patio unable to squeeze into the nearly 200-seat auditorium. By that time seats were filled by a multigenerational but mostly white audience of academics, students, creatives, retirees and news crews. As one of Klobuchar’s young campaign aides noted while squinting at the sun, it was a surprisingly good turnout for a Tuesday afternoon (and a stark contrast to Klobuchar’s February campaign announcement, made during a blizzard with snow piling on her hair).
As people waited, they discussed judicial appointments, voting security, the Mueller Report and the twin necessities for a Democratic nominee to match Trump’s charisma and soundly defeat him. (Over-
heard: “I’d take any of the Parkland students over Trump.”) Scant enthusiasm was expressed for Joe Biden, the current frontrunner in a field of two dozen Democratic candidates. Support for Bernie Sanders was similarly muted, though all agreed they would vote for whoever secures the Democratic nomination.
Few seemed familiar with Klobuchar, though some recalled her compassionate questioning at Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. (When Klobuchar, the daughter of an alcoholic, asked Kavanaugh if he’d ever blacked out after drinking, his pugnacious “Have you?” response went viral — and while he gained his Supreme Court seat, Klobuchar won in the court of public opinion.) Others were intrigued by Klobuchar’s recent grilling of Attorney General Bill Barr about a bipartisan election security bill, co-sponsored with Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford, that’s been stymied by the White House.
From the jump, the 59-year-old legislator was feisty, wisecracking and slightly rushed, with the smarts expected of a Yale and University of Chicago Law School grad, two-term county attorney and three-term senator (re-elected last year with more than 60% of the vote). During introductory remarks acknowledging her underdog status in the presidential race, she commended the colleagues against whom she is competing: “There are fantastic candidates in this race, including a few from California, including your own senator — I work with her very well. What I always like to say is, let the best woman win.”
As she proceeded to make the “case” for her candidacy, Klobuchar emphasized her Midwestern heritage as the granddaughter of an iron ore miner and daughter of a teacher and reporter — both union members — and her record of working with Republican colleagues. (In 2016, GovTrack.us ranked her first among 100 senators with the most bills passed into law.) She also touted her ability to win supposedly unwinnable districts by “going not just where it’s comfortable but where it’s uncomfortable. I truly believe, if we’re going to not just win the election but govern a highly divided country, we need someone with that philosophy. I’ve passed 34 bills as the lead Democrat while Donald Trump was president.”
She came out swinging at Trump for “going backward,” governing from “chaos” and reneging on campaign promises to voters. “When you are leading a ticket it is not just about you,” she noted. “We don’t have time to mess around.”
In a list of “hard challenges” she declared the president is failing to meet, she shrewdly cited the climate crisis first — an issue of pressing concern for Californians still reeling from the Camp and Woolsey Fires. Slamming the Trump administration’s just-announced decision to question findings of federal climate scientists and to restrict the scope of the National Climate Assessment, she was applauded as she vowed to “sign us back into the international climate accord” on day one of her presidency, and reinstate the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. She linked rising sea levels and Greenland’s melting ice sheet to climate-exacerbated floods, tornados and hailstorms wreaking catastrophic damage across the Midwest, and said, “We want to move on climate change. We need a voice from the heartland. Why? Because that’s where we’ve had trouble moving on support.”
Klobuchar bulleted more points before taking questions: universal health care, infrastructure, immigration reform (“Immigrants don’t diminish America; they are America … [and] an economic generator for this country”), and protecting democracy (“I would register every eligible kid to vote when they turn 18 … [and] start a national movement to pass a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United”). She bemoaned the fact that “Big Pharma now has two lobbyists for every member of Congress — and you wonder why we can’t pass my bill for negotiation of prices under Medicare, or we can’t bring in less expensive drugs from Canada or other countries.”
Queried as to why she believes a public option is better than Medicare for all, Klobuchar replied, “I’m looking at how you can immediately make change without doing any harm,” before discussing insurance minutiae.
“Of course,” she said, when asked if she would take the We Are Indivisible Pledge to actively support whoever wins the nomination. (She signed the pledge at last weekend’s California Democratic Party State Convention in San Francisco.)
Asked if impeaching the president would benefit Democrats, Klobuchar said she views it in terms of the law, not politics, and quoted Speaker Pelosi (“We can investigate and legislate simultaneously”). She then requested a different subject: “I’m happy to answer those questions, but we’ve gotta remember what everyone’s thinking in Nebraska right now.”
To a college junior anticipating $70,000 in student loan debt, Klobuchar championed free two-year community college tuition and expanding Pell Grants. She would pay for it with the Warren Buffett rule — i.e., higher taxes on the wealthy. “That alone brings in, after the lovely and regressive Republican tax bill, $124 billion.” In a snappy soundbite she advocated tax credits and refinancing: “If billionaires can refinance their yachts, students should be able to refinance their loans.”
Income inequality remained unexplored subtext, though signs of it were visible in homeless citizens camped out just blocks away. Before Klobuchar’s arrival, two dirt-smudged men could be seen napping by the library’s front steps, one twisted with belly bared while people conversed nearby as if the men were part of the masonry. By the time she departed, they were gone.
Klobuchar, who was mentored by late progressive Sen. Paul Wellstone, dives into policy detail with ease. She’s campaigning on substance, yet hasn’t posted policy papers on her website (amyklobuchar.com). To some her focus on practicality, and her campaign’s claiming of the political center lane, smacks of Hillary Clinton’s centrism. But Klobuchar defended her record of getting meaningful bipartisan legislation passed.
“I think you want a progressive, but you want a proven progressive. And ‘proven progressive’ to me means someone that can make progress.”
Some stories were recounted almost verbatim from her 2015 book “The Senator Next Door” (notably one about her mother dressing as a butterfly for a disabled ex-student). More than once she stressed the importance of community, global as well as local. Asked about the administration’s escalating rhetoric about Iran, and whether new authorization would be needed for military force, Klobuchar called it a “good question” but hit talking points without directly speaking to authorization.
“You stand with your allies. Right? The president has dissed our allies repeatedly; it’s hard to piss off the entire country of Canada, but he did it. Our NATO allies, we stand with them — but he doesn’t do that.” She ticked through several instances in which Trump has “given leverage to China and Russia,” then addressed insistent challenges of revamping the military, cybersecurity (“our biggest threat”), and climate change.
After reminding listeners that “you are really ambassadors to your own community,” Klobuchar, who interned with then Vice President Walter Mondale before graduating from Yale, recalled a recent meeting with former President Jimmy Carter that identified values she wants to see revived in the White House.
“He said, ‘We told the truth, we obeyed the law, and we kept the peace.’ That is the minimum that we should expect from a president of the United States.”