Advance Exclusive: Presidential hopeful Amy Klobuchar on why Dems should do Fox News town halls

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) keynotes the MDP Women's Caucus luncheon, May 18, 2019 | Andrew Roth

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) was fresh off two campaign stops in Michigan on Saturday when she talked to the Michigan Advance en route to the airport.

She had just finished wrapping the Michigan Democratic Party Women’s Caucus luncheon in Detroit. Earlier that morning, Klobuchar advocated for protecting domestic violence victims from gun violence with U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) in Ann Arbor.

Elizabeth Warren prior to addressing a rally at Bonanza High School in Las Vegas April 27. | Nevada Current

In her exclusive interview with the Advance, Klobuchar drew a subtle distinction with one of her opponents, fellow U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), although not by name.

Warren made headlines last week when she announced on Twitter that she would not do a Fox News town hall, calling the network “a hate-for-profit racket that gives a megaphone to racists and conspiracists … designed to turn us against each other.”

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has followed suit.

But Klobuchar, a three-term senator, said on Saturday that one of the reasons why she’s been the increasingly rare Democrat who wins over rural voters is because she goes “not just where it’s comfortable, but where it’s uncomfortable.”

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Klobuchar noted that’s one reason why she appeared earlier this month at a Fox News town hall. And she is slated to appear this week on “Fox News Sunday.”

She committed to coming back to Michigan and “going everywhere in the state,” stressing she’s won over rural voters with “bread-and-butter issues” like Michigan Democrats did in 2018. Klobuchar gave a shout-out to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing), who all won last year.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, May 18, 2019 | Andrew Roth

Klobuchar’s electoral track record in a purple state is hard to beat. Her initial 2006 U.S. Senate victory was her closest statewide election — and she won by more than 20 points. That was followed by an almost 35-point blowout in 2012 and a 24-point landslide in 2018.

Like many presidential contenders, Klobuchar said Democrats “must win Michigan and we should win Michigan” next year, but she also stressed the importance of down-ballot races here.

“We’ve got to remind everyone that the Midwest is not going to just be flyover country in this election,” she said.

This was her second visit to Michigan this month. She previously spoke to a National Organization of Black County Officials (NOBCO) conference in Detroit, along with several other presidential hopefuls, including U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and businessman Andrew Yang.

Amy Klobuchar speaking in Detroit, May 3, 2019, Ken Coleman

At her speech on Saturday, Klobuchar issued a familiar refrain, “As we go to 2020, I say, ‘May the best woman win.’” The Advance asked if female presidential candidates are getting less attention and more negative attention than male candidates right now.

While Klobuchar said that’s “for the pundits to judge,” she added that “the one good thing about it being discussed is that people are thinking about it more and giving us the opportunity to talk about issues that matter to people.”

The Advance also talked to Klobuchar about her $1 trillion plan to fix the nation’s damn roads, chances for getting the expired Violence Against Women Act through the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate, how to fight back against abortion bans, why she’s focused on expanding Obamacare instead of enacting Medicare for All and more.

The following are excerpts from that interview:

Michigan Advance: Now you’ve had a lot of success in winning a broad coalition in Minnesota, including rural voters. So how have you done this and how are you planning to win rural voters in Michigan and other states?

Klobuchar: Well, it is by going not just where it’s comfortable, but where it’s uncomfortable. It’s by reaching out; it’s one of the reasons I did the Fox [News] town hall. You know, I believe you have to go everywhere and this is about winning and reaching rural voters, but it is also about how you govern. In the end, you have to govern for the people that voted for you and the people that didn’t vote for you, and we’ve got to stop this divisiveness.

Michigan Advance: You’ve made two visits to Michigan. How significant is this state to your campaign and how significant do you think the state is in the general election?

Klobuchar: It’s very significant in the general election. We must win Michigan and we should win Michigan. In 2018, they put the roadmap, where we have this fantastic candidate for governor [Gretchen Whitmer] and for attorney general [Dana Nessel] and for U.S. Senate in Debbie [Stabenow], and you were able to run the table and win the state. But you still have this Republican Legislature that I think is holding back progress.

Joe Biden, 2012 | Kelly Kline, Flickr

So Michigan is important in the presidential [election]; it’s important for the races that are going to be happening in Michigan.

And for me, there was a poll a few months ago that showed that Joe Biden — … it was a Michigan-only poll [by Emerson College] — but it showed that Vice President Biden and I had both the highest numbers for beating Donald Trump.

And I think part of that is because of the heartland support that I have. I’m from the heartland; I focused on these bread-and-butter issues just like your candidates did, and we’ve got to remind everyone that the Midwest is not going to just be flyover country in this election.

Michigan Advance: Your visits to Michigan have been in Detroit. When you come back, are you planning to-

Klobuchar: No, I went to Ann Arbor.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell  and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar did an event in Ann Arbor, May 18, 2019 | Andrew Roth

Michigan Advance: You went to Ann Arbor, as well.

Klobuchar: We’re going to be going everywhere in the state.

… In my state, I visit all 87 counties every year. And I spend a lot of time in rural Minnesota, and that’s why … one year [2012], I think I won every county but two. I won 42 of the counties that Donald Trump won [in 2018]. And every single election, I’ve won every congressional district, including the reddest ones, including former [ultra-conservative] U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachman’s. So I am a fierce believer in going where it’s not just comfortable, but where it’s uncomfortable.

So today, because I was here just for the day, but I made sure I went to what is the county? Wabash? Is that it?

Michigan Advance: Washtenaw County.

Klobuchar: Yeah. Where Ann Arbor is.

Michigan Advance: Yep.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) keynotes the MDP Women’s Caucus luncheon, May 18, 2019 | Andrew Roth

Klobuchar: So we went to, Congresswoman Dingell and I, visited the safe house there and we talked a lot about reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), as well as making sure that we include the provisions that closes the boyfriend loophole that allows domestic abusers to get guns.

So that’s just the beginning, I’ll be going to many parts of Michigan, and was invited to many of them today — since the lunch I spoke to was a statewide luncheon.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (L) returns to the U.S. Capitol from a meeting at the White House Jan. 9, 2019 | Alex Wong, Getty Images

Michigan Advance: Are you optimistic that the Violence Against Women Act might have legs in the U.S. Senate?

Klobuchar: Yes, I mean [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is pulling it down because it includes this very simple provision that says that domestic abusers shouldn’t get guns, whether they’re married or whether they’re boyfriends. And he has somehow decided to take the side of the NRA [National Rifle Association], which isn’t on the side of women’s safety, so that is what we’re up against.

Michigan Advance: Do you feel that female presidential candidates are getting less attention and more negative attention than male candidates are right now?

Klobuchar: Well, that’s going to be for the pundits to judge. I just figure the one good thing about it being discussed is that people are thinking about it more and giving us the opportunity to talk about issues that matter to people, like bringing down [pharmaceutical] prices and doing something about infrastructure and finally taking on mental health, something that your [U.S.] senator, Debbie Stabenow, is doing.

Pro-choice rally | Blink O’fanaye, Flickr

Michigan Advance: What concretely needs to be done to fight back against anti-abortion measures, whether it’s banning the dilation and evacuation procedure, like in Michigan, or an outright ban in Alabama?

Klobuchar: We have to make the case to the people in this country. I don’t think they ever seriously got that this civil right was at risk. In fact, 73 percent of Americans don’t want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. So when you look at that, why would people think when that’s been the law of the land for 46 years, why would they think that that could happen?

Well, guess what, systematically, the Republican Party is trying to repeal it. That’s what they did in Georgia and Alabama. They’re trying to repeal a major portion of it in Michigan. They’re doing this in Missouri.

And I think it’s a reality check for people and it’s our job as leaders to explain what this would mean: what it means for women of color; what it means for people who don’t have enough money. It would mean for backroom abortions again. And what it means for public health.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) keynotes the MDP Women’s Caucus luncheon, May 18, 2019 | Andrew Roth

Michigan Advance: A lot of candidates have endorsed Medicare for All or similar plans, but you’ve been focused on shoring up and strengthening Obamacare.

Klobuchar: Yeah.

Michigan Advance: Why have you decided on that as a strategy?

Klobuchar: Well, because Obamacare is at great risk right now. The Republicans are trying to repeal it and I think we need to see it as a fundamental part of our health care system and build on that. And I would build on it with something that President Obama wanted to do, which is a public option — which you could do with Medicare or Medicaid. I’m also on the proposal of Sen. Stabenow to expand Medicare to [those at] age 50 [or older]. And I think that would be a good start.

And then you also have to do something about [pharmaceutical] prices. So I am all for universal health care — I just have a different way to get there.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow | Andrew Roth

Michigan Advance: We have some of the worst roads in the country in Michigan and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has made fixing them a priority. What would your $1 trillion federal infrastructure plan mean for Michigan?

Klobuchar: Well, it would mean first of all, a major influx of federal funding in two ways. One is direct federal investment — that’s about $650 billion of it, which includes rural broadband, and roads, and bridges and schools. And then about $300 billion, the rest of it, is bonds, and then also Infrastructure Financing Authority, where you put in so much federal money and then the state can invest and that could also be really helpful because of the interest in the state in doing things.

Donald Trump | Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

But I think the key is that I’ve shown how I’m going to pay for it, which Donald Trump has never done. He just keeps throwing out $1 trillion or $2 trillion with no way to pay for it.

I have proposed changing the international taxes, or the way they did it in that [2017] Republican tax bill. Literally, going back to how they used to do it would save $150 billion. And then every point of the corporate tax, if you go to, say, a 25 percent reduction — it was in the mid-30s —and they went all the way down to 21 [percent], which was such a lost opportunity to do infrastructure. So every point is $100 billion. So if you go up to 25 percent, you get $400 billion right there.

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Susan J. Demas is an 18-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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