RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Senator Amy Klobuchar wants it both ways. She's built her career as a moderate who can strike compromise with the other side. But as a Democratic candidate for president, Klobuchar calls herself a progressive. So what do her policies look like? The Minnesota senator said she would push for free four-year college if she was, quote, "a magic genie," and she called the Green New Deal aspirational. I sat down with her last week - it's part of our Opening Arguments series with 2020 candidates - and I asked her about those proposals.
AMY KLOBUCHAR: I'm actually a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, and that's because I think it is so important to stop just talking about and admiring the problem, that we have to actually get these things done in a big, bold way.
MARTIN: Although, you did call it an aspirational...
KLOBUCHAR: Well, that is for a reason because I think most people agree, including some of the primary sponsors, that we won't be able to get all this done in 10 years. But if we don't start, and we don't capture the energy of young people that want to move on this issue, we're going to go nowhere. On the issue of college, I am all in on free one and two-year colleges, degrees for things that we need right now in terms of our economy.
MARTIN: But it's just not a wholesale...
MARTIN: ...Free tuition.
KLOBUCHAR: Do I think every kid in America should get free college? No because I look at them in the future, in that we want to watch the debt because it's going to be on all their shoulders. And also, we have priorities for what we want to do with education, and that's certainly not happening with Betsy DeVos. All of that said, one of my main goals in the Senate, where there is so much polarization and people standing in opposite corners, has been to be a force of good, to work to get things done.
There are some things where I take a stand and I'm on a bill just with Democrats. But then if I can find some middle ground and actually get something done, like, on human trafficking, I'm going to go for it. And I think that's what not just people of America want. I think that's what Democrats want. And I don't think it will hurt me in a primary. I think it will help me.
MARTIN: I do want to focus in on climate change. What are the solutions that you would push in your first term as president?
KLOBUCHAR: People have now learned that this is happening. Even a decade ago, five years ago, I think it seemed more esoteric as a bunch of numbers that we put out there. So the first thing that I would do is to get our country back in that Paris climate change agreement. No. 2, there was some good work done by the Obama administration on clean power rules. And it's literally just on the cutting room floor. You wouldn't have to go through Congress to get those done.
MARTIN: Would you declare a national emergency over climate change?
KLOBUCHAR: Now, that national emergency term was overused - that's putting it lightly - by the president. And to me, that means an immediate national disaster of some kind. I see climate change as the major challenge of our time. And you can say that without calling it a national emergency. Now, coming out of it are national emergencies. All of these strange weather patterns, and these sudden increase and warming of our seas and increase to the sea levels, that causes a lot of these, what end up being national emergencies.
MARTIN: The other major issue for Democratic primary voters is health care. Several Democratic presidential candidates support some version of "Medicare for All" or single-payer health care system. Do you?
KLOBUCHAR: Every American deserves affordable health care. So what I support is moving to universal health care as quickly as possible. And I would argue...
MARTIN: When you say universal health care, you mean a single-payer system?
KLOBUCHAR: I mean health care for everyone. And I think I am open to looking at that, let me make clear, the single payer. And we may end up there one day. But what's the fastest way we can expand health care more? Immediately, I would do cost-sharing and reinsurance. So that's a bill that's out there right now to help with premiums. That's just an immediate, like, put a Band-Aid on answer.
Then we should pass legislation for a public option. You could expand Medicare. You could expand Medicaid. But have a public option, which is the original idea that President Obama conceived. Why? Because then you would have a less-expensive option for people to go to.
MARTIN: Are you a revolutionary?
KLOBUCHAR: (Laughter) I am a progressive that wants to see change.
MARTIN: You have spent a lot of time in the Senate pushing legislation to hold technology companies to account for how they use people's data.
KLOBUCHAR: I am kind of a revolutionary when it comes to tech companies.
MARTIN: How so?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, for a long time, everyone was just believing what the tech companies wanted. I, for a long time, have been suspicious of this because I've seen how much they're growing. I've seen how much money they're making off of it. And I, maybe, was naive like everyone else. I didn't really understand. They were making money, not 'cause of just advertising on their sites. They were making money off of us. They were taking our personal information, and they were selling it to other people, or they were targeting us in such a way that we became even more valuable to them.
So I came up with these policy ideas. First, consumer. And that means things like privacy legislation. And I have bipartisan legislation, one of the only big bipartisan bills, that I wrote with Senator Kennedy. Secondly, to have antitrust laws enforced in a better way. And then the final thing is national security. We have put ourselves in a place where we have a foreign country that's trying to influence our election.
MARTIN: Senator Elizabeth Warren - also running for president - she sees the problem in an even larger way. She wants to break up those companies so that they can't sell the same products on their platform where competitors are also trying to get an edge in. Do you agree with that plan?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, what's interesting is, I see it an even larger way, which is why I've been trying to use antitrust law and make changes there. So it's not just tech companies. It's also pharma companies. And that is changing the standard in our antitrust law. That is legislation that I proposed before most people were even talking about this.
MARTIN: You are putting your name forward to be the most powerful leader in the world. There are reports citing several former staffers from your office who allege that you mistreated them. And I ask about this because we are in a moment in this country where we are having a national conversation about power and what is acceptable and what is not, especially in a leader. Do you think your behavior in these instances should raise concerns in the minds of voters?
KLOBUCHAR: No. I don't. And I would first point to that over 60 of our staff, former staff, came together - from everyone from chiefs of staff, to people on the frontline that worked with me, that were in the car with me all day - and said that they had a good experience working in our office. Secondly, I do have high standards. I do push people hard. I have high standards of myself, of our staff and also for our nation. And so that is the way I'm going to look at this going forward. And that is, I can always do better, and I will. But my state director's been with me seven years. My chief of staff, around five years. My campaign manager, 14 years.
You don't win elections like we have. You do not pass - get Vanderbilt to rate you as the No. 1 Democratic senator for getting things done under 15 metrics in the U.S. Senate and the first minority party senator to break the top five since John McCain in 1994 - you don't get that done alone. You get that done because you have great staff that work with you. And they're not only just working for me, they are working for our country. And I'm very proud of them.
MARTIN: Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Senator, thank you so much for your time.
KLOBUCHAR: Well, thank you. It was wonderful to be on, Rachel.