Amy Klobuchar takes questions at CNN town hall

By Veronica Rocha and Brian Ries, CNN

Updated 11:52 p.m. ET, February 18, 2019
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11:26 p.m. ET, February 18, 2019

Why Klobuchar's plan to tackle racial inequality in the US is centered around economics

From CNN's Dan Merica

Sen. Amy Klobuchar said on Monday that economics, including raising the minimum wage and retraining people for in-demand jobs, was central to her plan to tackle racial inequality.

After CNN’s Don Lemon asked Klobuchar about her agenda for black Americans, Klobuchar mentioned a number of changes she made as county attorney in Hennepin County, Minnesota, but said she believes economics is central to her plan to tackle the issue.

“To paraphrase Martin Luther King, you can do all you can to integrate a lunch counter but if you can’t afford a hamburger what good did you do? So for me the economics is key right now,” she said, arguing that African American workers need to gain more training in science and math fields and make a livable wage.

“Increase the minimum wage, right … so that we make it easier for people who are not in the same position as everyone else and weren’t born with the silver spoon in their mouth, that they are able to pursue the American dream because no matter where you come from or where you worship or what you look like this should be a country of shared dreams,” Klobuchar said.

11:02 p.m. ET, February 18, 2019

How Klobuchar says she would restore faith in the US government

High school teacher Christine Carter, an audience member, said her students have become cynics about the US government.

So she asked Sen. Amy Klobuchar, "How could you intend to help to restore faith in the American system of governance for those coming of age under President Trump?"

Klobuchar said that she would start by being someone who respects the institution of the presidency.

Here's how Klobuchar responded:

"Well, I think the first thing is to stop governing by tweet. Okay? And all these mean-spirited messages that makes it hard for teachers to say, you know, you don't have to agree with everything the President says, no one's going to agree with them but you have to have someone you have faith, in that respects the institution, that's someone you can look up to.
 ...You see this news on TV, you don't want your kids to see it. Instead of looking down or looking away, we have to look at each other and we have to look up at the challenges before us. We have always done this as a great nation....
I believe that we are better than this. I believe we can move forward and the only way we do it is if we do it together and cross that river of our divides."

10:56 p.m. ET, February 18, 2019

Klobuchar shows humor and wit when tackling tough questions

Analysis from CNN's Jeff Zeleny

Sen. Amy Klobuchar comes armed tonight with something many presidential candidates do not have: humor. For those who know her in Washington and Minnesota, she has a quick wit. Those watching from home are learning that, too.

That is one side she is trying to show tonight, by saying things like: “Women candidates should speak softly and carry a big statistic. They have to carry a big statistic, which means be accountable.”

Klobuchar knows people are watching to see how she manages her campaign: Will staff members want to work for her? Will she keep the ones who sign up? The whispers about how she treats her staff likely won’t go away until she answers those questions – over time. 

“Undertaking a presidential campaign,” she said, “is a pretty good way to judge people.”

11:10 p.m. ET, February 18, 2019

Why Klobuchar doesn't support free college for all

Amy Klobuchar made it clear tonight that she doesn't support free college for all.

"I am not for free four-year college for all, no," she said. "And I wish -- if I was a magic genie and could give that to everyone and we could afford it, I would," she said.

Realizing her answer might not be popular among some of the college students in the crowd -- many of whom are likely burdened with debt of their own -- she explained why:

"I've got to tell the truth. We have this mounting debt that the Trump administration keeps getting worse and worse. I also don't want to leave that on the shoulders of all these we've got to do a balance. Some of it is major tax reform in terms of reversing some of the things this administration has done. Some of it making sure that students are getting degrees and being led to jobs where we actually have jobs."

Klobuchar invoking the national debt is a significant break with numerous top Democrats, who often dismiss the debt in face of pressing issues like climate change, health care and education.

She said she wants to find a mix of incentives for students, and talked about expanding Pell grants for students and refinancing student loans as some examples.

Watch the moment:

10:52 p.m. ET, February 18, 2019

Klobuchar described how her father's alcoholism shaped her view of fighting addiction

In an emotional moment, Sen. Amy Klobuchar described how her relationship with her father, a prominent journalist who dealt with alcoholism for much of his life, shaped her view of fighting addiction and helping people find redemption.

Klobuchar’s history dealing with alcoholism featured prominently in her questioning of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh -- a contentious moment that numerous voters in Iowa and New Hampshire said is when they first took note of the Minnesota senator.

“For me, like a lot of people, I grew up in a family with alcoholism and addiction,” Klobuchar said, adding that she hoped her questioning of Kavanaugh showed she “knew what it was like to live in a household with drinking, but that I also knew what it was like to see someone find redemption.”

Klobuchar’s father, Jim, was a prominent columnist to the Minneapolis Star Tribune and has been public about his fight with alcoholism. Klobuchar said Monday that her father has been sober for years.

“He continues to go to AA and is still friends with his AA group at age 90. True story,” she said. “And so I was literally able to see him climb to the highest mountains. He’s an adventurer, and really sink to the lowest valleys because of his alcoholism.”

Klobuchar said she and her father were “very close” and that his struggle taught her “was that I want to have other people have that kind of redemption in their lives.”

10:40 p.m. ET, February 18, 2019

Klobuchar says Green New Deal is important to have, but 'there's going to be compromises'

Sen. Amy Klobuchar outlined a more middle ground position than some of her progressive counterparts on the Green New Deal, saying that the policy is "important to have" because of the "big ideas" it presents, in reality, "there's going to be compromises."

Here's how she phrased it:

It's very important to have, and you do that by launching big, by big ideas. And the actual legislation you do, we know there's going to be compromises. It's not going to be exactly like that, and we know we're going to have to look out for different areas of the country and how we proceed and be smart about it for the middle class and for people that are more vulnerable. We want to make this work for everyone. But we have to start the debate. 

10:37 p.m. ET, February 18, 2019

Klobuchar was asked about reports she mistreated her staff. Here's how she responded.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar confronted a series of reports that she created a hostile work environment on Monday by telling voters in New Hampshire that while she did set high expectations for her staff, she did so because she demanded the same out of herself.

“Am I a tough boss sometimes? Yes. Have I pushed people too hard? Yes,” she said in response to a question from a New Hampshire voter.

“But I have kept expectations for myself that are very high," she continued. "I’ve asked my staff to meet those same expectations, and the big point for me is, I want the country to meet high expectations because we don’t have that going now.”

Although Klobuchar has answered questions about her management before, it was noteworthy that a voter here in the Granite State asked the question.

And on Monday, the Minnesota Senator added a layer to the answer by calling out current and former staffers – some by name – who had worked for her for years or gone on to bigger jobs.

“That’s how we passed so many bills, because of the fine work of our staff."

10:33 p.m. ET, February 18, 2019

Klobuchar says Trump's national emergency is "unconstitutional"

Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar was just asked at CNN's town hall about President Trump declaring a national emergency to secure funding for his long-promised border wall.

She did not hold back.

"First of all, I believe this is unconstitutional, what he is doing. Okay? It is wrong," Klobuchar said.

She went on to describe what she believes is a national emergency.

"Well, last time I checked, emergencies are things like the wildfires in Colorado. They're things like Hurricane Sandy. They're things like what we just saw happen in Florida. So this is unprecedented for him to declare something like that an emergency," Klobuchar said.

The Minnesota Democrat said that if she were president, she "would exercise those powers very carefully."

"I think you have to be very careful about how you do that. But you have emergencies that come up in this country all the time. You know that. And you have to be able to respond, to respond quickly, but to respond thoughtfully. And I believe in respecting the constitution of the United States of America," Klobuchar said.

10:22 p.m. ET, February 18, 2019

Klobuchar says she'll reenter US into Paris climate agreement on day one of her presidency

Sen. Amy Klobuchar told a New Hampshire college student who asked if climate change policy would be a priority in her administration that she would, on day one, re-enter the US into the Paris climate agreement and move to enact the clean power rules that the Obama administration had supported before President Trump halted their momentum.

"This isn't just something that's theoretical -- that's happening in the future," she said while describing some of the wildfire escape videos that made our palms sweat last fall. "It's happening right now."

Climate change, she said, is "an urgent cause."