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A short list of positions for which Sen. Amy Klobuchar has been shortlisted

MinnPost photo by Brent Moore
Minnesota’s senior senator frequently finds herself a top pick on pundits’ fantasy politics teams.

The news of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death was hardly minutes old before breathless speculation started to surface about whom President Barack Obama might nominate to replace him.

Among the names floated by the pundits was one well-known to Minnesotans: Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

A sampling of recent coverage:

And those are just the headlines. CNN, USA Today, the Washington Post, and many others have included Klobuchar in their shortlists of potential Supreme Court nominees. Here’s Vox, summing up the conventional wisdom behind all the mentioning:

If you want to win over senators, why not pick one of their peers? And there’s no one on the Democratic side in the Senate better suited to the court than Minnesota’s senior senator. … She serves on the Judiciary Committee, meaning she’s worked for years with the people who’d be weighing her nomination.

This is hardly the first time that Klobuchar has been floated as a pick for the high court. When Obama was re-elected, Klobuchar was listed as a top contender for any vacancy that could occur in the president’s second term by SCOTUSblog. As far back as 2010, Klobuchar was mentioned as a candidate by that site.

But this is nothing new for Minnesota’s senior senator, who frequently finds herself a top pick on pundits’ fantasy politics teams. Consider the following:

President of the United States

Yep: Klobuchar’s name has been floated as a potential candidate — and occupant — of the highest office in the land. Speculation as to how Klobuchar could fit into the presidential picture was at its peak shortly after Obama was re-elected. Then, it was not yet totally clear if Hillary Clinton would run, so pundits looked to the Democratic bench:

  • “Klobuchar might be the most talented — and effective — politician most people have never heard of. … She wants to be part of the great-mentioned when it comes to 2016.” — The Washington Post, which placed her as the eighth top Democratic 2016 presidential prospect in July 2013
  • “Klobuchar is one of America’s most popular senators, and she’s cultivated a reputation as an indefatigable, impeccably bipartisan problem solver. … Who better to make the case for the liberal dream of universal child care than a temperamentally moderate Minnesotan? — Slate, who said Klobuchar was one of five Democrats who should challenge Clinton, March 2015

Between 2013 and 2015, Klobuchar visited Iowa a few times, and released a memoir. Taken together, they create a major red flag for political journalists:

  • “Klobuchar is heading back to Iowa. … The senator is rumored to be interested in a presidential run should Hillary Clinton surprise people and pass on a run this year.” — The Hill, September 2014
  • “No politician goes to Iowa by accident. … She is decidedly ambitious, and it’s not all that hard to imagine her, at some point down the line — 2020 or 2024 — inserting herself into the presidential/vice presidential conversation.” — The Washington Post, April 2015

Vice president of the United States

Klobuchar effectively dampened any speculation on this presidential cycle by enthusiastically backing Clinton and heading out on the stump for the former secretary of state. But that added fuel to a different kind of speculation: that she could potentially serve as a running-mate on the 2016 Democratic presidential ticket.

That chatter has, like most of this talk, become self-sustaining: appearing on CBS last August, Klobuchar was introduced as a “possible vice presidential candidate.” As Clinton’s tactics were increasingly picked apart, a Klobuchar selection was increasingly assessed as a potentially strategic play:

  • “Speculation has already begun as to whom Hillary Clinton might pick as a running mate. … The notion of two women on the ticket is getting a lot of discussion among Democrats, and both [New York Sen. Kristen] Gillibrand and Klobuchar are seen as strong contenders in that scenario.” — The Hill, May 2014
  • “Clinton would most likely go for Klobuchar if she wanted to be perceived as moderate and [Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth] Warren if she felt the need to shore up her liberal support.” — The Daily Dot, April 2015

Attorney general of the United States

This one might make the most sense: for eight years, Klobuchar was Hennepin County’s top lawyer, which gives her the skills and profile that would serve a U.S. attorney general well. As a sitting senator, she is also perceived to have an advantage here: AG nominees must be confirmed by the Senate, and it’s harder to credibly attack a colleague you have worked with.

At several different points, Klobuchar has been floated as a potential AG pick. Around Obama’s re-election, there was speculation as to whether he’d re-stock his cabinet, former Attorney General Eric Holder in particular:

  • “Obama could turn to one of two former prosecutors now in the Senate, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota or Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. Klobuchar was a popular county attorney.” – The Atlantic, November 2011

When Holder announced he was stepping down in 2015, Klobuchar was mentioned yet again.

  • “Taking the job at this time doesn’t look like a smart career move for any of the Senate trio meriting recent mention: Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. … Pressing one of them into service anyway would almost guarantee a successor to Eric H. Holder Jr. is confirmed without much fuss during the lame-duck session.” – Roll Call, October 2014
  • “Potential candidates include California Attorney General Kamala Harris, a longtime Obama ally, and at least three Democratic U.S. senators, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.” – Bloomberg News, September 2014

It all makes sense when you think about it: For the political media, which thrives on speculation, Klobuchar makes for a safe bet that sounds smart. She’s moderate, has a solid background in politics and law enforcement, is pretty good on the Sunday shows, and is very popular in the Capitol and in Minnesota.

Klobuchar has dutifully downplayed her interest in every position here — other than that of U.S. senator from the state of Minnesota.

When asked her thoughts on why she is mentioned so often, Klobuchar’s office declined to comment.

Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Bob Collins on 02/17/2016 - 09:22 am.

    SCOTUS blog never said it

    If you trace the entire Amy Klobuchar rumor, it always comes back to SCOTUSblog and the horrible use of passive voice by other reporters.

    It all comes back to a Tom Goldstein column.

    But here’s the thing, and also the thing where this article’s entire premise is wrong.

    SCOTUSblog — Goldstein — NEVER reported that Klobuchar was on a list, short or otherwise.

    It reported she wasn’t.

  2. Submitted by Jim Million on 02/17/2016 - 09:34 am.

    Thank You

    Likely the last individual we need to further elevate is a “process person.” That’s Amy, a staff person when we need more and better line executives.

    This is so Minnesotan.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 02/17/2016 - 10:15 am.

      What do you mean . . . .

      What do you mean by a “process person” and also by your implication that that is a bad thing?

      • Submitted by Jim Million on 02/17/2016 - 11:24 am.

        My View

        In organizational practice with have social leaders and task leaders. The task leaders are usually those who oversee the process of getting things done once the plans and objectives have been set by executive leadership.

        Certainly staffers who manage process are important to any bureaucratic organization; however, I believe we now have too much process and too little product. Congress has become too much about process, without clear and functional product. Most MinnPost readers, for example, currently seem quite vocal about pending SCOTUS process.

        Amy is reported to be a very good process person, not necessarily an executive line person. She is a staffer, a very good senior staffer in the Dem realm, to be sure. That’s her background in Hennepin County and later. I believe she belongs just where she is, at least for awhile longer. Given time, she might clean up much messy process issues. She seems a Type B personality, well-suited to working out details and improving relationships required to do so. I simply believe she is best suited for her current job.

        We also need product developers more than process managers now, I believe. For instance, I see Amy as perhaps an excellent functionary for SCOTUS, but not at the bench as Justice. Her background does not seem to validate such elevation. Others are far more suited for that.

        She apparently does a very good job where she now functions in the Senate…as a process facilitator.
        I believe she serves everyone best there, that’s all. Lord knows, and most mortals agree, Congressional process is widely dysfunctional these days.

        To me, Amy is a well-suited corporate VP of Dem operations, not so as line officer executive or CEO.

        • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 02/17/2016 - 02:10 pm.

          I would put it very differently.

          I would say that Sen Klobuchar is a very ambitious person; long ago commenced a strategy of rising to the top by sticking assiduously to the middle, avoiding controversy and cultivating a high likeability factor; and has been following that strategy with commendable discipline.

          Looking at the profound challenges that humanity must solve to keep civilization afloat and the narrowing window to solve those challenges, I believe that if you willingly assume the position of Senator, one of the most powerful positions in the most powerful nation in the world, you are taking on the obligation to exercise leadership, take on powerful interests blocking positive change and upset the guardians of conventional wisdom to try to make the imperative changes. So the ubiquitous “mentions” cited above suggest that Sen Klobuchar’s strategy is working well for her own goals, but at the sacrifice of the leadership that might be exerted by another who, but for her, might be sitting in the Senate.

          • Submitted by Jim Million on 02/17/2016 - 02:49 pm.

            Not Really

            I fear you read much that is not my thinking into this. Your tone is a bit misplaced, as well.

            Based on her Hennepin County Attorney’s Office origins and comments by staffers published then, she is more the organizer than the doer, if you will. Certainly she has gained experiences that broaden those traits.

            We should all remember that in both Senate and House, some are tasked with legislation promotion while others take positions of legislative management. Again, Line and Staff functions.

            Senators are not equal in ability or interest. Some are promoters, salesmen; others are good process administrators; and, fewer are executive leaders. All are important to the function of the Senate, to the Government charter.

            Amy is a good manager.

            What’s wrong with being a good manager?

            • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 02/18/2016 - 08:20 am.

              As to your first paragraph,

              I’m not seeking to recharacterize your thinking; I’m offering my own. I don’t understand what you mean about tone. I will say that I am, shall we say, irritated by the efficiency with which the establishment media convert all matters of politics into passive spectating. With Sen Klobuchar, we are all supposed to bask vicariously in the fact that our hometown gal is spoken of in the national media. I don’t recall ever seeing any serious writing about the Senator’s views on the critical matters that confront us (except that we should “reach across the aisle”) or actual record of leadership. I’m sure you as well receive emails from the Senator about Minnesota photo contests and hotdish recipes. That’s not what I’m interested in from my Senator.

              I’ll demur from a dialogue on your distinction between organizers and doers, because I’m likely to not understand you precisely, and vice versa. I will venture that Senators have myriad staff to “organize” and provide constituent service. In my view every Senator should be chosen as someone gifted in judging how our framework of laws and norms should evolve to move our society on the path toward our shared goals, looking beyond where constituents are to help them understand where we should go, rising above parochial and vested interests, and negotiating with other leaders of different perspective so that we can be effective in acting collectively as a society. (And yes, I understand how ridiculous that notion is if we compare it to our present reality.)

  3. Submitted by Roy Everson on 02/17/2016 - 11:26 am.

    The case for veep

    While being picked as HRC’s veep may seem unlikely and would be considered a shocker by the media, Sen. Amy makes sense.

    –One of HRC’s surprising weaknesses thus far is soft support among younger female voters.

    –As the first major party female nominee HRC would be dogged by charges that she followed the coattails of her husband. The senator has a clearer claim that she got where she is on her own.

    –HRC’s claim that she’s an “outsider” because she’s a woman is probably viewed skeptically even by her biggest fans. It’s a stronger position, however, if two “establishment” women are on the ticket.

    –The strategy worked for Bill. While almost all veep choices are made to balance a ticket, Bill Clinton chose another young Southern moderate liberal, Al Gore. The choice of the senator would mirror Clinton-Gore: another moderate progressive woman to complement the ticket. I recall that Bill and Al won two national elections with that formula.

    It’s hard to argue the “war on women” case by using the words “war on women.” And it’s risky to keep reminding voters how wonderful it would be to have a female president. With two women on the ticket voters might come to those conclusions by themselves.

  4. Submitted by David Frenkel on 02/17/2016 - 11:31 am.

    local gossip

    All this is local gossip by local media looking to make a story. The national press has the top picks being sitting judges on the DC appellate court. Also if you look at all the Supreme Court justices they have ties to the Ivy League as does the president.
    Klobuchar does not have the intellectual credentials to be on the Supreme Court regardless. Stop with the rumors and find a legitimate Supreme Court candidate.

    • Submitted by David Wintheiser on 02/17/2016 - 11:56 am.

      If you never look to change the status quo…

      …you never actually change it.

      This is something Justice Scalia actually pointed out in his dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges — the current Court is all Harvard or Yale law grads, almost all from the nations coasts, and none are religiously Evangelical or even Protestant.

      Just because all the current justices are Ivy League educated former judges doesn’t mean the best candidate will also be an Ivy League educated former judge. Many historical justices — including a couple who served into the 1950s — never even had a formal law degree.

      I don’t think we should dismiss any potential non-traditional candidate just because she (or he) doesn’t fit into the established mold of what we think a Supreme Court justice should be.

      • Submitted by Jim Million on 02/17/2016 - 03:00 pm.

        It ain’t our Fathers’ ’50s

        As our society becomes ever more legalistic and litigious, a firm background in adjudication somewhere in the Federal bench system seems the most qualified path to SCOTUS.

        Yes, one may find exception; but, who’s got the time (or patience) to sift sand for a possible gold nugget?

        Let’s not deflect the fact that SCOTUS is “Supreme.”

        • Submitted by David Wintheiser on 02/24/2016 - 02:12 pm.

          They could start by interviewing me!

          “Yes, one may find exception; but, who’s got the time (or patience) to sift sand for a possible gold nugget?”

          Sounds like a great job for the fourth estate! How about it, MinnPost?

  5. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 02/17/2016 - 09:38 pm.

    Much like an earlier commentor

    I was looking for an actual quote from an actual person, preferably someone in a top position with real information. Didn’t find one. Lots of mentions about previous mentions. It is actually scary to think that Senator Klobuchar is one of the top, say, five people in the whole United States best qualified to be our next Supreme Court Justice.

    As an aside and as a practical matter, what minority quota does she fill? Maybe when Justice Ginsberg dies the Court will need another “white woman” to fill a seat, but she would need to act even more liberal to get in the conversation given all the accolades given to her for being “moderate”.

  6. Submitted by Jim Million on 02/18/2016 - 10:11 pm.

    Just Wondering

    In recent years, rumors have also glided around and about Justice Ginsburg perhaps retiring, due either to age or health. The death of her very good friend and colleague, Justice Scalia, seems to make that more likely, at least in my nightly musings.

    Wouldn’t that announcement sometime this summer make our discussions/speculations most amazing?

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