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D.C. Memo: The five-hour town hall

screen shot of sen. amy klobuchar participating in town hall
CNN
Sen. Amy Klobuchar kicked off CNN’s presidential town hall on Monday.

The D.C. Memo is a weekly recap of Washington political news, journalism, and opinion, delivered with an eye toward what matters for Minnesota. Sign up to get it in your inbox every Thursday.

Welcome to this week’s edition of the D.C. Memo. This week in Washington: an eye on 2020, a five hour town hall on cable news, and some of the delegation weighs in on impeachment. So let’s get on with it.

Minnesota’s District #1 is Democrats’ #1 target in Minnesota

After five years of running, Rep. Jim Hagedorn, MN-1, finally won a seat in Congress in 2018. But that win came with a caveat: he won with the smallest margin in Minnesota and one of the smallest margins in 2018: .4 percent or 1,311 votes.

Considering Hagedorn’s association with President Trump’s tariffs and razor thin election margin in 2018, it’s not hard to see why Hagedorn is the only member currently being targeted by House Democrats in 2020. Read more here…

The five-hour town hall

On Monday, CNN hosted a five hour “Hunger Games”-style town hall, with several 2020 candidates taking on an hour of questions each. The event kicked off with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who reiterated her positions of moderation in the face of a 2020 field that has shifted to the left. You can read the full transcript here, but here are some highlights:

Free community college

Klobuchar reiterated her position on free college and the possibility of debt cancellation (essentially: no), instead advocating for free two year community college: “I wish I could staple a free college diploma under every one of your chairs. I do. Don’t look. It’s not there,” she said. Instead, Klobuchar advocated for free community college, the expansion of Federal Pell Grants, and refinancing student loan interest rates.

Bring back the public option

Again distancing herself from the field, Klobuchar also doesn’t support Medicare for All, instead backing the creation of a public option (or publicly run healthcare plan), as well as a reduction in cost for pharmaceuticals.

Is pizza a vegetable?

Klobuchar apologized for her prior position that frozen pizza would count as a vegetable , after being prompted by Harvard student Thomas Satterthwaite. “Ok that’s a big question,” she said. The student was referring to a letter Klobuchar sent to the Department of Agriculture about the National School Lunch Program, expressing concern that tomato sauce used on pizza and some salsa products would no longer be “factored into the weekly requirements for vegetables.”

You can watch her response here.

Klobuchar’s record as a prosecutor

When she had the chance to address it, Klobuchar took the time to note that when she was a prosecutor in Hennepin County, she made several innovations: working to change the way witness ID worked, as well as emphasize diversionary programs. Something else to note, though, is when Klobuchar said: “We actually did see African American incarceration — prison incarceration go down by 13 percent.” What she left out, according to Jasmine Heiss at the Vera Institute, was that “African American prison admission rates were still 22 times higher than white prison admission rates in 2006,” the time that she left office. You can read about this, and more, in the this piece from Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler: “Klobuchar cites bad data to claim credit for reducing black incarceration.”


What wasn’t asked?

One question for Sen. Klobuchar that didn’t come up: Does she support letting people that are currently incarcerated vote? The conversation was brought into the 2020 field by Sen. Bernie Sanders, who voiced support for the idea. Mayor Pete Buttegieg flatly shot down the idea during the town hall. Earlier in the night, when Klobuchar spoke, she said “There is racism in our criminal justice system and we must pledge to fix it.” While she has in the past advocated that people that were formerly incarcerated should have their voting rights restored, she has yet to be prompted on the question of people that are currently incarcerated.

It’s worth putting those two ideas together, not just for Sen. Klobuchar, but the entire 2020 field: If they believe that the criminal justice system is racist and has put people in prison for the wrong reasons, but don’t believe those people should vote, how do they reconcile these two ideas? MinnPost reached out to the Klobuchar campaign press team for a statement and did not receive a response.

Where the delegation stands on impeachment proceedings

Following the publication of the 400+ page Mueller Report, Democrats (against the urging of House leadership) are again pushing for impeachment proceedings. Several Democrats have tried to initiate impeachment proceedings over the last few years, for a variety of reasons, from the President’s response to white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA to his business dealings both domestically and abroad. Both Attorney General Keith Ellison and Governor Tim Walz called for impeachment proceedings while they were still members of the U.S. House.


As of now, no House Republicans have called for impeachment, but here’s what Democrats in the delegation are saying:

Yes

  • Rep. Ilhan Omar: “Impeachment is part of our constitutional responsibility. We have an obligation to investigate whether the President committed impeachable offenses.” – Twitter, April. 18
  • Rep. Betty McCollum: “The evidence against President Trump is overwhelming and building daily.” – Press Release, Jan. 29. McCollum’s call for impeachment was related to the president’s violation of the emoluments clause, which prohibits federal officeholders from receiving gifts or payment from a foreign state, but you can read her statement on the Mueller report here.

Need more information

  • Rep. Dean Phillips: “I think we have more to learn. So I think at this point, it’s no, not yet. There is more to learn, the report is deeply troubling.” – WCCO, Apr. 21
  • Rep. Angie Craig: “I believe the next step is for Congress to request the unredacted version of the report, for the committee chairmen to call a number of folks forward and for those folks to fill in the facts for the American people.” – New York Times, Apr. 24
  • Sen. Tina Smith:As the report outlines, Congress now has a role to play, and there are many questions we need to have answered. We need hearings with both the Attorney General and Robert Mueller.” – Facebook, Apr. 18

Other

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar: “I believe that I am the jury here, so I’m not going to predispose things,” Klobuchar said at the CNN Town Hall, suggesting that because the Senate ultimately passes judgement on impeachment, it would be inappropriate to comment. (It’s worth noting that her colleague on the Senate and in the 2020 field, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, has called for impeachment proceedings.) Klobuchar did, however, say she saw in the Mueller Report “disturbing things that would lead you to believe there’s obstruction of justice.”

Writing Ilhan Omar’s story

Finally, MPR’s Briana Bierschbach wrote an extensive profile of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s rise and eventual seat in the House. Yesterday, the profile was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered. The profile ends on this note from Rep. Omar: “No matter what you do, your story will be written. The best that you can do for yourself and those around you is make sure that you are living the story that you want to be written about you.”

What else

  • Former Minnesota Sixth Congressman Mark Kennedy was the sole finalist selected for the position of president of the University of Colorado. “I’m just disappointed the university did not select a leader with a better record on civil rights,” said Mardi Moore, executive director of LGBTQ advocacy organization Out Boulder County.
  • The Supreme Court looks ready to decide in favor of allowing a question about citizenship on the next census, potentially driving down the response rate.
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden is running for President, likely on a platform of moderation (and infrastructure). As of now, it’s unclear how his platform will differ from that of Sen. Klobuchar, who has already offered a vision of moderation, appeal to “heartland voters,” and an infrastructure plan.

Quote of the week

“No, I didn’t think that frozen pizza with tomato sauce on it, I do not believe should be counted as a vegetable.” – Sen. Amy Klobuchar, CNN Town Hall

What I’m reading

MinnPost: How Minnesota’s switch to a presidential primary might impact the 2020 election

Minnesota is switching from a caucus state to a state-administered presidential primary. How is that going to look when the 2020 presidential primaries come around?

Vox: Joe Biden’s long record supporting the war on drugs and mass incarceration, explained

Joe Biden’s long history in office has left him with a clear record on how he felt crime policy should look. What did that mean? Harsher sentencing for drug dealers, more prisons, and a “tough on crime” policy record.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for sticking around. Until next week, feel free to send tips, suggestions, and sound advice to: gschneider@minnpost.com. Follow at @gabeschneider.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 04/26/2019 - 10:14 am.

    There is racism in our criminal justice system and we must pledge to fix it.

    The criminal justice isn’t fair, but not necessarily racist. The “fix” involves something no lawyer is willing to entertain: Remove financial incentives from the justice system.

    Black men are incarcerated at higher rates than white men mainly because they commit more crime per capita; there is simply no disputing the data. But white defendants sometimes are acquitted where blacks are convicted because they can afford a smooth talking lawyer where a black defendant cannot.

    Public defenders are so overburdened they often don’t have the time to do any lawyering. Most often, their job consists of brokering a deal between the accused and the prosecution to avoid going to trial. That’s not justice by anyone’s definition; but it’s not racism.

    I’m not sure what the solution is, but ideas that occur to me include:

    – Mandating, as part of their license to practice, that a lawyers yearly case load include a minimum of 25% pro bono clients.

    – Setting rates that include the public’s interest, as is done for other public utilities.

    Of course, it goes without saying, lowering their participation in criminal activity will go farthest in lowering the unfair treatment blacks receive from the justice system.

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