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In debate debut, Klobuchar avoids head-on clashes with rivals

Sen. Amy Klobuchar
REUTERS/Mike Segar
During the night, Sen. Amy Klobuchar didn’t find a foil or anyone to contrast her policy positions.

There was a moment, during the debate yesterday, when Sen. Amy Klobuchar pointed out that someone on the stage was being flippant.

“I am the only candidate here who has passed a law protecting a woman’s right of reproductive health in health insurance,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said, inviting very obvious criticism.

Klobuchar obliged. “I just want to say, there’s three women up here that have fought pretty hard for a woman’s right to choose. I’ll start with that.”

But beyond this, Klobuchar was notably absent from the night’s more heated exchanges. And it’s not that Klobuchar didn’t have time to speak. She was able to speak 8.5 minutes in total, more than Tim Ryan (D-OH), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), John Delaney, New York Mayor Bill De Blasio, and Washington Governor Jay Inslee. It’s that during the night, she didn’t find a foil or anyone to contrast her policy positions.

The format was conducive to interactions between the candidates. When former Rep. Beto O’Rourke said people need to be able to choose between private insurance and a public option, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio immediately jumped in: “Wait, wait, wait. Congressman O’Rourke, Congressman O’Rourke, private insurance is not working for tens of millions of Americans.”

When the two Texans onstage spoke about immigration, Julián Castro was able to shine a light on O’Rourke’s refusal to delve into the specifics of how border crossings are criminalized. After the debate, Casto told reporters: “I find it very ironic that a senator from Massachusetts and a senator from New Jersey are the ones who understand this border policy and this law better than Congressman O’Rourke.”

And when Rep. Ryan began to talk about the necessity of having the U.S. military “engaged” with the Taliban, his colleague, Rep. Gabbard, a veteran, took considerable time to disagree and do so from personal experience: “As a soldier, I will tell you, that answer is unacceptable.”

When Klobuchar did elaborate on her positions, her wonkiness was evident, but it felt more conducive to a town hall format. She had time to toss out anecdotes and policy knowledge, calling back to her “Uncle Dick and his deer stand” and pointing out that gun buybacks are not confiscation. She clearly knows her platform and what she’s fought for.

But if her goal was to show how her policy stances contrast with specific candidates, that was unclear.

When all of the candidates were asked to raise their hand to show who is in favor of eliminating private insurance, only de Blasio and Sen. Elizabeth Warren raised their hands. But that left eight other candidates looking similar to Klobuchar on health care.

In many ways, it seemed as if Klobuchar had the same strategy as Warren, who also didn’t take time to directly push back on anyone. But Warren was the frontrunner on the stage (by a longshot for some).

Klobuchar made a veiled attack on Warren’s free college for all plan, saying “So I do get concerned about paying for college for rich kids,” but she never challenged Warren specifically — and that attack might have made more sense for Sen. Bernie Sanders and his student loan cancellation plan, which isn’t means-tested like Warren’s. But he wasn’t on the stage.

Similarly, she said: “I am just simply concerned about kicking half of America off of their health insurance in four years, which is exactly what this bill says,” responding to Sanders’ Medicare-for-All bill, which several candidates on stage have endorsed, but not responding to any candidate in particular.

Without naming him, at most, it seemed like Klobuchar disagreed most with Sanders. But fate (or more likely randomized selection), did not place him on the debate stage.

Klobuchar mostly made it clear that she was different from President Donald Trump — which certainly all of the candidates are. Instead of someone on the stage, her sparring partner was at times was the specter of the president, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, or the pharmaceutical industry. “I don’t think we should conduct… foreign policy in our bathrobe at 5:00 in the morning, which is what he does,” she said of the President.

After briefly pushing back on Medicare-for-All, she invoked the president, rather than debate the merits of the bill with anyone else on the stage.

“The president literally went on TV, on Fox, and said that people’s heads would spin when they see how much he would bring down pharmaceutical prices. Instead, 2,500 drugs have gone up in double-digits since he came into office. Instead, he gave $100 billion in giveaways to the pharma companies. For the rest of us, for the rest of America, that’s what we call at home all foam and no beer. We got nothing out of it,” she said.

“And so my proposal is to do something about pharma, to take them on, to allow negotiation under Medicare, to bring in less expensive drugs from other countries. And pharma thinks they own Washington? Well, they don’t own me.”

She also briefly had time to talk about one of her signature issues, pushing McConnell to do something about election interference. But she barely had time to speak before being cut off. In many ways, the moderators only let candidates continue if some sort of debate followed, which was unkind to Klobuchar attempting to bring up her accomplishments and legislative priorities. And it seemed likely on the stage that no one disagreed with her on election security.

But because of this, when Klobuchar ended the night, it was unclear who she was criticizing. If you’ve never heard of Amy Klobuchar until this night, what exactly would set her apart from the rest of the candidates on the stage in terms of her policy platform?

What’s at stake for Klobuchar is the ability to generate enough traction, and in turn contributions, to qualify for the next debate; the ability to climb in the polls, and the ability to perform well when the first caucus comes around.

For her part, Klobuchar seemed upbeat about her performance.

“How do you think it went tonight, in terms of standing out from your opponents?” CNN Anchor Anderson Cooper asked her after the debate.

“I thought it was great,” Klobuchar said. “I made a lot of points about Donald Trump.”

Comments (34)

  1. Submitted by John Watson on 06/27/2019 - 11:20 am.

    I was hoping for more from Amy. she did not hurt herself, nor did she do anything that would bring new supporters and stand out. Her low preference puts her at great risk of elimination from next debate and being a viable candidate

  2. Submitted by Carl Brookins on 06/27/2019 - 11:32 am.

    Senator Klobuchar displayed her essential goodness and steady demeanor, exactly what’s needed in the White House. (as we can all see from the current turmoil) Unfortunately I’m not sure her steadiness will attract enough voters because media wants flash so she’s not getting the level of accolades some of the other candidates are receiving. Actually I thought all three women came off as more trustworthy than any of the men.

  3. Submitted by Alan Muller on 06/27/2019 - 12:00 pm.

    Except maybe from a Favorite Daughter point of view, Klobuchar is just not a very interesting candidate. Pretty much a standard-model “corporate democrat.”

    • Submitted by Ivy Chang on 06/28/2019 - 01:51 pm.

      I agree, the public does not want someone who goes with the flow. She doesn’t attract attention as someone who has better ideas.

  4. Submitted by Tim Smith on 06/27/2019 - 12:02 pm.

    I admit I didn’t watch a whole lot of the “debate”, but she stood out compared to the tax, regulate and spend everything crowd.

  5. Submitted by JoAnn Meyer on 06/27/2019 - 12:27 pm.

    Do any Democrats understand that Wall Street investments fund many govt. as well as private companies retirement programs for the working class? Do they not realize that many middle class seniors rely on a few good stocks to add to their Social Security?

  6. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 06/27/2019 - 12:39 pm.

    Based on what I saw, Warren was most Presidential, definitely strong and focused enough to deal with Trump. If she rather thsn Hillary had been the candidate, when Trump pulled his shark attack stalling routine, Warren would had turned around, given him the evil eye, and he would have slinked back to the corner. Let him try it with Warren in 2020.

    Klobuchar understands that it is rude to interrupt. She effectively showed what she had to offer. Pretty obviously in terms of her skill base, she knows how to work well with colleagues, which makes her very well suited to be VP and dealing with the big egos of the Senate. If Warren is the choice, she would be a good fit if the country were ready for an all female ticket – which it is probably not give the patriarchal views so many hold.

  7. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 06/27/2019 - 12:56 pm.

    It would seem the field narrowing will lead to Warren and Biden: BIG structural change vs. the safest bet to move on from Trump. And unless Trump really gets in trouble allowing any of the 20 to be viable, I am betting on Biden / Harris ticket as the eventual outcome.

    A funny aside is Trump’s “Sleepy Joe Biden” nickname. That is all many are hoping for: a nice normal President, not the center of attention everyday, not sticking his finger in everyone’s eye at every opportunity, tweet free, polite, regular politician honest, a little humble and a modest politician class ego. Sounds like Joe Biden.

    Never has the bar been so low for incoming Presidential expectations: just get us beyond Trumpian madness.

    • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 06/27/2019 - 01:48 pm.

      The only problem is, it’s not Trumpian madness, it’s Republican party madness, and the chief step Biden has taken to distinguish himself from his fellow candidates is to promise that he will not seek to get beyond that madness.

      • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 06/27/2019 - 08:27 pm.

        Well, the only folks likely happier to see Trump heading down the road than rank and file Ds are the Rs in congress. When asked their opinion before they needed to suck up to him they expressed:

        Lindsey Graham
        “race-baiting xenophobic bigot”

        Ted Cruz:
        “Whatever lie he’s telling, at that minute he believes it … the man is utterly amoral,”

        “Donald is a bully … bullies don’t come from strength they come from weakness.”

        Marco Rubio:
        “Here’s the guy that inherited $200 million. If he hadn’t inherited $200 million, you know where Donald Trump would be right now? Selling watches in Manhattan,”

        And ridiculing the idea of needing try to get something done cooperatively?

        In the last 50 years the Ds have had a 60 vote Senate majority for 6 months in late 2009. I am all for an all out effort to replicate that; but, history shows we better be prepared to find some kind of functional majority.

  8. Submitted by Tom Crain on 06/27/2019 - 01:16 pm.

    If you’ve never heard of Amy Klobuchar until this night, what exactly would set her apart from the rest of the candidates on the stage in terms of her policy platform?

    Not a thing. Same positions as Delaney or the congressman from OH. Straight up centrist Dem with a heaping dose of folksy wisdom from her Uncle Dick, the deer hunter.

  9. Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 06/27/2019 - 01:45 pm.

    The word which describes Amy’s presidential aspirations is “Bland”. Concentrate on your Senate duties Amy you are effective in that position.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/27/2019 - 02:59 pm.

    Well, now she’s being dishonest- no MFA proposal requires half of American’s go without any kind of insurance for any length of time, much less 4 years. If she’s going start floating falsehoods she’s really sinking herself.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/28/2019 - 01:36 pm.

      No she isn’t, because that’s not what she said or meant. People will lose their private insurance, not be uninsured altogether.

      • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 06/29/2019 - 04:59 pm.

        I’m simply concerned about kicking half of America off their health insurance in four years, which is what this bill says,” she said. – Her words.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/02/2019 - 08:20 am.

        No. MFA provide universal irrevocable health insurance. Everyone transfers from private insurance to MFA, no one is left without insurance for any period of time, much less 4 years.

  11. Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/27/2019 - 03:41 pm.

    I thought Warren was the best candidate last night, with maybe Castro second. Amy in the middle somewhere.

    • Submitted by Ken Tschumper on 06/27/2019 - 08:00 pm.

      There was a moment, during the debate yesterday, when Sen. Amy Klobuchar pointed out that someone on the stage was being flippant.

      “I am the only candidate here who has passed a law protecting a woman’s right of reproductive health in health insurance,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said, inviting very obvious criticism.

      Klobuchar obliged. “I just want to say, there’s three women up here that have fought pretty hard for a woman’s right to choose. I’ll start with that.

      I think this was the most inaccurate characterization by an immature journalist I have seen for a long time. Inslee made the point that as a Governor, in the capacity as an executive, he as acted proactively to protect access to safe and legal abortion, not just defensively by vetoing antiabortion legislation as many Democratic governors have done. Klobuchar was the flippant one. She obviously didn’t listen closely to Inslee. There is nothing that she has passed as a senator to expand abortion access as Inslee has done.

      If you are going to write an opinion piece Schnieder, label it that way.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/28/2019 - 12:38 pm.

        She was also wrong about 3 women, since Gabbard (who is really a Republican but lives in one-party Hawaii) was extremely anti-choice until recently.

        • Submitted by Solly Johnson on 07/01/2019 - 12:04 am.

          Gabbard, a military veteran who served two tours in foreign wars, is the only one who has taken a strong stance against regime change wars and economic sanctions. Most of the others on that stage have supported Trump’s interventionist foreign policies.

  12. Submitted by Jeffrey Kolnick on 06/27/2019 - 05:38 pm.

    Senator Klobuchar will need to work on making a better appeal to voters of color. I am sure there are many Minnesotans who can help her craft a better message and I know they will help her stay on task solving problems that are specific to people of color and cannot be solved by helping everyone.

  13. Submitted by Kamille Cheese on 06/27/2019 - 06:04 pm.

    I wasn’t too impressed by any of these candidates, kind of “ho-hum”. I’ll be watching tonight.

  14. Submitted by Michael Ofjord on 06/27/2019 - 09:02 pm.

    Am I the only one who finds Warren a good candidate but on the self-righteous, preachy side?

  15. Submitted by Jim Spensley on 06/28/2019 - 09:16 am.

    I wonder, from lack of acknowledgement of documentation submitted to her office and campaign, how important climate change reversal would be in a Klobuchar West Wing. In particular, how she can vote for GHG exemptions for DOT and FAA and not criticize the President for diverting the formal EPA/FAA Finding (2015) that (increasingly) GHG emissions from commercial aviation operations (now greater per average flight and airport.operation than then) are a public health threat.

  16. Submitted by Eric Snyder on 06/28/2019 - 12:13 pm.


    “I am just simply concerned about kicking half of America off of their health insurance in four years, which is exactly what this bill says…”

    Has it possibly occurred to the senator that this is exactly what a great many people would welcome?

    How many people, if they were to achieve a level of knowledge about alternatives, would still want to retain these features of the American health insurance system?:

    -large and exploitive deductibles—or any deductible at all
    -high premiums that still allow insurance companies to scam their customers for 20% of bills
    -poor quality health insurance plans (which constitute the great majority) that are designed to maximize profits and minimize the consumer’s financial security
    -being socked with financially crippling bills even with insurance
    -paying into a health insurance system that awards riches to executives who haven’t earned it, and which then enables them to corrupt democratic decision making

    All of these could be eliminated and at lower cost under a reformed system.

    American health care insurance is highly inefficient and dysfunctional for most people, and has necessitated a high degree of rationing. It’s replete with perverse incentives. Internationally it’s viewed as a system to avoid. The harms it causes the public have been well documented for years.

    And yet here we have Klobuchar offering a pseudo-argument against change.

    Her brand of stay-the-course centrism is not is not what’s needed at this historical moment. Her approach is not an indication of cautious circumspection or the marginal ameliorations realistically available within the supposed politically possible. Rather, it has the smell of careerism and a rigid ideological adherence to ideas that have been shown not to work particularly well.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/28/2019 - 12:41 pm.

      I think she just recognizes that MFA is hugely unpopular.

      • Submitted by Eric Snyder on 06/28/2019 - 12:56 pm.

        If one judges public understanding of MFA based on social media comments, then the strong conclusion seems to be that the public doesn’t understand it, nor is it seemingly able to view our current system with any critical distance.

        You could readily imagine public polling that asked Americans about the details of how health insurance systems work on other countries and it’d be surprising if more than a few percent had any accurate knowledge.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/28/2019 - 01:44 pm.

          But if you judge it on polling or in actual voting (i.e. Colorado a few years ago, Vermont where it was tried and abandoned) its extremely unpopular. People say they like it until the follow-up questions (losing private insurance, raising taxes) are asked.

          Its a moot point anyway – there is no way a program that mandates public coverage would ever get past the Supreme Court. All the candidates know this (except maybe Sanders – now there is a guy with zero idea how health insurance works in other countries). The fixation on MFA as the only solution is nuts.

          • Submitted by Eric Snyder on 06/28/2019 - 02:16 pm.

            The point I was suggesting was that public polling on this issue should be held at arm’s length due to the fact that public doesn’t understand the issues. It’s the responsibility of the media and politicians to educate the public about this issue in order to avoid misinformation.

            Case in point: You noted that taxes would be raised. However, every study I’ve seen on MFA also notes that overall costs for individuals would go down. “It would raise your taxes” is a piece of propaganda when not also accompanied by the fact that you’re saving money.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/02/2019 - 08:26 am.

        A majority of American’s support a transition to MFA. Sure, when neoliberals and centrist roll out their anti-MFA propaganda that puts a dent in some responses, but that comes out in the wash when we look at the reality of proposal and it actually works. Klobuchar apposes it because she’s a centrist neoliberal who simply can’t imagine it working… the problem however is her imagination, not the proposal.

      • Submitted by Tom Crain on 07/03/2019 - 07:58 am.

        If Klobuchar thinks MFA is hugely unpopular, that may explain why her support is stuck at 2%. Polling has shown majorities support MFA, even if there is confusion about the details.

  17. Submitted by Henry Johnson on 06/28/2019 - 09:33 pm.

    I think in part due to the influence of the attacking, bombastic style of president Trump, politics, has now degenerated further into mostly a street fight.

    People like Amy who want to calmly and logically lay out positions and proposals and seek consensus, are totally out of place, and for the most part, ignored.

    As the writer pointed out, the debate moderators seemed to be most interested in getting the contestants in this little game show to “mix it up”.

    The big moment from the 2nd debate from the standpoint of this being nothing but a bar brawl was Kamala Harris and her tomahawk job on Joe Biden, over an issue probably most Americans have little interest in, namely school busing.

    In fact, polls show most Americans, including blacks, are not generally big fans of forced busing of school kids, and surely with a treasonous, corrupt president in the white house, and all the other big national problems we face, busing is not a big issue on the minds of most people these days.

    Yet that was the “highlight” of the evening, and was the big thing focused on most today in the news cycle.

    She came out of nowwhere and smacked him around on national TV, which had to hurt for a guy who for much of his political life did fight for civil rights, regardless of how you feel about his lack of support for busing.

    The focus was NOT on the merits of the various policy proposals of the candidates, as I think it should have been, it was on how one of the candidates got in a wicked punch in on another candidate.

    Overall, I’d say the big winner of the debates was Donald Trump.

    Many of the proposals of the ultra-left leaning candidates will provide great attack ad material for republicans, and the field overall did not impressive all that much.

    Biden looked a bit out of it, stumbled over his words numerous times, and IMO is a bit too old for such a stressful job. He should have run in 2016 I think.

    Bernie also faces an age problem and worse, came across as a bit out of control, like an angry, ranting semi-crazed grandpa.

    Beto clearly is NOT a street-fighter, way too nice for today’s street brawl politics.

    Amy, is unfortunately not ultra-liberal enough for the far-left push that seems to have taken over the party to win the nomination – though I think she’d beat Trump pretty handily in the general election.

    But few in the democratic party seem to care about that apparently, it’s just “I’m more liberal than you!”, “No you’re not! I’ll see your policy and raise you one”.

    Harris has it together, and is able to use her experience as a prosecutor to calmly dismember opponents in this street-fight politics we have.

    But like Warren, Sanders and some others, her advocating campaign-killing issues like reparations, writing off all student loans, free healthcare for illegal immigrants, medicare-for-all immediately and so on, means I’m doubtful she can win the general election.

    She has a lot more charisma and charm than Warren or Sanders, but it seems that she, Warren and Sanders are just determined to allow an unpopular president a good chance to win, by advocating hard for proposals that are guaranteed to alienate and worry and disenchant a large part of the big block of centrist, undecided voters and blue-collar democrats who decide major elections.

    The undecided folks and blue-collar democrats who got Reagan elected, and who got Trump elected.

    I can’t see democrats winning Missouri, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and the other swing states, with democrats campaigning for reparations, healthcare for illlegals, student loan write-offs, etc.

    The republicans are going to hammer them with those in attack ad after attack ad, and probably very, very effectively.

    So, though I hate the thought, unless something changes, I’m trying to steel myself for the possibility of four more years of the corrupt orange clown in the white house.

    I hope that can be avoided, but with his big war-chest of campaign funds, a totally united repo party, and many democratic candidates determined to ignore, alienate and disenchant moderate and centrist voters, acting as if they don’t even matter – things look pretty dicey for getting rid of him at this point.

    For sure Trump will be going after those undecided, centrist voters, the ones that many leading democratic candidates act like they could care less about earning votes from, based on their policy proposals, and their seeming lack of concern about how those proposals will be received in the swing states.

  18. Submitted by Carl Brookins on 06/30/2019 - 02:47 pm.

    Both in the “debate” on Wednesday last and Sunday on Face the Nation, Klobuchar showed all the attributes the nation needs in a president. She was accurate, calm, thoughtful and she answered the questions with firmness and care. She didn’t find it necessary to gratuitously bad-mouth her opponents and she didn’t subscribe to some of the outlandish and even offensive proposals of some of her democratic rivals. Her thoughtfulness came through. Unfortunately in this atmosphere of 1920’s bare -knuckle style politics, she may seem too careful to progressive American voters. I’d love to see her on the debate stage one on one with Trump, however.

  19. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/03/2019 - 08:42 am.

    Regarding Klobuchar’s most memorable comment of the evening, which seems to be her retort that there were three women who’d been fighting for abortion rights on the stage…

    Given the fact that Roe is in it’s most precarious state since being decided, and given the fact that women’s abortion rights are more restricted now than at any time since Roe was decided… How does someone like Klobuchar who claims to have been defending abortion rights; avoid taking responsibility for the collapse of abortion rights? With champions like this what kind of enemies do women need?

    There are now States in this country where women can be arrested and charged with crimes if they have miscarriages. Women’s abortion rights and sovereignty over their own bodies are in many ways MORE diminished now than they were before Roe.

    The “champions” of abortion rights are clearly failing somewhat spectacularly at this point… when Klobuchar claims to be one of those champions, how does she avoid accepting responsibility for the current circumstances? And I hate to say it but if SCOTUS and Republican legislators decide that American women are second class citizens, relegated to the status of walking incubators; that will NOT be a high water mark for women’s rights or feminism in general. We’re actually closer to that reality now than at any other time in our nation’s history. Never ever before in our history have fertilized eggs in women’s wombs been classified as people- this is a whole-new ballgame.

    This is a problem centrist candidates like Klobuchar and HRC have with more radical feminists who recognize the danger they’re in. When they take credit for defending women’s rights and abortion rights…. what exactly are they taking credit for?

    I don’t see how this is actually a strength for Klobuchar.

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