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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Town Hall with Democratic Presidential Candidate Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). Aired 9-10p ET
Aired February 26, 2020 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BASH: Welcome back to a CNN town hall event from Charleston, South Carolina. I'm Dana Bash, live from the Memminger Auditorium.
Now, earlier tonight President Trump addressed the administration's response to the Coronavirus and discussed the latest on a shooting today at the Molson Coors Complex in Milwaukee.
Now, information is still coming in, but as of now authorities say there are multiple fatalities and the alleged shooter is also dead. We will continue to bring you updates throughout the evening as we learn more. And we will be discussing the Coronavirus as well as gun violence tonight with Democratic presidential hopefuls Senator Amy Klobuchar and Senator Elizabeth Warren.
In just three days, here in South Carolina, voters will put their stamp on the 2020 race in the first in the South primary. Many of those voters are here to ask the candidates questions before they head to the polls.
Now, please welcome to the stage Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.
KLOBUCHAR: Hi, Dana, how are you?
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.
BASH: So I'm going to ask you about what the president said earlier today about the Coronavirus, but first I want to bring in a voter to talk about that.
Caroline Schneider is a student at the College of Charleston, here, who is currently supporting Mayor Buttigieg. Caroline?
KLOBUCHAR: Hi, Caroline. I've been at the College of Charleston. So good to see you.
QUESTION: Thank you, Senator Klobuchar for being here tonight.
This year at the College of Charleston we've been dealing with an outbreak of mumps on campus, still receiving weekly updates on how many cases there have been and how it's been through the student body.
Between this and the spreading of the Coronavirus, what do you plan to do to prevent these kinds of diseases from spreading?
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. And thank you for putting that in the bigger context. And I think the first thing that we want to do here, whether it is people who are dealing with the mumps at your college or those around the world that have been sickened by the Coronavirus, is to thank those on the front line, the nurses, the doctors, the researchers and everyone that is working around the clock to get at these diseases.
Last night on the debate stage I was asked about this, and you know how candidates always like to give their website out, right? And I thought it was a moment to not just talk about why you want to be president but to show how you should act as a president. Because, until today, our president had not addressed the nation about this. And I thought that he should have.
So I actually gave out the CDC website, cdc.gov, and urged people to look at that website to find out what you should do to protect yourself and what you should do if you feel sick, whether it's from the mumps or any other disease.
And today, when the president addressed this, he did do it with the CDC, that I think that's important, because I believe in science. But I also think, as we look at diseases and how they spread, we have to think ahead. And a lot of this, when you look at the budgets and how he has handled this, he's tried to cut the CDC in the past. He has tried to cut the organization that works with the rest of the world when it comes to pandemics. And in fact, now, he, kind of, left it up in the air after asking for a billion dollars from Congress, about how much money, and said, "Well, I guess they'll decide that."
I know that the Democrats in the Senate, led by Senator Schumer, the place I work, have asked for something like $7 billion, $8 billion. And I think we have to be ready. And the number one thing is to listen to the doctors and call the doctors, but the other thing is to plan ahead.
And how I would do this as your president is, one, make sure we have adequate medical help and research, that we have invested in education, because the next vaccine or the next cure or the next way that we reduce the risk is probably right now in a college student at your college -- in their head -- or maybe it's in a nurse in Houston. And so investing in education, investing in medicine, is important, and then, of course, keeping the CDC strong.
To give you a sense of my investment in the -- in science, when we had a shutdown, a government shutdown once, caused by Ted Cruz, by the way, whole 'nother story...
... I actually gave my salary during that time to the NIH,
because I wanted to make clear that, when you mess around with the government like that or when you're like President Trump and you throw darts at people, you stop life-saving cures; you stop research. Or if you go after our allies, you make it harder to work with them when it comes to curing diseases.
BASH: So, Senator, what the president announced, one of the things he announced earlier, was that the vice president, Mike Pence, would lead the government-wide team to deal with the Coronavirus.
BASH: What do you -- what's your response?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I would think, usually, you might put a medical professional in charge...
... but I am...
... I would hope that the vice president will be working -- I'm sure he will be -- with the agency heads at Health and Human Services and at the CDC. And sometimes you elevate things by giving them to the vice president, but what I want to hear from, which so often we see, including in the first response from this administration when we put the 14 people who had been infected on that plane along with the people that weren't, off that cruise line, and brought them to our country, I think we want to make sure that everything is done in the right way. And that's the job of Congress, to perform oversight.
Let's get back to the audience. Donna Norvelle is a consultant and community volunteer from Mount Pleasant. She is currently undecided.
KLOBUCHAR: Hi, Donna.
QUESTION: Thank you for coming to Charleston. KLOBUCHAR: Sure.
QUESTION: Welcome back.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.
QUESTION: The last time I saw you, it was very hot outside here in -- at the college.
Senator, I am a domestic gun violence survivor. It was decades ago, and it's only recently that I've been able to talk about it. Tell us what you plan to do to make sure that only mentally healthy citizens in our country have access to guns.
KLOBUCHAR: Well, thank you.
And I'm so sorry that you went through that, and I'm so proud of you for coming forward and talking, because it takes...
... it takes a lot of courage to do that.
KLOBUCHAR: It's so easy to just try to put it behind you, but you're actually speaking out for other people, and I think you know that or you wouldn't have asked this question. So my answer is, first of all, when it comes to making sure guns are not in the hands of people that will misuse them and people who shouldn't have guns, is, first of all, universal background checks.
I had the experience, after Sandy Hook, to meet with parents that came to Washington to try to get the universal background check bill done. And that was the day that I had to tell them that we didn't have the votes in the Senate to pass them. And I remember this mom sobbing and saying to me, "You know, the last time that I saw my little boy, he pointed up to the picture of his school aide on the refrigerator and then he went off to school, and then I never saw him alive again."
And she told me that she had had the courage, which she did, to come to Washington to advocate for universal background checks, even though they wouldn't have saved her baby because of the circumstances of that case.
Well, why? Because those universal background checks actually saved the most lives when it comes to things like suicides and when it comes to domestic violence.
Another thing that you all know way too well in this town that would be very helpful would be to close the Charleston loophole. The victims...
(APPLAUSE) ... in honor of Reverend Pinckney and the other victims in that tragic, tragic case, giving police the time that they need to review, so, in a case where you have someone who may be mentally ill or may have something that shows up on their record, if the police doesn't have the time to review that, you're not going to be able to get through it.
Another bill that -- those two bills, by the way, are sitting on Mitch McConnell's desk, and as president, I would get them done.
The other thing I mentioned is something I mentioned last night, which is closing the boyfriend loophole, and what this says right now is that, in a number of states, if you are convicted of serious domestic abuse, that you can go out and actually still get a gun. And yet there's a huge correlation between domestic abuse convictions and later homicides.
So I have put that bill out there for a long, long time, and have not been able to get it through. We turned the people's House back into the people's House, thanks to you, South Carolina, and your election of Representative Cunningham, by the way.
That is democracy in action. And because of that, we finally got that through the House and that bill is now sitting on Mitch McConnell's desk.
So in light of what happened today in Milwaukee, the mass shooting that you saw here, the mass shootings we see all over the country, I still do not want us to forget the everyday gun violence, the -- the kids that get killed every single day in this country, the victims of domestic violence, the police officer in Minnesota whose funeral I attended, who showed up at at a domestic violence scene because a young woman had called and he had a bulletproof vest on, but the guy, who had severe mental illness problems, shot that officer in the head.
And when I was sitting in that church, I saw his widow go down the aisle with their three little kids, and the last time they had been in that church was for the nativity play, with their dad in the front row.
Domestic violence affects an individual victim, but it affects a whole community. And when we look at these gun violence laws, we have to respond to the mass shootings and the hate crimes, but we also have to make sure we're looking at solutions for everyday gun violence.
BASH: Thank you, Senator.
(APPLAUSE) I want to go to another undecided voter in the audience, Orlando Sutton, who's a retired district ranger with the U.S. Forest Service.
KLOBUCHAR: Very good. Hi.
KLOBUCHAR: Thanks for your work.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Good evening, Senator.
Why should black America vote for you? What are your goals to truly make inroads to the historical wrongs that are still occurring in society today, with economic opportunity, political appointments, affordable housing and policing?
KLOBUCHAR: OK, great question. Thank you.
I think, as you know, there is still racism in our society at every level. We know that when an African-American woman goes into a maternity ward in New Orleans and says that her hands are swollen and no one listens and she walks out without her baby, or the store security person who walks around following around someone -- I know this story from someone I know in Minnesota, in a store, just randomly profiling them and picking them out, or the fact that African-American poverty for kids is 30 percent. All of that is wrong.
So here's what I would do. First of all, I would make sure that people have the ability to vote, because to make all the changes that we have been talking about, all of the candidates you've heard have been talking about...
... you can't do it without the ability to vote. I'm going to be in North Carolina tomorrow night, and there a court actually said that their legislature, the bill they put forward, was discrimination with surgical precision against African-Americans. And it is everything from purging voting rolls, where if we had not had that kind of conduct, as well as other voting restrictions, Stacy Abrams would be governor of Georgia right now.
It is things like gerrymandering; it is things like making it hard for people to register to vote. I lead a number of those bills -- in fact, all the bills I just mentioned. And so, as president, I could actually get them done.
Secondly, it's an agenda of economic opportunity, and that means everything from working with Representative Clyburn on his major plan to invest in areas that have been perpetually impoverished, to making sure that we are investing in K-12 education. I'm the daughter of a second grade teacher, and my mom's looking down at me somewhere, so if I didn't say big time investment in education, I don't think that I'd be here today, because she cared so much about that.
It's investment in pre-school. It's taking those Trump tax cuts, where so much of the money went to the wealthy and putting it into things like making college more affordable and HBCUs, and making sure that we have retirement, because that hits people of color more than any other group.
So it is an agenda of economic opportunity, allowing people to vote and then, of course, criminal justice reform.
BASH: Senator, you mentioned -- you mentioned Congressman James Clyburn. As you know, he endorsed your opponent...
KLOBUCHAR: I'm -- I'm well aware.
BASH: ... Joe -- Joe Biden, today.
KLOBUCHAR: I can still mention him. I very much like him.
BASH: But what I want to ask you about is your -- your history, or your record so far, with the black vote. In Nevada you won 2 percent of black voters. So why are you a better choice for voters here in South Carolina, black voters, than Joe Biden?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, first of all, I respect the vice president's longstanding work with the African-American community. He is very well known, maybe more well known than me. I understand that. So on me to earn the support of the people of South Carolina.
In my own state, which is a measure, I've always had strong support in the African-American community, in all of my elections, and I have a number of leaders in the African-American community in Minnesota that are supporting me, not only through the years, but in my presidential race.
So the way I earn the support is with the agenda that I just talked about, and it is also earning the hearts and minds of people.
I am someone that myself has a story where I wouldn't be here without opportunity. And I'm someone that didn't come from a lot of money, don't have a big bank account, I'm not the one that maybe you've heard of immediately, but through grit and resilience I'm standing up here on this stage. And...
KLOBUCHAR: I think there have been so many broken promises to the African-American community. And I'm not that person. And I think some of my colleagues, I'm not referring to the vice president here, but some of my colleagues up on that debate stage were promising a lot of things that I don't think they can deliver. And I don't want to be that person. And that's why the plans that I just put forward to you when it comes to affordable college and K-12 investment, I've shown how I'm going to pay for every single, to use Senator Sanders's words, nickel and dime. I've actually showed how I'm going to do it.
Then, I think you also have to have someone that can win, and my story of winning is out there. I'm the only one on that stage that not only won with the African-American community in my state, and a fired-up Democratic base, and the highest voter turnout in the country when I led the ticket, but I also was able to win in rural areas and in suburban areas with independent voters, with Republican voters. And that is a coalition.
Black women have been carrying the torch for too long for the Democratic Party on their own and on their shoulders. I think they need the friends and that is how we build a big coalition.
BASH: So, Senator, there are a lot of voters who are undecided in the audience...
KLOBUCHAR: OK. Here's one right there.
BASH: ... who have questions. That is an undecided voter. Dr. Eric Berman. He's an ophthalmologist at the Medical University of South Carolina.
KLOBUCHAR: Hi there.
DR. ERIC BERMAN, OPHTHALMOLOGIST: Thank you.
KLOBUCHAR: Hi, Dr. Berman.
BERMAN: Maybe not in this room, but in the state of -- the great state of South Carolina, President Trump is very popular. Business is doing well and unemployment is excellent with record low unemployment rates. We've heard in the past in campaigns, "it's the economy, stupid." Why should we vote a president who is so successful on the economy out of office?
KLOBUCHAR: Because he is not successful for a lot of people in this room. So I would start with that.
KLOBUCHAR: I always think about when he went down to Mar-a-Lago, and after he signed that tax bill and he had this big party in a ballroom. And he literally told all of his friends there, you just got a lot richer. Was anyone here in that room? OK. I just wanted to make sure, I didn't want to embarrass anyone, you know, if you were there.
KLOBUCHAR: So the point of it is that that's worked really well for some people. But making things more affordable, that should be a focus of a president. And that's everything from bringing down health care costs, which he promised to do. He went on FOX News and he said he would bring pharma prices down so low it would make your head spin. Well, it makes your head spin because they've gone up so far.
He has done nothing about college affordability. He has not made the promises -- kept the promises on infrastructure, so important here in South Carolina, rural broadband and the like. So I think you have that issue that there hasn't been shared prosperity.
Then you have a second set of issues, which is dealing with the long- term challenges to make our economy strong. And that is everything from workforce training to immigration reform, which would be very good for our economy, to climate change. When you look at the effect it's going to have on the economy here in South Carolina and tourism, I look at it as a moral issue, yes, but also an economic issue, to institutional racism and the like.
And then finally, if you want to bring people together so we can compete in the world economy and be a beacon of entrepreneurship and a beacon of democracy for the world, you don't go and go after your own people. You don't go after immigrants. You don't say...
KLOBUCHAR: You don't say after Charlottesville that there are two sides when the other side is a Ku Klux Klan. There's only one side and that's the American side.
BASH: Yet another undecided voter is...
BASH: ... Kathryn Mansfield, an attorney from Mount Pleasant.
KLOBUCHAR: Hi, Kathryn.
KATHRYN MANSFIELD, ATTORNEY: Hi, good evening.
KLOBUCHAR: Good evening.
MANSFIELD: You often claim that your ties to the Midwest would make you a strong Democratic nominee.
Do you worry that this messaging isolates voters in other parts of the country such as South Carolina? How do you appeal to non-Midwest voters?
KLOBUCHAR: Very good question. And I really think about the Midwest and the states that feel that they've been left behind some in terms of focus. In the 2016 election, where we didn't -- we weren't able to turn out our vote the way that we should, I would include states like South Carolina. And my plan is actually to build a beautiful blue wall of Democratic votes in this coalition of independents and moderate Republicans around states, including states like South Carolina, and make Donald Trump pay for it. So that is my plan.
KLOBUCHAR: So let me talk a little bit about this because when I talk about those Midwestern districts, I'm talking about actual districts that aren't that different than Congressman Cunningham's, right? These are swing districts. These are districts that had been held by Republicans that we won in a sometimes close election, sometimes by even bigger margins.
And I think to appeal to people in those districts you've got to be able to include people and not shut them out. And that's why I've always seen -- and I've talked to the congressman about this, I've seen this election through the lens of, yes, an economic check, some of the issues we just talked about, but also a patriotism check, a decency check.
And so a lot of voters who maybe before stayed home in 2016, or they had voted for another candidate, including Donald Trump, they are starting to wonder, do I really want a president for four more years that my kids come in the room and I've got the TV on and the president is speaking and I have to mute the volume because I'm scared of what he's going to say? Do I really want a president...
KLOBUCHAR: Do I really want a president that literally stands next to Vladimir Putin, when asked about Russian interference in our election, and makes a joke about it, when thousands of South Carolinians have died on the battlefields standing up for our democracy and democracies around the world?
So those are the people I want us to remember, in addition to our fired-up Democratic base. And those people are in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and they are in South Carolina.
And my last thing I will say here is that my husband is one of six boys. He had four boys in his family and then his parents decided to see if they'd have a girl, and they had identical twin boys.
KLOBUCHAR: And they lived in a trailer home with triple bunk beds. And every summer they'd go on a vacation in their station wagon. And my husband was the middle boy, the quiet one. And the story is that maybe once or twice maybe they forgot him at the gas station and drove away.
His mom says that's not quite what happened, that they started counting off the boys in the car to make sure that didn't happen. And I will tell you this, talking to Congressman Cunningham, being in these states that were so close in these districts, looking at my track record of winning in every single congressional district, red, blue or purple, I will never leave South Carolina behind at the gas station.
BASH: So, Senator, we're talking about South Carolina, Super Tuesday is just a few days following, next Tuesday. Minnesota is one of those states, your home state. Yes or no, is that a must-win for you to continue in the race?
KLOBUCHAR: Oh, I never set litmus tests but I know I'm going to win Minnesota. So that's not a factor. I think I'm ahead by 10 points in two polls that just came out in the last week by the newspaper and another one. And the key part is not necessarily primary. The key part is general election. And two months ago a poll came out, my state was a very close state when it came to the presidential in 2016. It showed the one that beat Donald Trump the most in a state he has gone to every -- nearly every year of his presidency and the vice president has come multiple times, I beat him by 17 points in the state of Minnesota, more than any other candidate.
KLOBUCHAR: So what matters to me more than anything is winning in the general election.
BASH: OK. We're going to take a quick break. Stay there. We have a lot more questions for Senator Klobuchar right after this.
BASH: Welcome back. We are live in South Carolina with Senator Amy Klobuchar.
And I want to ask about last night's debate.
KLOBUCHAR: Oh, why?
BASH: Because it got -- it got very heated.
BASH: I wanted to show our viewers who are watching on TV the photo that's going around the internet.
BASH: And I will explain that it's of Biden -- Joe Biden and Tom Steyer yelling at each other while you're standing in the middle looking at the audience. Take us to that moment and how you felt in that moment.
KLOBUCHAR: OK. So, first of all, I will say that it was a bit of a slug-fest, that debate. And my view of the debate was that our job -- because so many people are tuning in for the first time that don't really know the candidates, is to give them an alternative to Donald Trump.
And so I went in there, I think I said at one point that if we keep tearing into each other, and tearing apart our party for the next four months, then we're going to have to watch Donald Trump continue to tear apart this country for the next four years. And I think it is really...
KLOBUCHAR: I think it's really important for people to understand that despite all of that, because we're in an intense primary, that what unites people is still stronger than what divides them. And that there is a big difference between our party and Donald Trump, who is currently in a lawsuit
in Texas trying to kick people off of their health insurance for pre- existing conditions So we've got to remember that.
BASH: In that moment, with the two men yelling over you?
KLOBUCHAR: In that moment, with those two, they were going at it, and I stood there and what was somewhat amusing about it was that Tom Steyer was so heated, he was moving into my little area right there.
And so I actually thought he was flailing his arms that I actually might get, like, hit in the process. Then I thought, well, if something happens and I fall off my little stool I was standing on, because I'm the only one who's truly 5'4", despite the fact that the president called Michael Bloomberg 5'4", I'm the only one that can hold that thing. So I thought to myself, well, if I fall over, I'm hit, at least Steyer has deep pockets, you know?
I'll be in -- I'll be in really good shape.
BASH: Once a lawyer, always a lawyer, Senator.
KLOBUCHAR: I can get something out of this, it will be OK. But truthfully, despite the fun of that moment for me, I think we do have to remember that. And I felt the one differentiation I wanted to make on that debate was the difference between me as a leader of our party and my colleague, Senator Sanders, and actually Senator Warren. I think that we really need someone that can bring people with her and lead. And I am the only one with the track record up there, despite some incredible people who have won in those districts that are red and purple and brought people with me, just like Congressman Cunningham's district.
BASH: So, Senator, we have a lot more undecided voters...
KLOBUCHAR: Let's go.
BASH: ... in the audience. Tammie Green is one of them, an attorney for the Charleston County public defender's office.
KLOBUCHAR: Very good.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Hi, Senator Klobuchar. I went to law school specifically to be a public defender, and I'm committed to doing public service work. Unfortunately, I had to take out a tremendous amount of student loans, both public and private, to be able to do what I do.
I'm 10 years out of law school. I haven't made a dent in my loans. I actually owe more today than I did the day I graduated from law school. The interest is killing me. This is even after I filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2012, which all that did was prevent my loans from going into default during that five-year repayment period.
What will you do to help people in my situation that don't just have public loans, but also have private loans, to try and -- you know, we're trying to do the right thing, but we're drowning in student loan debt?
KLOBUCHAR: Exactly. OK. Thank you for that story.
And thank you, first of all, for deciding to devote yourself to representing people that need representation. And you shouldn't be having to go through this when you make that decision to take on that public service. So I'd actually start there.
I've been a big advocate, including testifying in my own state, for funding for public defenders, both as a senator and before that. I think they should be paid in equal amount as a prosecutor...
QUESTION: Thank you.
KLOBUCHAR: ... in the system, and I think some states are like that and some states aren't. And as president, I would do everything to try to make that equal. And they should be equal, right? They're playing equal roles.
(APPLAUSE) Number two -- number two, when it comes to the student loans, there are some things we can do with bankruptcy to make it easier in that way. But the third thing is just the repayment program. And as you know, there's this 10-year repayment program for people that go into public service, teaching and the like. Right now, that program is messed up. It says if you stay in a certain area that you can get your loans paid back in 10 years. It's so messed up.
And I have found 137 things that I can do in the first 100 days of my presidency without Congress that are legal. And one of things that I would do in the first 100 seconds is fire Betsy DeVos.
That -- that would actually go a long way toward what we need to do, which is making that program work and actually phasing it in. I would expand it. And I've found a way to pay for this by taking the capital gains rate and putting it closer to the personal income tax rate, brings in something like $500 billion, and then using that money to expand that program so it works better.
I would also use the money to help people refinance their student loans at much lower rates, because if multimillionaires can refinance their yachts, students should be able to refinance their student loans.
BASH: Get back to the audience. Nicole Dietrich is the director of social work at the Medical University of South Carolina, also volunteers with South Carolina's Moms Demand Action, which is, of course, a gun safety advocacy group. And she's another undecided voter.
KLOBUCHAR: OK. Hi, Nicole.
QUESTION: Hi, how are you?
QUESTION: As we saw in 2016 with Hillary Clinton, women have to walk a tightrope to be perceived as leaders yet not as aggressive or ambitious. Early in your campaign, headline exclaimed that you were a mean boss, a critique we would not likely see of a hard-driving man. This type of misogyny has been highlighted more and more with the ascent of the "Me, Too" movement. As president, how will you command leadership while effectively countering sexism?
KLOBUCHAR: Oh, OK.
I just first want to say that I love my staff, and I think I wouldn't be here right now if my official staff hadn't worked with me for years. We passed over a hundred bills since I've been the lead Democrat. You can't do any of that without good staff. And I certainly wouldn't have had this cohesive group on the presidential campaign. We've been together since I made that announcement in the snow, where people didn't think I'd make it through the announcement, much less here on this stage, without great staff.
Secondly, when it comes to dealing with our culture right now, I think there's a lot of focus on rich and famous people when they do things, and that's fine. But I think we sometimes forget the everyday things that happen to people in the workforce, the hotel worker, who maybe is an immigrant who gets shoved into a corner and is afraid she's going to lose her status if she reports it, the factory worker who gets pinched every day at work, the nurse who gets told lewd jokes when she's just trying to do her job.
And I think so much of this is having safe workplaces for everyone when it comes to sexual harassment. I actually took this issue on in the U.S. Senate and led the bill to change the rules in the Senate, got a Republican co-author. It literally changed the rules for the entire Congress. And what the bill does is it says, one, we're not going to hide this anymore. We're going to have a clear process that makes it easier for people to bring cases. And, two, if a member actually violates the law and harasses someone, that they will have to pay for it, not the taxpayers.
BASH: Senator, I want to get to Allie Menegakis, who is a criminal defense attorney from Charleston, also undecided.
KLOBUCHAR: OK. All right. Hi, Allie
QUESTION: Hi, Senator Klobuchar.
KLOBUCHAR: Good to see you.
QUESTION: I am also a former public defender, a proud one.
KLOBUCHAR: OK, great.
QUESTION: I actually worked with Tammie, who is a former colleague of mine, and had to leave in part because it was unsustainable financially and also because it's hard work with an overwhelming caseload, and not enough resources.
KLOBUCHAR: Yeah, I've only done a few volunteer cases, and even doing that, I know how devoted you must be to your clients, but also to the system of justice to do the work. So thank you for that.
QUESTION: Thank you. But my question today is more about our clients.
QUESTION: One thing that I think all public defenders learn and prosecutors -- I know you're a former prosecutor -- learn early on is that the majority of our clients are victims of the criminal justice system, not because they're bad people or because they're indifferent to our laws, but really because they are themselves victims of their circumstances. An overwhelming majority of my clients suffer from mental illness, from substance abuse, from homelessness and poverty, and unfortunately, our criminal justice system is structured in a way that it's geared towards punishment and not towards treatment or rehabilitation.
So many of our clients end up coming back and back into the system over and over, and to make matters worse, Senator, here in South Carolina, we don't have a speedy trial rule, and because of that, our clients are...
QUESTION: ... sitting in jail for months and years. In Charleston, the average wait time for a trial is over two years, so our clients are pleading guilty just to go home.
KLOBUCHAR: Just to get -- yeah.
QUESTION: I know that this is an issue for our state legislatures. We have to urge them to vote to change these things. But what can you, if anything, do as president to help us and our clients with these issues?
KLOBUCHAR: OK, what a beautifully worded question. Thank you.
And thank you for getting into those details, because I think it's really important that people understand what's really going on here. So the first thing -- and this is based on my eight years' experience where I will say I saw firsthand the institutional racism that we see in the system, and also how people can be on what you refer to as kind of a revolving door, if we don't do this right.
So many people that end up in the criminal justice system are there because of mental illness, as you point out, or are there because of addiction.
And so I am a big believer in drug courts. I've actually -- both when I was the D.A. and then also when I got to the Senate, I've led the efforts on federal drug courts to get funding, and we finally have federal drug courts.
For me, this is personal. When I was growing up, my dad struggled with alcoholism. By the time my husband and I got married, my dad had his third DWI, and that's when the judge said that's it, it's going to be treatment or jail. And my dad chose treatment. And because that treatment was available, in his words, he was pursued by grace. Because of his faith and his family and that treatment, he is now 91 and he's sober. He's in assisted...
He is in assisted living, and his AA group still visits him. And in his words, a year and a half ago, it's hard to get a drink around here anyway.
But back to your stories, I think that having mental health courts so that when people come in, you don't want to be as a prosecutor, you're not like a business. You don't want to see repeat customers. How do you get people off of that? One, mental health courts are a good idea. Two, drug courts and having treatment available. Three, looking at sentencing.
We just passed the First STEP Act. I was one of the co-sponsors. I actually think, if I'm president, I'm going to know -- as you can tell -- a lot of the ins and outs of the system. How do we get it to the state level that you're asking about, where 90 percent of the people are incarcerated, is the second STEP Act. And that means incentives for state and local governments to reduce the sentences for non- violent offenders. That means giving people rights and having appropriate re-entry when they come back into our society and treating them with dignity and allowing them to vote when they get out immediately.
It is a whole different way of looking at the criminal justice system, and I'm just very excited to work on it, and look forward to working with you. So, thank you.
BASH: Senator, I want to bring in Joshua Shanes, who is an associate professor of Jewish studies at the College of Charleston, who says he's undecided, but leaning towards Senator Warren.
QUESTION: Good evening.
QUESTION: Welcome to Charleston. And thanks so much. I'm also a specialist in the history of fascism and ultra-nationalism and obviously extremely concerned at the moment. So I appreciate you stepping up to the plate and trying to save us.
KLOBUCHAR: You're welcome.
QUESTION: My question is as follow. How will you motivate the liberal wing, animated by Sanders and Warren, to your candidacy if you are nominated? What positions of Sanders would you be willing to endorse that maybe until now you might not have?
KLOBUCHAR: OK. So, first of all, I want to be clear what I said at the beginning, that what unites is bigger than what divides us, and all of us have pledged to support the candidate that comes out of the convention. And that is very, very important.
Secondly, if you've seen up there, we can go back and forth on issues, but Elizabeth and Bernie and I actually -- are all three of us are in leadership together at the U.S. Senate. I'll bet you wish you were in those meetings. And we have worked together on many, many issues. And I admire both of them.
When you come to positions, I have worked with Elizabeth on a lot of the financial reforms and have supported the work that she has done there. I have worked with Bernie extensively on pharmaceutical issues. And I think at one of the debates, we went -- in a pleasant, joking way, went back and forth about an amendment that we had done together, which was Klobuchar-Sanders -- he claimed it was the opposite, for a joke -- on bringing in less expensive drugs from other countries to bring the prices down. And so we've done a lot of work together.
And, of course, we don't agree on some major things. I think you've seen that on the debate stage. I don't agree with their bill on Medicare for all. I think it's better to build on the Affordable Care Act, with a public option, and I also think that...
I also have some different views on how we match our education system with our economy to get at the job openings we have now. But I see every reason that we can work together in the future and to bring their supporters. I have been able to do that in my own state. And I think you see someone that has worked with our base and all kinds of people throughout my life in public service.
And I just always think of the march we're on together, the day after that inauguration, including in this town, when millions of people all over the country marched. The day after that, 6,000 women signed up to run for office. We have been on this march together.
KLOBUCHAR: On the...
BASH: Senator, we're going...
KLOBUCHAR: It just goes on and on to where we are today.
BASH: Thank you so much. We're going to take a quick break. We're going to be right back with more Senator Amy Klobuchar. Don't go away.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BASH: Welcome back. We are live from Charleston, South Carolina, for our Democratic presidential town hall with Senator Amy Klobuchar. I want to get right back to the audience, bring in Jeni Atchley. She is the president of Young Democrats of South Carolina. She works for the South Carolina state government and is the executive committeewoman for the Dorchester County Democratic Party.
As you can imagine, because of all of that, she does not publicly say who she's going to vote for, but has a question.
QUESTION: Hi, Senator Klobuchar.
KLOBUCHAR: Hi, there. Thank you for your great work.
QUESTION: It's great to see you. Thank you. One in five Americans have some sort of mental illness. Many do not seek help due to stigma, cost, and lack of available services. I personally battle with diagnosis of PTSD and anxiety.
I have insurance. However, it can cost me $80 per therapy session and that's not even taking into account time off work or cost for scripts.
As president, what is your plan to address mental health in regards to cost, stigma, and availability of services?
KLOBUCHAR: All right, thank you.
Dana has asked me to answer questions more quickly in this last round...
BASH: That's not what I said.
KLOBUCHAR: ... so I'm going to go fast.
BASH: I said we have a lot of people who want to ask questions.
KLOBUCHAR: But it's so important, so here we go. Number one, when you have insurance, we want to make sure that mental health parity rules are in place. That's a bill that was passed a while ago. As president, I would really work on enforcing it to make sure that you get good benefits when you have insurance. You should be able to get benefits without that kind of copay.
Secondly, I would make sure that we're investing in mental health. We have seen a 30 percent increase in suicides in this country in the last 15 years, major increase with students, LGBTQ community, rural areas, veterans, farmers. Very, very sad.
What does this mean? It means counselors in school. It means having more mental health beds. And the way I would pay for all this, by the way, you know this big opioid settlement is going to coming in, we got to make sure that money goes to treatment, but we also should use some of it for mental health beds. I would also put a two cents per milligram tax on opioids and use that money to pay for mental health, as well as some other very set ways to pay for this.
We can get this done with bipartisan support, but you need to have a president that isn't afraid to talk about it. And I'm, in a big way, have been talking about this all over the country, and I can't wait to get it done.
BASH: I want to get to another undecided voter. His name is Phillip Mullinnix. He's an attorney from Charleston.
KLOBUCHAR: OK, good.
QUESTION: Senator, welcome to South Carolina.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.
QUESTION: Senator, I'm a fiscal conservative and voted for George Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney, but I currently feel that the Republican Party does not address my values or represent the issues that are important to me. So I'm therefore considering voting for a Democrat for president for the first time in my life.
KLOBUCHAR: You can see they're saying, "Welcome."
QUESTION: My question for you is, what policies as the potential Democratic nominee and president of the United States would you enact or support to attract voters like me?
KLOBUCHAR: Very good. First of all, I believe in opportunity and entrepreneurship. And one of the things that bothers me about this president is that it feels like many times he thinks he can pick who's going to live that American dream. And I think that American dream should be open to everyone.
The second thing is that one of the things that conservatives care about is spending. And this president has basically been treating the workers and the families and the farmers in this country like poker chips in one of his bankrupt casinos. And I have been willing to talk about how we can reduce the deficit while still keeping a strong safety net in place.
One of the ways I would do it is to take at least two points of his tax cut that he gave to corporations -- that's $200 billion, to make that very clear -- and putting that into a fund to start working on reducing the deficit. There's many other things that we can do. But this president really has done nothing and has gone in the wrong direction. Usually, Republicans that I've worked with and ones that you just
mentioned, like my friend, John McCain, they care about democracies. John McCain, one of the last trips he took, he took me to Ukraine and to the Baltics to make the point after Donald Trump got elected that we stand with democracies and freedom in this country, and we do not stand with Vladimir Putin.
So I think that this -- that this president's foreign policy in so many ways has been inimical to those values that John McCain represented. And obviously, I would love to have your support.
BASH: Senator, thank you so much. Time is up.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. Thank you, Dana.
BASH: Appreciate it. Thank you so much. We do have a lot more with another senator, Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is going to be on this stage with Don Lemon in moments. So don't go anywhere.