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CNN Live Event/Special
Town Hall with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). Aired 10-11p ET
Aired February 18, 2019 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEMON: Good evening, everyone, from Manchester, New Hampshire, the first presidential primary state. And welcome to a CNN Democratic presidential town hall with Senator Amy Klobuchar.
I'm Don Lemon. We're so glad that you could join us this evening. We are here at Saint Anselm College less than one year from the New Hampshire primary. It is Presidents' Day, and across the country Democratic candidates are competing for the chance to defeat President Trump.
Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar is pitching herself as the best candidate to win back states that went for Trump in 2016. And tonight, Senator Klobuchar will take questions from voters who say they plan to vote in the New Hampshire Democratic primary. So please welcome, without further ado, everyone, Senator Amy Klobuchar.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. Thanks, Don.
LEMON: Hi, Senator. How are you?
KLOBUCHAR: Great to be here.
LEMON: Good to see you. Have a seat.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. Thanks, everybody. Thank you. Thank you.
LEMON: Senator, it is Presidents' Day.
KLOBUCHAR: Happy Presidents' Day.
LEMON: That has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?
KLOBUCHAR: Oh, it certainly does.
LEMON: You like the sound of that?
KLOBUCHAR: I think it sounds pretty good. And it's great to be in New Hampshire, where I appear to have brought my permanent snow globe with me. It was snowing yesterday in Iowa where I was and today in New Hampshire. It just won't leave.
LEMON: You're the only one we saw out there, people commenting, without a coat. And you're used to this. It means nothing coming from your state.
Well, it's good to have you. So let's get right into it. And I want to start with one of the questions that is really the most asked questions here, and that is what separates you from the pack, from the Democratic candidates. And one version of that question comes from Neila Brownstein. Neila Brownstein is sitting right there. She is from Londonderry.
Neila, what's your question? Substitute teacher, by the way.
QUESTION: I'm a moderate Democrat with progressive leanings who believes in the American message of hope and opportunity for all. I am looking for a Democratic candidate who can make Donald Trump a one- term president and doesn't sacrifice a moderate vision to the leftist ideologies of outspoken progressives. I want to hear achievable goals that benefit minorities and the middle class now and are not pipe dreams for the future. Are you my candidate?
KLOBUCHAR: Yes, I am.
So first of all, thank you, Neila. My mom taught second grade until she was 70 years old, so yours is a true calling. And I am someone that comes from the heartland, a north country state a little similar to New Hampshire, but someone that has always believed that we have to govern from opportunity and not from the chaos that we're seeing right now in the White House.
I've done that my whole life. I ran the biggest public law office in the state of Minnesota, got to the U.S. Senate, and I've worked very hard to stand my ground on really important issues, whether it be things like doing something about climate change and our environment or making sure that we are progressive in how we handle our economy and stand up and have people's backs.
But I also am someone that looks for common ground. In fact, in the last two years, 34 of the bills where I was the lead Democrat got signed into law. I don't think President Trump noticed it, but that happened.
And I think what we need right now in this country is less of this grandstanding and gridlock, less of the shutdowns, which we just saw, and the putdowns, and much more of moving our country forward.
I announced my candidacy in front of the Mississippi River for a reason last weekend. I didn't think it was going to be 17 degrees with a bunch of snow, but it was. And I did that because I wanted to make the point that we need to cross a river of our divides, that we need to walk over this sturdy bridge that is our democracy, and that we need to get to higher ground in our politics.
LEMON: Senator, Pam's question is -- I want to get into some of the issues that are defining this race already.
LEMON: Some of the major issues, right? Pam Clark is here. Pam, you will relate to this as a retired schoolteacher, as your mom was a teacher. And there she is. She has a question for you. Pam, what do you have? She's from Westmoreland, by the way.
QUESTION: Why can't we have Medicare for all? Oh, I'm sorry. Why can't we have Medicare for all? I have heard all the excuses why we can't have it in our country while all the other industrialized countries have it and it seems to work.
XXX seems to work.
What makes us the exception?
KLOBUCHAR: What has made us the exception -- and thanks for that question, because what's been going on in this country is just wrong. You've got people that still can't afford their health care. You have people that can't afford their prescription drugs. And that's why I believe we have to get to universal health care in this country.
And we have to make sure that we build on the work of the Affordable Care Act, which by the way was a major improvement. As you all know, people were getting kicked off their insurance for pre-existing conditions.
I remember just last summer, a little kid in a parade in a small town with his mom, and she points at her little boy who has Down syndrome, and she said, this is a pre-existing condition. This is what a pre- existing condition looks like. And we fought that, and we won, and we protected the Affordable Care Act. But to me, it's a beginning and not an end.
So what we need is to expand coverage so that people can have a choice for a public option, and that's a start, all right? And you can do it with Medicare. You could do it many ways, but you could also do it with Medicaid, something I don't think we're talking about enough as a potential solution.
This is a bill that I am an original co-sponsor of. Senator Sanders is also sponsoring it. It's a bill by Brian Schatz, who's a senator from the state of Hawaii, and it basically says let's expand Medicaid so you can buy into Medicaid and it will bring the prices down and we can cover more people. That's part of the equation.
But the other part of the equation is doing something about prescription drugs. They are nearly 20 percent of our health care costs now when you include hospital prescription drugs. And I brought to the State of the Union a woman named Nicole Smith-Holt, whose son started rationing his insulin -- because I wanted President Trump to know about this story -- rationing his insulin when he's general manager at a restaurant, and he did it wrong, and he died. That shouldn't happen in the United States of America, but it did.
And that's why I believe we need to push those drug companies. They think they own Washington. They don't own me. I have one of the original bills to push to have Medicare negotiate prices, lift the ban, bring in less expensive drugs from Canada. We're in New Hampshire -- we can almost see Canada from our porch and other safe countries -- and stop the practice where pharma pays off generics to keep their products off the market.
LEMON: But Senator...
KLOBUCHAR: This shouldn't be happening.
LEMON: If I could just jump in...
LEMON: Because more to her question, which was about Medicare for all -- you can applaud -- which was about Medicare for all...
What's your reservation about supporting Medicare for all?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I think it's something that we can look to for the future, but I want to get action now. And I think the best way we do that is something that we actually wanted to do back when we were looking at the Affordable Care Act and we were stopped, was trying to get a public option in there.
And that is a way -- if you all remember that debate -- that is a way to provide a public alternative that's real, even beyond the exchanges, so that we can bring down the rates. And then we can look at other options, but we have to start somewhere. And I think we could do that much more immediately.
LEMON: So Medicare for all?
KLOBUCHAR: It could be a possibility in the future. I'm just looking at something that will work now.
LEMON: OK. Bryce Stack is here. He is a college student from Merrimack. Bryce?
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you. Senator Klobuchar, just about every Democratic candidate for president accepts the reality of climate change, including yourself. However, when you were asked about the Green New Deal, you were quoted as saying that it is an aspiration while declining to name your own specific policy proposals. Would climate justice be a priority in a Klobuchar administration? And which specific policies would you put forward?
KLOBUCHAR: Very good question. I think you all know that this last year was the fourth hottest year in American history. And the Green New Deal is so important right now for our country. We may not have agreements on exactly how it will work and when we can get it done. And my point that I made there was that this is a discussion that we must have as a country.
For too long, we've just been admiring the problem. Right? We've been saying, oh, it's happening. And most of the members of the Senate did admit that it's happening, but what are you going to do about it? So I will, as first day as the president, sign us back into the international climate change agreement. That is on day one.
I will also, in the first 100 days, bring back the clean power rules that the Obama administration was ready to put in place and the Trump administration left on the cutting room floor.
I will also bring back the gas mileage standards and then propose sweeping legislation to upgrade our infrastructure. Anyone that watched that video of that dad driving his child through the lapping wildfires in Northern California will know that this isn't just something that's theoretical that's happening in the future. It's happening right now.
And one argument that we need to make for those of us that believe in science, we need to make the argument that this is isn't economics on one side and the environment on the other side, right? Because if you just let climate change keep going, you already see it in homeowners' insurance rates, gone up 50 percent in 10 years, right? Well, that is just going to get worse if we don't start addressing climate change because the market is going to start seeing what's happening here. It already is, and it's going to get us in economic trouble.
So in addition to all the new green jobs it will create, we have to do this for our economy, but we have to do it right, which is why I'd answered the question that way, and make sure that we have a transition.
LEMON: So it's urgent to you, right?
KLOBUCHAR: It is an urgent cause.
LEMON: So let's get into some specifics. And I just want to read them off, because I want to make sure I get them right. This is -- the Green New Deal, some of which includes a complete shift in renewable and zero-emission energy sources, overhauling the nation's transportation systems to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and to set a goal for carbon neutrality by 2030. Do you believe those goals are achievable?
KLOBUCHAR: I think that they are aspirations. I think we can get close. I don't think we are going to get rid of entire industries in the U.S.
LEMON: What do you mean by aspirations? KLOBUCHAR: Aspirations to me means we have been doing nothing about
this. And if we have some new people that are coming along, particularly in this school where we have so many students and young people, we need to get this debate going. And this is put out there as an aspiration in that something we need to move towards.
Do I think we could do -- cross every "t" and dot every "i" in 10 years? Actually, I think that would be very difficult to do. But if we don't get started and we don't start with renewable electricity standards, something that I've been a proponent of for a long time -- we have tried so many things, and they're just stuck in their tracks.
I think this discussion, good or bad, not everyone's going to agree on how we get there, it's very important to have, and you do that by launching big, by big ideas. And the actual legislation you do, we know there's going to be compromises. It's not going to be exactly like that, and we know we're going to have to look out for different areas of the country and how we proceed and be smart about it for the middle class and for people that are more vulnerable. We want to make this work for everyone. But we have to start the debate.
LEMON: OK. Thank you.
Bob Gigliotti is an assistant professor who teaches business management here at Saint Anselm. Bob, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Recently there have been a few articles written that you may be a difficult person to work for. Reflecting on your own leadership management style and your past interactions with your staff, is there an aspect of your leadership or communications style that you would like to improve upon moving forward?
KLOBUCHAR: OK. Thanks for that question. First of all, you have to know I love my staff. A number of them from the campaign are here right now. I've had the same people have worked for me for years. My chief of staff has worked for me for six years, my state director for 7 years, my campaign manager for 14 years. So you need to know that that's my management.
The other thing about me is that I've had a long career of managing people going back to the private sector -- since you're in business management. I was in the private sector for 14 years. I managed teams there, was a partner at two law firms, then moved to the public sector where I managed the biggest public law firm, the county attorney's office in Minnesota. There I managed hundreds of lawyers, hundreds of prosecutors. Not an easy task. They did tremendous work. We had very low turnover, and we got incredible results.
I then became a senator. Again, proud of the work that we've done. Am I a tough boss sometimes? Yes. Have I pushed people too hard? Yes. But I have kept expectations for myself that are very high. I've asked my staff to meet those same expectations, and that -- the big point for me is I want the country to meet high expectations, because we don't have that going now.
The other thing -- one other point is I hope as we go along this campaign trail, and you in business understand undertaking a presidential campaign, that's a pretty good way to judge people and how they manage something.
But I hope that you'll be able to hear and meet some of the people that I'm so proud of, my constituent services director, Clara Haycraft, been there for a decade. She's the one that takes those incoming calls from people who are in fear of being deported or meets the babies when they come from other countries to the open arms of their families, or Siad Ali, who has done incredible work for me and is the first Somali elected to the Minneapolis School Board. He's a great guy. Or the people that have done our work in agriculture.
That's how we passed so many bills, because of the fine work of our staff. So thank you for the question.
LEMON: Let's turn now to Sonia Prince, Senator, a mother of three from Nashua. Sonia?
QUESTION: Hi, Senator. Knowing the misogynist history of our country and the previous smear attacks against women candidates, what is your plan to break through the systematic, anti-feminist comments or attacks when the bar has been set so high for women and set so very low for male candidates?
KLOBUCHAR: That is called...
LEMON: Good question, huh?
KLOBUCHAR: OK. That is called a loaded question. So the way I look at this is that, first of all, in 2018, you saw this incredible number of women that got elected to office. And could I just mention, thank you, New Hampshire? You are the first state in the country that sent a woman to the Senate who had also served as governor in the history of the country.
And that is -- that is my friend, Jeanne Shaheen. And then -- that wasn't enough -- you sent a second one in Maggie Hassan.
So I think you know what it means to have true women leaders. My view is this, is the world is changing. As you see more and more women running, not just for federal office or for president, but also for local offices and all over the country, you see this happening. Someone once said -- and I agree with part of this but not all of it
-- that women candidates should speak softly and carry a big statistic. OK. So I think you know I don't always speak softly. That's been established. But I think what you find in a lot of these women is they've had to prove themselves in different ways. They have to carry a big statistic, which means be accountable and show what they're doing.
In a number of my jobs that I've had, I've set out goals, and then I've showed how I've met those goals. And I remember looking at what Janet Napolitano was doing in Arizona when I was first getting into my work in public service or Kathleen Sebelius in Kansas. And what they did was put out goals and show how they met them. Well, I think we need a little more of that in the White House right now.
LEMON: Very good. So, President Trump, as you know, declared a national emergency on Friday to get funding for his border wall without the support of Congress. And Nick Pangaro has a question about that. Nick, go ahead.
QUESTION: Good evening, Senator. Welcome to New Hampshire.
KLOBUCHAR: Thanks, Nick.
QUESTION: I wanted to talk about the national emergency that Trump declared on Friday, as was said. No doubt it's going to wind up in front of the Supreme Court. Can you talk a little bit about what the impacts on future administrations may be if the president does prevail in front of the court? And can you also include in that some discussion on what a President Klobuchar might do, should the president prevail and you have those powers?
KLOBUCHAR: OK. Thank you very much. First of all, I believe this is unconstitutional, what he is doing. OK? It is wrong.
We reached an agreement in the Congress. It was hard fought between Democrats and Republicans on how to deal with him not bringing us into another shutdown. And you know what happened. Longest shutdown in the history of America, 800,000 people out of work, not being able to go in their jobs, shut out, or, worse yet, showing up for their jobs because they had to and not getting paid. And you heard those stories. And he was willing to put the country in that kind of chaos.
So people reached an agreement, basically gave the same amount of money for a mix of border security just as we did last year. It's a very similar thing.
But what he did then, that wasn't enough, because I guess he had made this campaign promise and everyone started chanting with him. He then goes to this emergency declaration. Well, last time I checked, emergencies are things like the wildfires in Colorado. They're things like Hurricane Sandy. They're things like what we just saw happen in Florida. So this is unprecedented for him to declare something like that an emergency.
The other piece of it, which gets to the balance of powers and what should be going on here, is that he's going to be, he says, paying for it from other parts of the budget, for instance, from our troops and from their housing and things like that. I think we should be standing up for our troops and not taking that money away for his wall.
LEMON: Senator, what about your presidential powers if you get it?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I would exercise those powers very carefully. I think you have to be very careful about how you do that. But you have emergencies that come up in this country all the time. You know that. And you have to be able to respond, to respond quickly, but to respond thoughtfully. And I believe in respecting the Constitution of the United States of America.
LEMON: All right. One down. One down. We're going to be right back with CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Senator Amy Klobuchar, so make sure you stay with us.
LEMON: Welcome back, everyone, to CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Senator Amy Klobuchar.
Senator, I want to talk about an issue that's very personal to you that you discuss and that you wrote about in your memoir. And to help us do that, I'm going to bring in Kathleen O'Donnell, a family lawyer from Keene. Kathleen?
QUESTION: Senator Klobuchar, during the Kavanaugh hearing, you referenced being the daughter of an alcoholic. Can you elaborate on how your family history affects your stances on health and addiction policy and funding -- whoops -- given this issue as so many families experience? Sorry about that.
KLOBUCHAR: No, don't worry. It's not an easy question to ask, so thank you very much. So, for me, like a lot of people, I grew up in a family with alcoholism and addiction. And my story actually is one my dad has told himself. So when that hearing happened, some people said to me, are you telling a story? And it's something that he has been public about.
And he struggled with alcoholism my whole life growing up. He had a number of drunk driving incidences, and back then they didn't really take them that seriously, so he kind of just kept drinking. And so I had a lot of times in my life where I was taking the keys away or saw him drinking down in the basement, and it was a hard thing.
So when that happened at the Kavanaugh hearing, I wanted to make very clear that I knew what it was like to live in a household with drinking, but that I also knew what it was like to see someone find redemption, because eventually, after his third DWI, the laws had changed. And that's why as a prosecutor, I really worked on felony DWI and some of these drunk driving issues, because sometimes it's tough love to get people to where they want to go.
And that's what happened with my dad, because at that point, he was facing jail time, and he had to go to treatment. And Minnesota's got a lot of good treatment that I want to bring out to the entire country so that everyone has this kind of treatment.
And in his own words, he was pursued by grace. And he continues to go to AA and is still friends of his AA group at age 90. True story. And so I was literally able to see him climb to the highest mountains -- he's an adventurer -- and really sink to the lowest valleys because of his alcoholism.
And so when that happened in the Kavanaugh hearing, I just wanted to get the truth from the nominee. But I also wanted to make it clear that this isn't just all fun and games about addiction. Whether it's opioids, like what you've seen in New Hampshire, where you have one of the highest rates of deaths from opioids, whether it is alcoholism, that we need to make sure we are there for people, that we have treatment, that in the criminal justice system, we're humane, that we use drug courts, because once people get good treatment, they can get through anything. So thank you.
LEMON: So, Senator, we're going to get to opioids in a minute, because I know that's very important to you, but can we stay on this subject? Because I think it's a subject that touches a lot of people.
In your book, you write about experiencing your dad, you were on your way back from a football game, stories like this. You mentioned a number of stories. You were 12 years old, and he took you to a bar. You were sitting at the bar, you said, in the bar drinking a 7-Up. He was upstairs drinking with the owner. On the way home, he was swerving, drove into a ditch, and then, you know, luckily you both survived, and he was OK. But these experiences, how did they shape the person that you are today?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I've always believed that the obstacles aren't just obstacles. They're your path. And for me, we got through that. He and I did. We're very close. We've bicycled all over the country together, and we got through that. And he is a dad that I love more than ever.
And what that told me was that I want to have other people be able to have that kind of redemption in their lives. So when I got to that prosecutor job, I realized that there were people that weren't getting treatment or that we were just saying, oh, let's forget about it. You know, maybe we'll just treat this as a misdemeanor, not ever try to get them help in drug court, not do anything. That's not really helping them, and that's not helping their families.
And so that gave me this driving belief that if you handle things right, you can give a better life to people. And then that continued into the Senate with my work where I lead a lot of the efforts on funding. We finally have federal drug courts. The First Step Act that we just passed, I was one of the sponsors for that, and there was such good work on that bill by so many people on both sides of the aisle, that finally we said, you know what, maybe we can look at some of these long drug sentences, non-violent drug sentences, and give people some break and save money in the process, right?
And we need to look at all of our sentencing like that. My job as prosecutor was, yes, to convict the guilty, but also to protect the innocent.
LEMON: All right. Listen -- and I know addiction is a big issue for you -- but I want to talk about the opioid crisis that's going on across the country. And New Hampshire is at the top of the list when it comes to this crisis. If I have just -- can I just ask you, if you're in the audience, you've had anyone, a family member, a friend, or yourself who have had a connection or been affected by the opioid crisis? Can you raise your hands?
KLOBUCHAR: Wow. Unbelievable.
LEMON: You see those hands?
LEMON: Yeah, it's interesting. But I want to get a question. Let's bring her in and I'll let you answer her question. This is Jodi Newell. Jodi lost her fiance to opioids. And I'm sorry for your loss. What's your question?
QUESTION: As a single mother, widowed a decade ago by the opiate crisis, I am extremely vigilant in regards to our national drug policy. Trump promised to address this, but I feel he let us down in the end. My question to you is, if you are elected president, what would you actually do to combat this epidemic?
KLOBUCHAR: OK. Well, thank you, Jodi. And I am so sorry, and I am just honored that you would come today and take that grief and speak out to the nation, because that's what we have to do to keep making the case. We can use all the...
We can use all of the numbers and statistics that we want, but it's your face and your story that's going to make the difference. So here's what I think that we need to do. The first is to change the prescribing habits across the country, right? We know that a lot of people get addicted innocently. They go into the emergency room. They go to a dentist.
And we're starting to see that happen, which is a good thing. You've seen governors across the country, Democrats and Republicans, make moves. I think we even need to do more federally. There have been guidelines changes, but I think we have to make it very clear so we have less prescriptions, less addictions. So that's a start. The second thing is, once we do that and it's already starting to
happen, you're going to see illegal drugs coming in, very seriously dangerous drugs like fentanyl, what you've seen come in. And so that's going to take everything from the bill that Senator Rob Portman and I passed to do something more with our Postal Service. They were actually allowing these things to come in unfettered. And to make sure, working with our law enforcement, that we cut down on that.
You know, Prince died in Minnesota from opioids and his addiction, and that's something we still can't get over in our state. But we also know it's not just famous people. It is people like your story. It is people, our champion swimmer, one of our champion swimmers in Minnesota went in with a disease, got hooked, then turned to heroin and died. So the illegal drugs is a piece of it, too.
The third part of it is what I just talked about, and that is treating addiction. And there is just not enough funding going into addiction. I see it as a money saver in the long haul, because so many times when people get hooked, they end up breaking into things, committing crimes. I saw this in my job.
So how do you pay for it? Well, I got a good first start, and that is, why don't we pay for it by getting money from the very drug companies that got people addicted in the first place?
It makes no sense to me at all. And so you see that happening right now. And that is where I would like to see the president -- and when I'm the president, I'll do it -- but I would like to see the president firmly behind this.
You see it going on with lawsuits around the country. But we have a bill right now, the LifeBOAT Act. Chief sponsor is Senator Manchin from West Virginia, another state that's been strongly hit, where we just simply put a fee on those companies that are selling the opioids to help pay for treatment. So I'd like to see the Trump administration get behind that.
LEMON: So, Senator, Griffin Sinclair-Wingate is from Dover and he works at a nonprofit.
KLOBUCHAR: OK. What's your first name?
QUESTION: My name's Griffin.
KLOBUCHAR: OK, very good, Griffin.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you so much for taking my question, Senator. So I graduated from college in 2017, and I currently pay roughly the equivalent of my rent in student loans every month. And, you know, I have friends that graduated six figures in debt. Here in New Hampshire, students graduate on average with the highest average student loan debt in the nation.
KLOBUCHAR: At $36,000, or something like that.
QUESTION: It's absurd.
QUESTION: And so I'd like to ask you, would you be willing to stand with my generation and end the student debt crisis by supporting free college for all? And would you include undocumented and formerly incarcerated people in that program?
QUESTION: And if you could please just preface your answer with a clear yes or no, I would really appreciate that. Thank you so much.
KLOBUCHAR: OK. All right. OK. Let me answer you, first of all. I think we have to do everything to help our students afford college. My idea is to make it easier to refinance, to start with two-year degrees, the community colleges being free. That's something that President Obama was pushing. There's a reason I'll get to why I'm starting there instead of four-year.
So I want to answer that question first for you and let you know that I also had student loans. And when I married my husband, he had tens of thousands of student loans to make you feel better, but I married him anyway. All right?
OK, so here's what we need to do. The first thing is we need to make it easier to afford college, and you need to do that by making it easier to refinance these loans, by extending Pell Grants so it includes more students. Those are simply grants, right? So if you extend those Pell Grants, that's going to make it even easier, because right now it's for a limited number of students. And I think we should expand it to more students.
I think that we should do as much as we can with some of the other populations that you referred to. We've got to make it easier for people getting out of prison to afford going to school, you name it.
But the other thing I want to talk about here is something -- I know we're in a four-year degree school, a great school. But you also have in Manchester a two-year community college. And there's a lot of kids right now who are off the grid, right? They don't graduate from high school around the country or they end up maybe barely graduating from high school. They accumulate debt in a four-year college. Then they end up not being able to either finish that college or they end up not being able to get a job that pays for it.
So right now, there are a big number of jobs that require certifications, two-year degrees, everything from welding to technology to robotics, something big here in New Hampshire. I know Mr. Kamen with the Segway educated our whole country on robotics. And they require various degrees.
So one of the things that I want to do is really have a big discussion in our country about what we do about kids that aren't graduating from high school, kids that don't get to the point of being at this great college, right, and how we get them into the certifications, the two- year degrees, and make sure that we're paying for that, because our economy needs that, and then go from there. So thank you for your question.
LEMON: So he did ask you yes or no. Would you support free college for all?
KLOBUCHAR: No, I am not for free four-year college for all, no. Thank you.
LEMON: So let me ask you this, because...
KLOBUCHAR: And I wish -- if I was a magic genie and could give that to everyone and we could afford it, I would. I'm just trying to find a mix of incentives and make sure kids that are in need -- that's why I talked about expanding Pell Grants -- can go to college and be able to afford it and make sure that people that can't afford it are able to pay.
LEMON: Yeah, we're on a college campus so you know many of the...
KLOBUCHAR: I know that. I know that. But I've got to -- I've got to tell the truth. I mean, we have this mounting...
We have a mounting debt that the Trump administration keeps getting worse and worse. I also don't want to leave that on the shoulders of all these kids, right?
KLOBUCHAR: And so we've got to do a balance. Some of it's major tax reform in terms of reversing some of the things that this administration has done. And then some of it is making sure that students are getting degrees and being led to jobs where we actually have jobs.
LEMON: Yeah. OK. So, you know, I was saying we're on a campus, $1.5 trillion collectively we hold, Americans, and that's -- that's a lot.
KLOBUCHAR: That's a lot. That's why the refinancing. And I figure if billionaires can refinance their yachts, students should be able to refinance their loans. So...
LEMON: Deborah Butler is an accountant from Concord. Deborah, what's your question?
QUESTION: Senator, if you were in a debate with President Trump and you could ask him one question, what would you ask?
KLOBUCHAR: Hmm. I think my question would be, does he pledge to obey the law? Because to me, that has been one of the biggest problems with this president is that he keeps undermining the law in this country. He keeps undermining his own attorney general, the former attorney general. He keeps undermining the Mueller investigation, which is a major investigation focused on a foreign country trying to intervene in our election.
And that, to me, while there are so many things I would love to ask him -- and I'm sure we'd love to ask him a number of things about what he's done and why he's done them and why he isn't consistent in his foreign policy -- I think this fundamental question and pushing him on his view of the law is important, because what I see, I don't like.
A few years ago, I got to go and do the Democratic dinner in Atlanta, Georgia. And when I was there, I went to the Carter museum, the presidential library for Jimmy Carter. And I was the only Minnesota geek there that started to look for all the Mondale stuff, right? I'm like, where's Joan's dress from the inauguration?
But in any case, I looked on the walls. I looked for this Mondale stuff, and there was this quote from Walter Mondale. It was after they'd served for four years. And he was looking back at their time after they'd lost the election. And the quote said, we obeyed the law. We told the truth. We kept the peace.
We obeyed the law. We told the truth. We kept the peace. And I think that is the minimum that we should expect from a president, and that is what I pledge to do for you. Thank you.
LEMON: CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Senator Amy Klobuchar will be right back.
LEMON: Welcome back, everyone, to CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Senator Amy Klobuchar. So let's get right into the questioning again. Jon Burroughs is a health care consultant from Glen. Jon?
KLOBUCHAR: Hey, Jon.
QUESTION: Thanks. Thank you, senator. Currently, our national immigration policy is focusing on a false message of border security. How would you address the root cause of the problem, which is that unskilled Americans are afraid of skilled immigrants taking their high-paying jobs away from them?
KLOBUCHAR: OK. I would probably describe it in a different way, and I'll start with that.
First of all, I think that President Trump has tried to distract us and focus on just one part of this issue, and that's an issue, you want to make sure you have border security. To me, this is an economic issue for our country. And we have always been a country that is built by immigrants, right? We all have our stories in America. And I believe that immigrants don't diminish America, that they are America.
That means to me that we need to have comprehensive immigration reform, something I've long supported. And I view this, first of all, if you look around our country, something like around 70 of our Fortune 500 CEOs -- this is a few years back -- were immigrants. Twenty-five percent of our U.S. Nobel laureates were born in other countries, right? That's a pretty amazing thing. We have immigrants that have built this country.
And so comprehensive immigration reform is a mix of things. It was security money, but it was also about a path to citizenship. And we passed that in the Senate on a bipartisan basis, and then it got stuck in Paul Ryan's freezer somewhere next to the frozen peas. I don't know. It just got stuck there.
And so we need to bring this back and start talking about it in that way, because right now, all we're hearing when it comes to immigration is hate-filled rhetoric. And I'm sure you've heard some of it in New Hampshire. We've certainly seen it nationally.
I'll end with this one story of a family in Minnesota, of a Somali- American family, who went out to dinner with their two little kids. And they're out to dinner, and this guy walks by. And he looks at them and says, "You four go home. You go home to where you came from." And the little girl looks up at her mom, and she says, "Mom, I don't want to go home to eat. You said we should eat dinner out tonight."
You think of the words of that innocent child. She only knows one home, and that's my state. That's probably your state. That's the United States of America. And we need to get back, cross the river of our divides, and get to that place again in the country.
LEMON: William Hatch is here, and he is from the New Hampshire state legislature.
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you, Senator. Thank you for taking my question, and welcome to New Hampshire.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.
QUESTION: Do you think the current administration...
KLOBUCHAR: A very active state legislature.
QUESTION: You fit well, yes.
KLOBUCHAR: You have a lot of people in it, I know that.
QUESTION: We have a good time, though.
QUESTION: Senator, do you think our current administration's relationship with our allies has been damaged? If so, with whom and how? Also, what do you consider the most important and urgent foreign affair issues? And what's your plan to address them? Thank you.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. It has certainly been damaged. You think of the work of diplomacy and all of that work that President Obama did and Secretary Clinton, Secretary Kerry. That's reaching out to our allies, and I believe that we must stand tall as a beacon of democracy, but I also believe that we must stand with our allies. So that's my number one problem.
Secondly, we have to invest in diplomacy. I remember it was Secretary Mattis, who unfortunately left the Trump administration after the president basically made that decision on removing the troops from Syria without even notifying our allies, without notifying his own people. Well, Secretary Mattis once said that if you don't invest in foreign aid and you don't invest in diplomacy, then he just has to buy more bullets, right? And so that has got -- we've got to look at it as just not one side or the other, but how we deal with the world as a whole.
The other thing I'd mention is just modernizing our military. I took on the issue of protecting our elections from after what we saw happen in the last election with Russia. And I would actually put this right up there. When I talk to our military, a lot of -- in addition to, of course, the Mideast and making sure that Iran -- and I disagreed with the decision about getting out of that nuclear agreement. I think that would have been an example of standing with our allies in Europe and pushing Iran to make sure that they never have a nuclear weapon.
Well, when you look at the other issue, it is cyber, and that is the next arena for warfare. We're already seeing it right now. And just to give you an example, the bill that I had to upgrade our election equipment cost literally -- bipartisan bill -- 3 percent of one aircraft carrier.
So working with our allies, investing in diplomacy, modernizing our military, and then finally taking on those big challenges that are in front of us. And I would list them as what I already mentioned, the Mideast, the challenge that we have with climate change, which is driving so many issues. It is not just out there on its own. It's driving migration from places in Africa and refugees because of the change in our climate.
And then, of course, dealing with the nuclear threat that we have with North Korea as well as what we're seeing with Russia's continuing pushing at our country. And, no, I don't think the answer is to stand with Vladimir Putin and say I agree with everything he says and, oh, hey, I disagree with my own intelligence people. The answer is to stand with strength and stand with our allies.
LEMON: Christine Carter is a high school teacher from Concord. Go ahead, Christine.
QUESTION: My high school students are growing up believing that the partisan divide in Congress is normal and insurmountable. They're also hearing that their president can speak and acting without filters. In other words, they're growing up to be cynics regarding our American government. How would you intend to help to restore faith in the American system of governance for those who are coming of age under President Trump?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I think the first thing is to stop governing by tweet, OK? And all these mean-spirited...
... messages that makes it hard for teachers to say, you know, you don't have to agree with everything the president says, no one's going to agree with them, but you have to have someone that you have faith in, that respects the institution, that's someone that you can look up to.
And from the moment that President Trump was sworn into office, I will never forget that dark day with the clouds coming in where I sat actually in between Senator McCain, who I miss very much, as well as Senator Sanders. It was the three of us that day. And we were just shocked as the language and the rhetoric got darker and darker.
So the answer to me is to reach out. Instead of just looking down, which we want to do all the time, right? You see this news on TV, you don't want your kids to see it. Instead of looking down or looking away, we have to look at each other and we have to look up at the challenges before us.
We have always done this as a great nation. This is everything from income inequality to health care to the challenges that we have with our democracy. I believe that we are better than this. I believe we can move forward, and the only way we do it is if we do it together and cross that river of our divides.
LEMON: Thank you, Senator. Thank you, Christine. CNN's presidential town hall with Senator Amy Klobuchar will be right back.
LEMON: Welcome back, everyone, to CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with Senator Amy Klobuchar. So, Senator, Donald Trump once said to the African-American community, "What do you have to lose?" What's your agenda for black America?
KLOBUCHAR: You were in Minnesota, actually, at our Martin Luther King dinner...
KLOBUCHAR: ... and saw -- breakfast and saw firsthand the strong community that we have there. So I have been working on these racial justice issues all my life. When I had that job as prosecutor, I first of all wanted to make sure that our office better reflected the community that we represented, including who we hired.
Secondly, there are many problems, as you know, with the criminal justice system. And so one of the things that I took on early on was eyewitness identification, which can be a big issue with misidentifications based on race. And so we actually changed the way we did business. I worked with the Innocence Project on making sure that we got the word out on protecting defendants' rights when it came to funding public defenders, but also when it came to making sure that we had a record of questioning of victims, of witnesses, and of defendants. So that was part of it.
And then I got to the Senate and continued that work. We talked about the First Step Act and the work on voter suppression. I think some of you know from the Kavanaugh hearings I serve on the Judiciary Committee.
So we have done a lot of work in that area. But through it all, I have always believed the same thing. And to paraphrase Martin Luther King, if you -- you can do all you can to integrate a lunch counter, but if you can't afford a hamburger, what good did you do? And so for me the economics is key right now.
There are so many jobs in STEM. We were just talking on the break about this digital disruption. There are things (ph) that we need to do on privacy, but there's also retraining of people and there is also new jobs out there.
And I head up the Diversify Tech Caucus in the Senate with Senator Tim Scott, who's a Republican, as well as Shelley Capito. I actually -- one of the first bills I passed in this administration was about making sure we get more people of color involved in tech. So we have to look at those jobs, as well as the basics.
Increase the minimum wage, right? Make sure -- which hasn't been done federally since -- over a decade. Make sure that we are doing something about health care, child care, paid family leave, so that we make it easier for people who are not in the same position as everyone else and weren't born with the silver spoon in their mouth, that they are able to pursue the American dream, because no matter where you come from or where you worship or what you look like, this should be a country of shared dreams.
LEMON: When you said -- when you talked about income, right, about the minimum wage, you got applause. You didn't pause for it. I'm surprised. Why not?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I will. I mean, we could applaud -- but it is an unbelievable thing that we have not increased the federal minimum wage for something like a decade. And it's just stuck where it is. And we should be increasing the minimum wage. That brings up the wage everywhere.
LEMON: I want to go to the gentleman out front. His name is Herbert Pence, a retiree who's lived in New Hampshire for 43 years. Herbert, good evening. How are you doing?
QUESTION: First of all, no relation.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, Herbert. Thank you for -- thank you for clarifying that.
QUESTION: OK. My question is, I'm not interested in what denomination she is, but how often does Mrs. Klobuchar attend religious services?
KLOBUCHAR: OK. That's interesting. Well, whenever I can, I go to church. I am -- I'll tell you -- I'm a Congregational. And my husband's actually Catholic. And I'm actually really active in the Senate prayer breakfast. That's something you may not have known about me. I chaired the National Prayer Breakfast. I actually spoke at the prayer breakfast just two years ago on the national stage.
And the Senate prayer breakfast is a really important thing. It happens once a week. No one ever knows what people talk about. It is a mix. It is -- liberals go there, I promise. Conservatives go there. And it is a way for people just to tell their stories about their lives, like some of the stories we told here today, and to be able to have some common ground without people pointing fingers and it getting out there.
And so faith is very important to me. It helped me get through my dad's addiction. It's helped me to work with members actually in the Senate on things like foreign aid, things that -- I may not agree with some of these members on other things, but we have that in common. And I think it is -- guides my life. I do think everyone should be able to practice what religion they want
in this country. That's the United States of America. Or not practice religion. But for me it is an important part of my life. Thank you.
LEMON: That gentleman is Jeremy Nedelka from Portsmouth. He's a content director at a publishing company. Go ahead, Jeremy.
QUESTION: Thanks, Don. And thank you, senator, for being here in New Hampshire today.
KLOBUCHAR: Thanks, Jeremy.
QUESTION: Democrats don't often...
KLOBUCHAR: Thanks for swearing that sweater. It makes me feel at home.
QUESTION: Thank you. Democrats don't often talk about cutting spending, but our trillion-dollar deficits are unsustainable and the progressive tax plans that have been proposed have little chance of passing a divided Congress. What would a budget proposed by President Klobuchar look like? And specifically, would you be willing to make tough choices by reducing spending on defense or entitlement programs?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, thanks very much, Jeremy. And I have long been focused on this debt, and I'm very dismayed by what this administration has done, because we're basically going to be passing this debt on to others.
I don't think this is the time to make some kind of wholesale changes to Social Security or Medicare. I think we should be protecting those programs.
I do think that there are -- because you asked that first. I want to lead with that. I do think there are things that we can do to make Medicare more effective. I also think there's things that we can do to encourage quality health care, something I've always believed in. I know New Hampshire has. I've been to Dartmouth with Senator Shaheen and know the work that's going on there at the medical studies and at the medical school.
But I also think on the Social Security front you could lift the cap and basically put a donut hole in there and that would help to pay for Social Security.
But let's talk about some other things. That Republican tax bill, I favored reducing the corporate tax some. But it went so low that once it went under 25 percent, every point was $100 billion. You think what that could pay for, for rural broadband all over this country, which I pledge to do by 2022, right?
You think about what that could do with the debt. And then there's other things I think we should do when it comes to tax reform. Close the carried interest loophole, right? Bring the capital gains rate to the rate that we see for personal tax rates. Do something -- the Warren Buffett problem, now that saves up to over $100 billion now, where he actually pays a rate that is lower than his secretary's.
And then last one thing I would add to the mix, because there's so many things we could do. But one thing alone, comprehensive immigration reform, the bill we had back in 2013, supported by none other than Grover Norquist. Why? Because it brought the debt down $158 billion, OK? That is how much it would save.
So there are many things that we could do that would get us on the right path with regard to our debt. But we shouldn't be doing it on the backs of the people that can least afford it in America, including the middle class.
LEMON: So, Senator, Olivia Teixeira is already a president. She's the president of the New Hampshire College Democrats and she has a question.
KLOBUCHAR: Oh, very good. Well, congratulations. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you so much for being here, Senator. My question is, with school shootings on the rise and last week being the anniversary of the shooting in Parkland, what is your plan to keep college students like myself safe on campuses across the country? And how is that plan different from the other Democratic candidates?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, thank you so much. And I think we all just were horrified by what just happened in Aurora, that shooting. Five innocent people at their workplace. Officers getting shot, putting themselves in the line of fire.
And once again, when I saw that, I thought to myself, how can this keep happening in America? Like New Hampshire, Minnesota is a state that values the outdoors. We value hunting and fishing. And so I come at it from a little different place than some of my colleagues that are running for this office in that I always look at every proposal and say, would this hurt my Uncle Dick in the deer stand?
And I would say that these commonsense proposals in front of us do not. I don't see banning assault weapons, right? I don't think that hurts in the deer stand. I don't think background checks, commonsense background checks -- and let me explain here my experience with the president on this.
Because I am the lead on a bill involving domestic violence and stalking, I was invited to the White House for the meeting he had on guns right after Parkland. Remember that? And I sat right across from him. You can see the video. And I counted nine times he said he wanted to see universal background checks, to close that gun show loophole. Nine times. And then the next day, he met with the NRA and he changed his tune.
This shouldn't be happening in our country. I had those families of -- I had those families from Sandy Hook in my office the day that we had to tell them that we couldn't pass that bill, that two A-rated NRA legislator senators, Manchin and Toomey, had put together. And I remember one of the moms telling me, you know what? We know this wouldn't have saved our babies, but it would have reduced domestic homicides and it would have reduced suicides, and that's why we're here.
And she told the story of her son who's autistic who every day would point to the picture of his teacher, his school aide, and then he would go to school, because he had trouble talking. And as she sat in the fire station, and one by one those kids came in, she knew she was never going to see her little boy again. And as she sat there sobbing, she thought of everything about him but she also thought of that school aide, because she knew that she would never leave his side. And when they found them shot multiple times dead, that teacher had her arms around that little boy.
Those parents had the courage to come to Washington to advocate for something that wouldn't save their babies. We should join the majority of Americans, and actually many gun owners, in having the courage to pass commonsense gun safety legislation.
LEMON: I'm going to bring in now Mohammad Saleh. He's an engineer from Keene. Mohammad, go ahead.
KLOBUCHAR: Your first name?
KLOBUCHAR: Mohammad, good to see you. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you, senator. There is a conservative argument for personal responsibility that is often taken too far and ignores the randomness of life and misfortune. Do you agree with the progressive view that a just and equitable society must be built with empathy for the unfortunate? Senator, can you share a personal realization from your own journey in life where things fell apart and you realized the value of collective empathy?
KLOBUCHAR: Oh, what a great question. Thank you. Well, for me, my daughter is here. She's 23. She's somewhere. There she is. And when she was born, she couldn't swallow. She was very sick. We had no idea what was going to happen.
And back then, the insurance companies had a rule in place that you got kicked off the insurance in 24 hours. And there she was in intensive care. I'd been up all night. And they kicked me out of the hospital. And I didn't even know what was going on. So I went to the legislator and worked with -- I was just a mom,
basically. I was not in elected office. And she got better over time. It took years. But I went to the legislature and advocated for one of the first laws in the country guaranteeing new moms and their babies a 48-hour hospital stay. And we passed that law.
And so for me, working across the aisle on that and seeing the power of what you could get done and the power of bringing my pregnant friends to the conference committee, so they outnumbered the insurance lobbyists 2 to 1, and so that when the legislators asked when should this bill take effect, they all raised their hands and said now and it happened, that was when I got hooked on public service, because I could see that you could make a difference.
And that is one example in my life, but I think you know there are these examples in people's lives all the time where they're able to get a loan that allows them to go to school, they're able to get a grant that allows them to go to a great school like this. They are able to have something give them a helping hand, like my grandpa, who worked 1,500 feet underground in the mines his whole life, saved money in a coffee can, to send my dad to college, and my dad got that opportunity and then went from that hardscrabble mining town to become a journalist.
And I stand here today as the granddaughter of an iron ore miner, as the daughter of a teacher and a newspaper man, and as the first woman elected to the United States Senate from the state of Minnesota and a candidate for president of the United States because of that opportunity that is America.
LEMON: Don't sit down, Senator. Thank you.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.
LEMON: This whole week you've been living in my head because I've been rereading your book. And the stories that you told tonight were heartfelt and your book is amazing. It's called "The Senator Next Door." It starts out about you talking about how people say, do I go to school with you? Are you my neighbor?
KLOBUCHAR: Yeah, they all think they know me. Yes.
LEMON: And your daughter and how in large part that pushed you into public service. So thank you for your time. We really appreciate it.
KLOBUCHAR: Well, thank you, Don. This was incredible.
LEMON: Did you guys enjoy it?
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, New Hampshire. Thank you so much. Thank you. LEMON: So thank you to Senator Amy Klobuchar.
KLOBUCHAR: OK, thank you, everybody.
LEMON: Thank you, as well, to Saint Anselm College and to our audience. And my friend, Dana Bash, is back in New York, and she's going to pick up the coverage right now with "CNN Tonight." Good night, everyone.