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Amy Klobuchar on her COVID-19 fears for rural America

Correction: Judy Woodruff misspoke during this segment and referred to Stacey Abrams as former lieutenant governor in the state of Georgia. That is incorrect. Abrams was a candidate for governor in that state. We regret the error.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar was running for president just a few months ago, and now political rumors suggest she could be former Vice President Joe Biden's running mate. But Klobuchar says she’s focused on helping her state, and the country, to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. She joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the virus in Minnesota, federal aid for states, mail-in voting and her fears for rural America.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Republicans and Democrats in Congress continue to debate whether or not the federal government should financially help struggling state and local governments, who have seen their budgets balloon during this pandemic.

    Earlier today, I spoke with Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, whose husband has recovered from COVID-19, about Congress' role in all of this and more.

    Senator Amy Klobuchar, thank you so much for joining us.

    Your home state of Minnesota, I took a look at it. Compared to neighboring Wisconsin, you have got about the same population, but Minnesota has only about half the number of COVID-19 cases.

    How do you explain that?

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.:

    Well, I think it's a combination of things.

    Our governor and our elected officials have tried as much to speak as one voice, and we have been very clear about — the governor has — about people staying at home. We have also looked at things like hunting and fishing and keeping that open, as well as some of our home repairs, things like that.

    I think that has helped in trying to figure out — and no one is going to figure out the right formula. No one's seen anything like this before, but we're trying to do our best.

    The other thing we have done recently is, I have worked hard to get Mayo's serum test approved in Washington. And now we have reached an agreement, the governor has, with Mayo and University of Minnesota, so the plan is to be testing up to 20,000 a day, which for a state of our size, is pretty significant.

    And the one thing I would add, though, Judy, is what we have seen in our state, like you have seen all over the country, in Georgia and other places. The highest per capita is sometimes rural areas, not the highest gross number of cases, but the highest per capita.

    And I am really concerned that we're not prepared for rural America. Of course we have more seniors. We have less of hospitals and ventilators and the like, and so we really start have to focusing on that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's a story that needs to be told.

    Senator Klobuchar, now that we have — Congress has moved on, it's passed the fourth package of aid for small businesses, for people who are out of work, there are questions being raised about money that went to people, to organizations, businesses that it shouldn't have.

    How do you know that, in the next go-round, that is not going to happen again?

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar:

    Well, a lot of this is going to be enforcement and oversight.

    And I actually just brought a bunch of senators together on a letter about unjust enrichment to figure out exactly what's happening here, because there's no doubt, when this kind of money is going out, you have got to have heavy-duty oversight and enforcement.

    And I'm concerned that this administration — I mean, sign one was when the president fired the inspector general who had vast experience at both in the Department of Defense and the Justice Department for the major oversight of the money going out. That has to be watched.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    With the debate beginning now for this next round, we know Democrats are pushing for billions for state and local governments.

    The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is saying he wants to put the brakes on that. A report today from the Congressional Budget Office, the deficit this year, $3.7 trillion.

    How do you make the case — Senator McConnell talking about having states declare bankruptcy. How do you make the case that money should go to state and local government?

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar:

    Well, let's start back.

    The first thing I would have done before we had this pandemic was not pass a Republican tax bill. And I know that seems like old news, but that was a trillion dollars. And Democrats voted uniformly against that bill. So there are some inequities right now in our system that, after this pandemic, we must repair that would help us greatly with this deficit.

    The second thing, right now, we are in a national emergency, and the state and local governments need help. A lot of them have limited budgets. They're not able to basically put more money out, like the federal government. And that's why we're focused on this.

    The third thing is, just now, we were the ones that had to push for the testing money, $25 billion.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar:

    And if the president had prepared for this earlier and gotten the testing out, we would have been in better shape with our economy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One other thing — two other things I want to ask you about very quickly, Senator.

    One is the push by you and other Democrats for money for the states for mail-in voting and for early voting. Again, Senator McConnell, the majority leader, is saying this is not going to happen.

    You can't do it. He's got the control in the Senate with the majority.

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar:

    Well, I'm sure that is a negotiating tactic, but maybe he should talk to some of the people in Wisconsin who stood in line in garbage bags and homemade masks, while the president of the United States was able to vote from the comfort of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue by sending in for a mail-in ballot from Palm Beach, Florida.

    People across the country, Democrats and Republicans, want to see more mail-in ballots. Governors, Republican governors in New Hampshire, Maryland, Ohio, have called for going to all mail-in ballots.

    We also have to have the polls open earlier for 20 days. So, he has said this before, Senator McConnell. But we were able to get over $400 million in the first bill.

    And now we need to do more. And that's why Senator Wyden and I are leading the effort for the bill to make sure we have got reforms in place, as well as more funding.

    This is not a Democratic issue. It is a United States of America issue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Speaking of the election, Vice President Biden has said he will choose a woman as his running mate.

    When both Senator Elizabeth Warren and the former Georgia Lieutenant Governor Stacey Abrams were asked about this, they said they were definitely interested.

    You have said it's a hypothetical, but it is a decision he's going to be making. Why not just come out and say one way or another whether you're interested?

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar:

    Because I am focused right now on the people of this country and the people of my state in this pandemic.

    And I do believe it's a hypothetical, because he's going to be making his own decision about who to ask.

    And no one knows better than Joe Biden. He was a great vice president with President Obama. He was a great vice president when it came to some of the issues he's talking about right now with accountability.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But it's clear that you're on the short list.

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar:

    Well, we take each step at a time.

    And, right now, I'm doing my job. And I'm helping Joe Biden across the country. I think that's very important.

    And I'm glad he's been getting out there, and people are seeing him on TV and the like, because people have to understand that there is an alternative to a president of the United States that, just yesterday, gets on TV to the nation and makes a joke, now we find out it is, about that you can drink disinfectant or bleach, and that that's how — going to help you.

    So, I just think we need a leader — and that is what I'm focused on, helping Joe Biden — that's going to be able to bring competence and empathy to the White House. And we don't have that right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, thank you so much for joining us.

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar:

    All right. Thank you, Judy.

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