A Conversation With Amy Klobuchar

Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Scott Eisen/Getty Images
Senator Amy Klobuchar
Nick Schifrin

Senator Klobuchar discusses her vision for the future of U.S. foreign policy. 

Read CFR.org's tracker on Klobuchar's foreign policy positions.

MCMAHON: Welcome everyone to this Council on Foreign Relations meeting with presidential—Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar. I’m Robert McMahon, managing editor of CFR.org. And I’m going to spend a couple minutes really quickly just to run through the CFR special initiative on covering election foreign policy issues. E2020, we call it. And then I will pass it over to Senator Klobuchar and Mr. Schifrin to follow through with their conversation.

You know, every four years or so we go through this cycle, where we ramp up here at the Council in and in many other organizations to try to provide some sense of framing of the foreign policy issues that are important as a new presidential term may begin or continue. And we tried to do that by offering meetings like this, where we allowed the candidates to articulate their foreign policy visions. We also this year though, given the stakes, given the atmosphere, given the volume of candidates, we decided to do something extra. And so expanded our tracker, what we call a tracker, foreign policy tracker. Twenty-five candidates at its peak have been tracked on this foreign policy tracker. And it’s their views on everything from trade, immigration, to national security. And that is going to be updated. Even as the number of candidates dwindles, it’s going to be updated right to election day.

We’re also trying to reach voters and interested audiences in places where they’re getting information. So podcasts. So our Director of Studies James Lindsay has a special podcast series as part of his President’s Inbox series where he talks to two experts with sort of different worldviews, shall we say, about an important issue, the Middle East, for example. And they go into it over the course of a forty-five-minute podcast. Video is another area we’re trying to reach audiences. Our Deputy Director of Studies Shannon O’Neil serves as a guide to our short explainer videos that will be aiming to, over a series of ten, try to explain issues that maybe are a bit misunderstood, or there’s a bit of conflicting information about. So the first issue is who pays for tariffs. And so that one was just—was just dropped last week.

Also a new thing for the Council this year is our outreach team has set up these—what they call foreign policy forums in four university towns in states just ahead of their voting in either caucuses or primaries. So I believe it’s now Texas, Florida, New Hampshire, and Michigan will have these forums where CFR experts will be speaking on—again, on the leading foreign policy issues of the day in front of audiences. So bringing the discussion out to the other parts of the country to try to provide some context for understanding what’s at stake, what’s going on, and what the candidates are maybe discussing about how to deal with the U.S. role in the world.

So all of this is to be a resource, is to be a way for, in this sort of extraordinary moment, to provide a kind of a nonpartisan place for people to come, get resources, and try to make up their minds about how they view the world, how they view the U.S. role in the world. I think I would just conclude by saying please check out CFR.org/Election2020. And I don’t want to take up any more of the time from today’s conversation, so with that I would like to turn over to Senator Klobuchar. Please come to the podium. And please welcome—please join me in welcoming Senator Klobuchar. (Applause.)

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. Well, thank you, everyone. And it is wonderful to be here. And thank you for the work you’re doing. And I also note that I somehow made it here from the Judiciary hearing on the inspector general report on the FBI. I’m here, and then can return to ask my question, which means that that hearing is going on for a really, really long time. (Laughter.)

But it is truly an honor to be here at the Council on Foreign Relations, which has played such a major role in the world for 98 years. You were founded in the aftermath of World War I and the Senate’s rejection of the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations, which was a critical moment in history when American rejected a global war—a global role and retreated into isolationism. The rest, unfortunately, is history.

Since that time, CFR has always sought to help remind us of the importance of engaging in the world and helps us think about how we can work to resolve global challenges that affect us here at home rather than simply wishing them away.

Several years ago David Ignatius of the Washington Post once wrote a column titled “The Internationalism of the Heartland.” And in it, he wrote about how some of the defining voices of global commitment over the past half-century have come from America’s middle. And by that, he just didn’t mean people in the middle of the political spectrum. He meant people in the middle of the country. He meant people like Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee, Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, Senator Mike Mansfield of Montana, and, yes, Senator Walter Mondale of Minnesota.

And I actually have given speeches at home about my own state’s transition from isolationism. We actually had the congressman who said Europe should paddle its own canoe, if you remember that. Yes, he was from my state. (Laughter.) And then you saw other elected officials out of Minnesota, like Senator McCarthy, who actually played some role in international trade and opening things us, as well as, of course, Senators Humphrey and Mondale. And that change in our state coincided with more international businesses. It coincided with outreach to the world. It’s one of the reasons we have one of the highest rates of international adoptions. And it is very interesting to trace each state’s transition.

But when Ignatius interviewed me for that column, I told him that as a senator from the Midwest that I believed that we needed to embrace rather than tolerate internationalism. He summarized my comments by saying that after a difficult decade the United States needs a refreshed internationalism that recognizes its stake in the world, even as it avoids costly military commitments where possible. He called this approach internationalism of the heartland. And I think it is more important now more than ever.

We know that a safer world is not just about what we do here at home. It is also about what we do abroad. And even if you want to isolate yourself from the rest of the world, the rest of the world doesn’t let you. And if you try, you miss when international problems come banging at your door, and you do nothing about them. And then they get worse. But you also, most importantly, miss opportunities when they come knocking.

So how do we respond to the problems that we have before us, and how do we seize the opportunities that we may miss if we isolate ourselves from the rest of the world? So on November 4, 2020, the long-term future of America’s role in the world will be determined. That is not an overstatement. Make no mistake, under Donald Trump’s presidency we are witnessing an erosion of our long-held principles, our alliances, and really America’s moral authority.

We still hear it every day. I am still waiting for the president to tell us how asking a foreign leader to dig up dirt on a political opponent and essentially try to fix an election, how that makes America great again.

I’d like to hear from him how leaving the Kurds, our allies from year after year after year, how leaving them for slaughter makes America great again.

And I would like to hear about how walking out of a NATO conference just because some other leaders were making jokes about you—honestly, I’ve heard worse on the United States Senate floor, not just about the president but about a lot of people that we may even like. I’ve heard these jokes before, but you don’t walk out just because people are making jokes about you. You don’t quit on the world. I don’t think that makes America great again.

And I would most likely—most like to hear about how coddling up to Vladimir Putin makes America great again. It doesn’t make America great again; it makes Russia great again.

Most troubling of all is the damage to our moral authority and makes it more difficult for us to attract allies, to inspire people around the world to look to our example. Our democratic allies and partners have trusted us to lead for the benefit of all and not just for ourselves.

But this administration has fundamentally changed that perception. The president has aligned our country with the forces of corruption and authoritarianism at many junctures. And when he does that, he implicitly and sometimes explicitly blesses the conduct of those who fail to uphold our values and rejects the rule-based international order that has endured for generations.

He does it when he goes after the press and the First Amendment. That’s what dictators do.

He does it when he goes after our refugees and our immigrants and people of color. That’s what dictators do.

He embraces Kim Jong-un because, the president says, they fell in love. Meanwhile, there have been no meaningful commitments, no timetables, and no verification when it comes to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

We continue business as usual with Saudi Arabia, even after its crown prince ordered the cold-blooded murder of Jamal Khashoggi. And our president touts billion-dollar arms deals with those responsible for untold numbers of civilian deaths in Yemen.

We need a new commander in chief—someone who can command with stability and strength, someone who understands that the great challenges of our time can and should be dealt with by using our country’s advantages: the ingenuity of our talented and diverse population, the connections we have all around the world because of that population, our entrepreneurship, our big ideas, our unmatched military—and yes, that’s true—but also our diplomats and our global networks of allies and partners with shared interests and shared values. By standing together with our allies and investing in ourselves, we can protect our interests and build a more just world.

Today I want to talk about five steps we can take to address the challenges facing our country. They are simply called the five Rs, as opposed to the three Rs of writing and reading and arithmetic. We do need those too, but I’m going to focus on these five Rs: restoring American leadership, repairing our alliances, rejoining international agreements, responding appropriately to the threats and challenges that come before us, and reasserting American values—restoring, repairing, rejoining, responding, and reasserting.

So we’ll start with restoring American leadership. We have to send a clear message that America is once again a global power of good. Trust from our allies that we will stand with them is key, and trust from our adversaries that we will oppose them and defeat them. For me that begins with respecting our frontline troops, diplomats, and intelligence officers who are out there every day risking our lives for us. They deserve better than foreign policy by tweet.

The impeachment hearings have made clear the devastating affect that Donald Trump and his policies have had on our State Department and our diplomatic corps. As Ambassador Yovanovitch, who I know personally, said in her testimony, the State Department is being hollowed out from within. This is not a time to undercut our diplomats.

Restoring American leadership both at home and around the world begins with rebuilding the State Department and expanding our budget for foreign assistance. That’s not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. As former Secretary Mattis once said—and I wish he was still there—if you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition. Whatever issue we face, whether it’s conflict in Syria or Ebola pandemics in Africa or Zika in South America, our response is more effective if we use the tools of diplomacy and work with our allies.

In my first one hundred days as president, I will launch an effort to rebuild and restore our diplomatic corps. That begins with immediately depoliticizing foreign policymaking and ensuring that the State Department and international agencies receive sufficient funding. We will recruit a new generation of Foreign Service officers who will carry the mantle of American values and ideals forward.

But we will also welcome back—this is sort of make new friends, but keep the old—we will also welcome back and make it possible for career diplomats who were forced out of the State Department under the Trump administration to return. And there are some things you have to do to create those pathways to allow them to return.

Then there’s foreign aid, which has always gone hand in hand with our diplomatic efforts. Fortunately, Congress has been successful in pushing back against dramatic cuts to foreign aid proposed by the administration—I have been part of that—and has overwhelmingly supported a strong foreign assistance budget. Helping our friends and allies is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. Foreign aid is also critical to our national security, strengthening our economy, and demonstrating Americans’ moral leadership.

In 2017 I joined forces in a bipartisan effort to push back against the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to foreign aid, including for security and economic development in the Horn of Africa. I actually joined forces with a conservative Republican congressman from my own state. We went over to the refugee committee in Minnesota and did a joint public event. We talked about the fact that this is a security issue for America, and we specifically talked about the drought in Somalia since Minnesota has one of the largest East African populations—actually, the biggest Somalian population in the United States. By doing that together, by showing that bipartisan support, our constituents understood the catastrophic results and national security risks that can come from—in that one instance that they understood well because we have so many Somalians—inadequate responses to global disasters. That’s a kind of thing we need to do to make this a national priority.

I’ve also strongly supported the PEPFAR program, which is a great example of the positive impact we can have in the world with bipartisan cooperation, another example. PEPFAR, as you know, was launched under President Bush and continued under President Obama. And over the years it has saved millions of lives in sub-Saharan Africa and around the world and changed the course of HIV/AIDS and the pandemic.

Restoring American leadership also means making sure we continue to be a country that thinks, that invents, that makes stuff, and exports to the world. We know that over 95 percent of our customers are outside of our borders. That means exporting goods and have a strong manufacturing sector, but it also means, yes, trade agreements, but fair trade agreements with environmental and labor protections. I have voted for some trade agreements. I have voted against some trade agreements. But I think you have to look at each individual trade agreement and make your own decision.

But mostly what do we need? Cohesiveness and consistency in our trade policy. It means having allies at our side so we can knock down trade barriers across the world and seek new markets. And as a little bit of a sideline—not as relevant, sadly, in today’s news—but I actually lead the bill—the bipartisan bill—to lift the embargo to open the Cuban market, something that President Obama was working hard to do but has kind of been left. (Scattered applause.) Thank you, one person. (Laughter.) But has been—I don’t know if that was a cheering for the thing, or for President Obama, whatever. (Laughter.) I will take it, from this group. But having been there now several times, I have seen what we can do with those, what, eleven million people ninety miles off our shore.

And my most memorable trip, by the way, in addition to the one with President Obama, was with Secretary Kerry when he opened the embassy. And there were just three senators on that trip. Senator Flake, and Senator Leahy, and myself. And on our plane were these three Marines. I think their names were Jim, Mike, and Larry. And they were there. They were the ones that had taken our flag down when we closed the embassy over fifty years ago, to a jeering crowd. And of them said: We will be back. And over fifty years later, they were there, handing that flag to three young Marines who hoisted it over the embassy. That makes you think anything and everything is possible if you believe it can get done.

The next R, repairing our alliances. And this is key. I believe that strength means standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies, not cozying up to dictators. In my first hundred days—if you wonder why I keep mentioning this, this is key to building trust not only abroad but with our country. And I have a hundred-day plan that has over 137 things a new president can do without Congress that are legal. (Laughter.) And I—when you look at what happened—FDR had this hundred-day plan because of the economic crisis that we were facing. We have a bit of that ahead of us if we don’t change our ways. But what that also was a trust—a trust crisis. And I think to get at that immediately you have to show leadership and change, including in the international area.

So in my first a hundred days I will meet with the leaders of our neighboring countries and assure our allies across the world that we will stand with them. And I’ll renew our commitment to the U.N. and other international organizations, such as NATO. This is in stark contrast to President Trump, who criticizes our allies and coddles brutal adversaries. According to a Pew survey, people in France and Germany now are more likely to trust the leaders of Russia and China than President Trump. Why? Well, here’s one good example. They listen when the president dismisses questions about ISIS fighters escaping because he says, well, they’re just going to escape to Europe. How would you feel, if you were the people in those countries?

He bashes our NATO allies and injects doubt about our willingness to fulfill our treaty commitments. For seventy years, the NATO alliance has stood as a bulwark against aggression not just in Europe, but around the world. And it remains a vital partnership today. Vital to our allies and the security of the U.S. We can never forget that in the wake of the September 11 attacks it was NATO that invoked Article 5 for the first and only time. I will reaffirm America’s commitment to the NATO alliance and end any question of America’s commitment to collective defense. I will strengthen our relationships with Japan and South Korea, the cornerstones of our economic and security alliance in the Asia-Pacific region.

I will stand with Israel, one of our strongest and most enduring allies, and a beacon of democracy in a really tough neighborhood. President Trump has tried to drive a wedge time and time again for bipartisan support of Israel. I don’t approve of many of the things that he has done, nor do I agree with what Prime Minister Netanyahu has done. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t change things and retain that bipartisan support for Israel. I will stand up for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and also return us back to a peace process that combines, not separates, the political and economic tracks, has buy-in from Israelis, Palestinians, and the Arab world, and ultimately leads to direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians themselves that can lead to a two-state solution.

The third R, the third pillar, will be rejoining and reengaging with international agreements and institutions that serve to protect and advance U.S. interests. U.S. leadership in creating the global security and economic frameworks through international institutions, agreements, and norms has been one of our greatest foreign policy accomplishments. It’s allowed for peace and prosperity at home and around the world, as well as global cooperation to address challenges. By contrast, the Trump administration’s withdrawal from international agreements has been one of America’s biggest foreign policy blunders. Whether it’s taking us out of the Iranian nuclear agreement, the international climate change agreement, or the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, President Trump has made us less safe, and squandered America’s leadership abroad.

Here’s what I will do, again, in the first hundred days. On day one, I will rejoin the international climate change agreement. As you know, when he announced our withdrawal from the agreement there were only two countries not in it—Nicaragua and Syria. They are now in the agreement and we are the only ones that are not in the agreement. Then, of course, we have to lead by example, by bringing back the clean power rules and the gas mileage standards and introducing sweeping legislation to tackle climate change. I will meet our commitments to the U.N. and other multinational organizations.

And I will also jumpstart negotiations with Russia to extend the New START Nuclear Arms Reduction Treaty, and restore the INF Treaty, that are linchpins in this global framework. Yes, we know that Russia was cheating on the INF Treaty. But that doesn’t mean that you precipitously withdraw from that treaty. And I will renegotiate us back into the Iran agreement. One of the major focuses of U.S. foreign policy for years has been reducing the threat of nuclear weapons, particularly from Iran. That is why I supported that agreement, even though it wasn’t perfect, and why I believe we should renegotiate ourselves back into it.

Not only does Iran remain a destabilizing force, as we know it is also responsible for supporting terrorism, for directly aiding Assad’s brutal war against his own people in Syria, and for threatening the security of Israel and the entire region. But allowing them to, again, move toward a nuclear weapon by giving leverage to China and Russia, by leaving our allies in Europe holding the bag, that is wrong. And that is against our own interests and the interests of the world. Because of Donald Trump’s feckless decision to pull us out of the Iran nuclear agreement, Iran is resuming its enrichment activities, including at the underground site, and increasing its uranium stockpiles. We need a realistic long-term strategy for Iran that will contain its aggressive actions and prevent it from gaining nuclear weapons. Not just tough talk. That means—or tweets. That means renegotiating back into the nuclear agreement, but also rebuilding consensus with our allies and our partners.

The fourth R, responding to threats and challenges we face. I’ve already mentioned some of them. This means we must remain vigilant against terrorism. Since 9/11 we have made significant improvements to our countering terrorism and intelligence capabilities. But the threat remains. Our military forces and intelligence agencies must continue to go after terrorists wherever they pose a threat to the U.S. or our allies. We must also push back against Russia and China, two of the most significant beneficiaries of the disruption of our global system. They have seized the opportunity to strengthen their dictatorial regimes and challenge global peace and stability. They share an aversion toward democracy, and a desire to reshape the international system in their own image. They use political, economic, and military coercion to exert control over their neighbors while also exploiting cyberspace to threaten our critical infrastructure.

Putin’s regime presents a serious threat to our allies and our security. We know what they did in Ukraine. I went there twice, once with Senator McCain and Senator Graham. Seizing Crimea, poisoning political opponents, arming militants in Eastern Ukraine who shot down an airliner, and propping up Assad’s brutal dictatorship in Syria. Ukraine itself was targeted by Russian hackers—I like to remind ourselves as this current debate—it’s not really a debate—falsehoods being put out there. I loved Fiona Hill’s words, by the way, when she said: They are literally peddling in Russian propaganda. Anyone who blames Ukraine for the interference in our own election. But they themselves were targeted by Russia.

On my trip with Senator McCain to the Baltics I also learned a whole number of other incidences like this, including Estonia, when they moved a statue of a Russian fighter away from a public square into a cemetery. They were—then had their internet shut down, and they had to go and try to communicate with people from a hillside. It’s a small country, but still.

These were things that have been going on for years. And when we were there, I really didn’t fully understand that this had happened in such a big way in our own country. But now we know, in the words of Robert Mueller, that it happened in a sweeping and systemic fashion.

We should continue, of course, to cooperate with Russia in areas where we have common interests, but also must be clear-eyed about the limits of productive engagement as long as Vladimir Putin is in power. Effectively standing up to his aggression means reasserting our commitment to NATO, it means strengthening sanctions against his regime and its enablers, and it means protecting our elections. It means major investment in cybersecurity.

I was just talking to Senator Lankford on the Senate floor before I came over here. He and I lead the bill for backup paper ballots. We were gut-punched by the White House and actually by Senator McConnell in stopping that bill, which would have passed about a year ago exactly. It was in a markup in committee and calls were made to Republican senators to stop that bill. There is no excuse for that. This is not a partisan issue. It is about protecting our elections by having good equipment, by having audits, and by having backup paper ballots.

Then there is China. We only have to look at China’s detention of over one million Uighurs in internment camps or its attempts to crack down on democratic protesters in Hong Kong to see how far that country will go. And it has been playing by its own trade rules for years, stealing our cutting-edge technologies and intellectual property, and dumping steel. It weaponizes its economy against its neighbors by withholding key exports to try to extract political concessions, and it is pouring money into a military modernization program specifically designed to keep America at a distance and intimidate its neighbors. It’s trying to embed itself in our most sensitive infrastructure through internet firms which we know have strong ties to the Chinese government and by acquiring America’s startups and other companies to gain access to technologies.

Despite some very tough rhetoric, the Trump administration’s attempt to rebalance our relationship with China is focused on the wrong things. His trade war has already cost our country three hundred thousand jobs, but it has done nothing to forestall the long-term competition we face. There is an old Ojibwe saying that—we have a lot of tribes in my state—that great leaders make decisions not just for this generation, but for seven generations from now. If you’re China and looking at us right now, you see a president that doesn’t keep his decisions seven minutes from now. He has used a meat cleaver—or, should I say, a tweet cleaver—and is creating chaos with his erratic approach.

Look at one three-week period in August. On August 1 he claims he was going to put tariffs on three hundred billion (dollars) worth of new goods. On August 13 they dialed it back. And on August 20 he says he’s going to lower taxes because he’s concerned about what’s happening, which he said then will add more to the debt. And the next day he dials that back. As they say in trade negotiations, keep your promises and keep your threats. He has done neither.

We must go back to the negotiating table. You know that. But the point here is to focus our efforts on results and focus on trade enforcement efforts that actually help America. The stakes of this competition are high, and it’s not about some far-off balance of power in Asia. We don’t want to prevent China from succeeding, but we do want to prevent it from doing so at the expense of others, including Americans.

Our China policy needs to leverage our full range of economic, diplomatic, and security strength. This includes investments here at home in education and research to increase America’s competitiveness in the global economy and ensure a level playing field. It means repairing our diplomatic and security alliances, which China can never match. And it means standing up for U.S. values on human rights and democratic freedoms.

We don’t seek conflict with China or Russia, but we are also not going to allow them to break up the international system that has enabled peace, stability, and prosperity.

We also must continue to ensure that our military remains second to none. I’m committed to maintaining our military superiority over any adversary that would challenge us. We will ensure that our troops are the best-trained and best-equipped in the world.

We also should not be trapped by the false logic that higher defense spending automatically leads to a better military or a safer nation. Virtually every analysis of the Pentagon’s budget has found duplicative and unnecessary programs. So we need to make it clear that we will take a much clearer look at how money is being spent, and I will immediately focus on making sure we are making the right investments.

One of those investments, as I alluded to before, is clearly cybersecurity. This is not just about attacks on our elections. It’s electric grids. It’s our businesses. And it’s the new reality that we know we are facing. Congress has already provided the Pentagon with special authority to recruit civilian cybersecurity experts. As president, I’ll direct the Department of Defense to immediately provide adequate staffing for cybersecurity programs. We should vastly expand cybersecurity service programs that recruit top technology experts from the private sector because a modern national security strategy means prioritizing cybersecurity.

Another foreign policy challenge we have is Afghanistan. We know we are now deploying soldiers who literally weren’t even born before this conflict began. But the way we do that is by being very clear in our purpose and working with our allies to make sure that any negotiated settlement doesn’t go backwards on our democracy gains. It is not by haphazardly inviting the Taliban to Camp David. It is, in fact—or surprising people both in the Ghani administration and the Taliban with tweets that we are renegotiating again. What we must do is make clear and be very consistent in these negotiations, and work to end this conflict. I have committed to bringing our troops home by the end of my administration of my first four years.

Reasserting American values is the fourth R, and that means having at the heart—fifth R—the heart of our foreign policy our values. This includes standing up for freedom, democracy, and human rights around the world, and it starts right at home. We have to stop the fearmongering and stop the hate. We may come from different places. We may pray in different ways. We may look different. We may love different. But we all live in a country of shared dreams.

I remember at the height of the anti-immigrant rhetoric in the last campaign I heard the story of a Somali family in Minnesota that had gone out to dinner. The parents had been in our state through 9/11 and they had not experienced any discrimination. But at this moment they went out to dinner in a suburban restaurant, and a guy walks by, and he 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 could eat dinner out tonight. (Laughter.) And you think of that word—that innocent child. She didn’t even know what he was talking about because she only knew one home. That was my state. That was our country.

So as we think of reasserting our values at home and abroad, we have to remember that what we say at home matters to the rest of the world. It is very hard to be the beacon of democracy and talk about the Uighurs or talk about what’s happening to the Kurds if, in fact, we are not taking care of our own house.

I come from a family of immigrants. My mom’s family came from Switzerland and ran a cheese shop for a while, kind of cliché. (Laughter.) My relatives on my dad’s side of the family came from Slovenia and worked in the mines in northern Minnesota. My grandpa had to quit school at age fifteen to help support his family of nine because his parents were sick. He became a Teamster and then spent the rest of his life working underground in those mines. He wanted to be in the Navy, and I often think when he went down in that cage with his lunch bucket that my grandma would pack for him how much he thought of that life at sea. But instead he went fifteen hundred feet underground every single day to take care of his brothers and sisters. His youngest one sister had to go to an orphanage when his parents died, and he promised he’d get her, and he borrowed a car when she was I think ten years old and he went back and got her out of that orphanage. That is sacrifice. Every day he would go to work in his hardhat and pull on his boots and get the job done.

That’s what we have to do now because we believe in a country—a country where the granddaughter of that iron ore miner, and a daughter of a teacher and a newspaperman, and the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from the state of Minnesota can run for president of the United States. That is because—why did my great grandparents come here on my dad’s side and my grandparents come here on my mom’s side? Because they were looking for a better life. They saw our country as a beacon of democracy. We must believe that America can continue to be that beacon.

The damage President Trump has done to our standing in the world is serious and it will last long beyond his presidency, but I don’t believe it is irreparable or I wouldn’t be running for this job. It will take time and hard work, but I believe we can rise to the challenge and restore the promise of America’s unique role in the world. Four more years of Donald Trump would permanently weaken our country, and that’s why we cannot afford to lose this election. The world is watching us closely. Allies and adversaries alike are wondering, has America definitively turned away from its commitment to values that truly make us great and enabled us to build a global network of alliances unmatched in history? Or is the current administration an aberration, a hiccup on the path to greater prosperity and a secure future? I know where I stand, and I hope you will join me. Thank you. (Applause.)

OK. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you.

SCHIFRIN: Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Senator.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.

SCHIFRIN: And thank you for being here.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, Nick.

SCHIFRIN: And thank you all for being here. My name’s Nick Schifrin. I’m the foreign affairs correspondent at PBS NewsHour.

So I have three minutes. And the audience—

KLOBUCHAR: The host of the debate coming up.

SCHIFRIN: Well, that’s true.

KLOBUCHAR: You don’t have three minutes, right?

SCHIFRIN: I do have three minutes. So I’ve got three minutes and the audience will have ten minutes—

KLOBUCHAR: Oh, good.

SCHIFRIN: —because the senator has to get back to the Hill.


SCHIFRIN: So a wildcard on China, if I may.


SCHIFRIN: We’ve done a lot of work on China lately, especially on Uighurs, which you mentioned, of course, and Xi Jinping himself. And there have been leaks lately that have described Xi Jinping making a decision. In 2014 he decided that economic incentives alone in Xinjiang wasn’t enough to control the Uighurs, that there needed to be some kind of psychological means of control. Is Xi Jinping personally responsible for the imprisonment and holding in camps of more than a million Uighurs?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, he is. He’s the leader of that country. But the question is, what do we do about it? And those stories that we have seen in the news have been just atrocious. You have students that come—go away to college, basically, and they come back, and their parents are gone, their families are gone. And if we cannot stand up for that—against that, I don’t know what we can stand up against.

So to me, a lot of this is working with our allies so we make very clear what they’re doing is wrong. This is a change that can be made. We know; we had a history of this with the Japanese. And we reversed that, and we have apologized for that, and we’ve spent years and years and decades and decades coming back from that. So we, of all countries, should be able to say this is wrong and stand up against it.

Do I think this should be part of our trade negotiations? No. I think this should be separate from our trade negotiations, as well as what we recently did in the Congress in standing up for the ability of the protesters in Hong Kong, which the president grudgingly signed into law. I think that just has to be a tenet of foreign policy. And we have lost so much credibility when it comes to things like this that I think, bit surprise, when they’ve seen how President Trump reacted to the dismembering of a journalist from an American newspaper, other people are watching. Other leaders across the world know we’re not going to stand up. And this has happened time and time again. And that’s why having a new president who’s not going to tolerate, who’s going to call them out for it, who’s going to be at the international conferences and not quit on them, I think will make a difference.

SCHIFRIN: The Trump administration has sanctioned people it believes are responsible for the Xinjiang crackdown. If President Xi is responsible, would you sanction Xi Jinping?

KLOBUCHAR: Again, I’m not going to negotiate this up with you right now on this stage, as much as that would be fun. But I just think that he just should be much firmer in his stance on this, and that we have to keep pushing them. And I think eventually we will triumph, but not if we lose our moral core.

SCHIFRIN: And then quickly, U.S. military officials who work in Europe and Ukraine, Ukrainian officials who I talk to say that the increased assistance sent to Ukraine, including Javelin missiles, money for anti-sniper system, more money to Ukraine has successfully deterred any Russian incursion in eastern Ukraine. So is that proof that the Trump administration on policy—sorry—Trump administration policy on Ukraine is working?

KLOBUCHAR: (Laughs.) I think that this is a longstanding policy that a lot of people have been involved in. I actually personally advocated for sending more assistance to Ukraine when President Obama was in, after trips that I took with Senator Durbin and then another one, as I mentioned, with Senator McCain and Senator Graham. And I don’t attribute any one policy to some stabilization. I note there has only recently been a ceasefire. And I also note that the leaders involved in that ceasefire were Angela Merkel and the president of France, Macron. And our president had left, because he left the NATO conference. So I think it is a combination of factors. But, again, we still have this situation, despite that there’s a ceasefire, we have the situation where they have still illegally annexed Crimea, and Ukraine is nowhere back to where it was before Russia invaded their country.

SCHIFRIN: Although, that’s—the Normandy process, of course, was different, what we saw in Paris a couple days ago, than NATO.

KLOBUCHAR: Mmm hmm, right. Yes, I know that. But what I’m saying is that I don’t see this huge change. And I also see our own president and his—some of his minions on the political side, actually putting out disinformation and blaming Ukraine for invading our election, which I don’t think helps our relationship with Ukraine. And not being strong enough in taking on Russia, which was really the source of invading our election.

SCHIFRIN: OK. So I’m out of time. We’ve got about six or seven minutes before the senator has to get back. So let me start back there, woman in red, please. And because we have so little time, please very quick question. Identify yourself quickly.

Q: Hi. I’m—(inaudible)—from the Japan Institute of International Affairs.

Senator Klobuchar, thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. I have one follow-up question. I applaud your condemnation of the U.S. departure from the Iran deal. When you say you want to renegotiate back into the deal, can you clarify what you mean by that? Would you rejoin the deal, or renegotiate a new deal?

KLOBUCHAR: Sure. Yeah, exactly. And so you said you’re with the Japan alliance, is that right?

Q: Japan Institute of International Affairs.

KLOBUCHAR: Right, exactly. Well, good to see you. As you know, we were very proud when Ambassador Mondale was the ambassador to Japan. And I’ve done a lot of work with Japan. So thank you.

So when it comes to Iran, I think we should try to seek, for instance, longer sunset periods and other things to make for a better agreement. But I don’t even think we’re close to doing that right now when the president has taken us out of that agreement. And so I would embark no new negotiations. I honestly hope that that happens before a new president takes over, before I would take over, because as everything that Iran is doing right now is somewhat predictable, including what you’ve seen in terms of the oil tankers and other things. I think many of us thought this would happen.

And to me, this is just the worst of all worlds. Even from people who oppose the agreement, some of the Democratic senators like Senator Schumer or Senator Menendez. They did not favor getting out of the agreement because of the fact that you are literally—have given them some of the funds back, correct, but yet then are not doing anything when it comes to stopping them from enriching uranium. So I just think we’re in the worst of both worlds. So I would start the negotiations immediately, work with our allies—something this president isn’t doing.

I am—when I brought up the tweet, that was because of his latest thing when there was a prisoner exchange. And then he sent out a tweet: See, Iran, I can do a deal. Like, we were in a deal that took years to negotiate. And just because you don’t like every part of it and every portion of it, then your job as president is to lead, and is to figure out, well, OK, how can I use my leverage as this great democracy to try to make changes going forward? That is not what he did. He took us out of that agreement. So I would start the negotiations right away. And clearly there are many world powers that are interested in having us get back into that agreement.

SCHIFRIN: Henri Barkey in the front table.

Q: Thank you, Senator. Henri Barkey from the Council on Foreign Relations and Lehigh University.

Syria, which has been really a source of instability for Europe because of the refugees, can you—we’ve had two presidents, both Obama and Trump, do things that have been not very helpful. So I wanted to see, ask you, what you think President Trump—President Obama did wrong, and what President Trump did wrong, and what would you do today to resolve both the humanitarian and the political crisis?

KLOBUCHAR: Mmm hmm. OK. I think, you know, it is very hard to go backwards now. But at the time—and I went to a trip with Senator Graham, again, and some other senators. And we went to—went to Jordan, and to Turkey, and we met with some of the leaders at the time. And when I came back from that trip, I actually met with President Obama. And we called for some kind of a humanitarian zone opening to help there. And actually, it was at a moment of time where it’s possible we could have done more, and that didn’t happen. And things kept getting worse, and worse, and worse. Now I disagreed greatly with President Trump’s decision to move the 150 troops off of the border. I think that just left the Kurds in a horrible position, after they’d stood with us and lost eleven thousand people fighting with us. We broke our promise, which was heard all around the world.

And then I think the most important thing we can do right now is to ensure that the humanitarian aid keeps going to where it should go, working with whatever allies that we have left there. I was asked at one point: Do you think we should get Turkey out of NATO? I don’t think that. They house our nuclear weapons and our military sites, as you know. I don’t think that’s the right solution. But it is just continuing to work with the rest of the world. But he has put us in a very difficult position to show any leadership right now when it comes to Syria.

SCHIFRIN: OK, saw a few hands over here. Why don’t we take the back of this front table?

Q: Excuse me. Adam Schwarz, Asia Group Advisors.

Senator Klobuchar, thank you much for your remarks. In the rejoining part of your five R strategy, you focused mainly on political arrangements. And I wanted to ask your thoughts on what you see as the right U.S. role in multilateral economic arrangements. And I have a particular interest in whether you would see the U.S. wanting to rejoin the TPP. Thank you.

KLOBUCHAR: Mmm hmm. Thanks for that.

SCHIFRIN: If you want to address USMCA?

KLOBUCHAR: Huh? Oh, yeah. Why don’t I announce that right now? That’s a really good idea.

SCHIFRIN: Exactly. (Laughs.)

KLOBUCHAR: Obviously it is—since it’s just been put forward I haven’t looked at it. But I have—what I referenced in there I meant. I have voted for some trade agreements and against others. I look at them individually. And I think that if we’re going to start negotiations on TPP, to get at your question, we better make sure that there are improvements to that agreement. There were some real issues with that agreement. And we were awaiting, and then it got basically withdrawn from consideration, to see if improvements were going to be made. That doesn’t mean that a new president, especially with a looming threat of China, could not renegotiate that agreement. And I think as I look at USMCA, I’m going to look at what some of the changes have been made there on labor standards, environmental standards, the pharmaceutical agreement, and see if those are strong enough. I’m now merging these for your purposes.

SCHIFRIN: Thank you. Appreciate that.

KLOBUCHAR: If they are strong enough to garner my support. And then also as president, what we could do to take some of those negotiated changes, if they are strong enough, and to looking at TPP again.

I will mention on thing on USMCA. Weird fact about Amy Klobuchar you didn’t know is that I actually head up the Canadian-American Inter-Parliamentarian Group. And I’ve been doing that for over a decade, and have done a lot with Canada, including when Canada was going to be left out of this agreement, and it would have been just, I guess, USMA. And went to Canada after the G-7 and led a trip with Senator Blunt and Crapo to meet with the Canadians right after that kind of disaster with President Trump, in which our guest—our host took us to an underground—closed up underground nuclear facility. And we were concerned at that moment they were going to leave us there. (Laughter.) But they did not.

Among the many things on that trip I remember is that we were in a bus, and we looked out, and there was some fancy sportscar that drove by. And one of our Canadian hosts from a more liberal district says, ah, that must be a Canadian dairy farmer. (Laughter.) So anyway, so we know that there are issues of imbalance with those countries, and that’s why the renegotiation was so important. So the end of that story is I got back and worked with Senator Portman and other senators to set up a meeting at the Canadian Embassy, a very big dinner. We had half Democrats, half Republicans. I think there were fifteen or sixteen of us that went to that dinner, and really talked it through with the ambassador from Canada, their ambassador, at length. And worked out some ideas. I’m not saying that this dinner was some big breakthrough, but it at least showed the Canadians that we were interested in restarting those discussions again.

And then Senator Portman worked with the White House significantly, because of his past work, on some of the details of that. So we were very pleased, and I said this publicly, when Canada got back into that agreement. I don’t think it would have worked very well without our friends to the north. As I’ve often said, I can see Canada from my porch. (Laughter.) And so I’m looking forward to reviewing this agreement and working with my colleagues.

SCHIFRIN: Senator, we know you have to get back to an important hearing, so thank you very much. And thank you, everybody.

KLOBUCHAR: OK. Well, I wish we could take a tour around the world. Next time. All right, thank you, everybody. Thank you. (Applause.)


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