When asked point-blank if she trusts tech companies, Senator Amy Klobuchar said: “No. No, I don’t.
“I like that they are incredibly successful for America,” Klobuchar said on the latest episode of Recode Decode. “I like that they employ so many people. I like that they brought in new ideas and new innovations, but I don’t like that they’ve been saying ‘trust us’ for so long, and we did it … in this country, we have not always just embraced business and let them run the show.”
Sen. Klobuchar spoke with Recode’s Kara Swisher in front of a live audience at South By Southwest, where she laid out her vision for antitrust reform, new taxes, and a federal privacy bill that could reshape Silicon Valley’s relationship with the government. But before she can get any of that done, Klobuchar — who is running for US president in 2020 — needs to win the Democratic Party’s nomination and then the White House.
Among the ideas the Minnesota Senator floated in the hour-long interview is a tax on companies that exchange the private data of their users.
“We’re their commodity, and we’re not getting anything out of it, right?” she said. “When they sell our data to someone else, well, maybe they’re gonna have to tell us so we can put some kind of a tax on it, just like we do with other businesses. If you go on a truck, if you send stuff on rail, you have to pay for the roads and you have to pay for the rail, and maybe there’s some way we can do that with large sets of data.”
Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Kara’s conversation with Sen. Klobuchar.
Kara Swisher: Well, welcome here. I’m so excited to kick this off. Senator Klobuchar, I usually just beat up tech executives, so this is gonna be good.
Amy Klobuchar: Like Mark Zuckerberg?
Like Mark Zuckerberg, yeah. But he’s too easy.
Okay, I’m ready.
All right. I met with Senator Klobuchar backstage and we were talking about a bunch of things. And I asked her if she wanted to start with the comb or end with the comb. So we’re gonna start with the comb. I have to, I have to, I’m not a political reporter. Some of this … I have a son who is voting in the next election and I asked him about it and he said, “That’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard as a topic.” My other son who’s 13 said, “What kind of salad was it?” And other people are saying varying things. So what was your reaction to that story in the New York Times?
Well, first of all, hello everyone, before I get to the comb. It is great to be in Austin, I love this town. I actually, a few times ago when I was here, I got to rent a bicycle and by myself rode around for three hours and got lost. And it was just this incredible experience. So it’s really good to be back and good to be here with you. I figured if I can make it through an announcement in the blizzard, in my permanent snow globe, I can make it through our interview.
So of course, no one feels good when they read a story like that. And as I have said, I have high expectations for myself, I have high expectations for the people that work with me, and most importantly, I have high expectations for our country. And for me, that story was about … the comb story was me sort of doing a mom thing. I didn’t have a fork, I used a comb to eat a salad, very briefly on a plane in a MacGyver move. And as I look back at my time in the Senate, I know a few things. I know that I can be tough on people, sometimes too tough. That I can push them too hard. That I can always do better.
But I also know that we have incredible people that have worked with me, I wouldn’t have been able to pull off what we found out last week, that I was ranked No. 1 of any Democrat in the Senate by Vanderbilt on 15 metrics for getting things done in the United States Senate. And I couldn’t have done that without staff. And we’ve also had so many people that have gone on to do incredible things. Including Asal, that I just happened to see in the second row, who was my scheduler for three years in Washington, who’s now doing great work in the nonprofit sector.
And so you move on, you make sure that you have the right staff around you all the time to do a good job, and that’s what I’m gonna do now in this campaign. It’s a fishbowl, you’ll be able to watch us and see how I work with our staff and that’s what I’m gonna do as president.
Why do you think this is the thing they focused on with you? There are a lot of shitty bosses all over the place. I’ve had a number of them. Why do you think this is what has stuck here? Is it sexist? People have brought that … Other people have written that it’s not sexist. It goes on and on. What do you imagine?
I’m not gonna go there, and I imagine that other candidates are gonna be asked the same thing at some point and there’ll be stories. I was kind of right out with my candidacy, I thought that was really important. If you haven’t noticed, I have a little less name ID than a few of the other candidates and maybe that was why I was right out there right away. But whatever it is, I just can’t waste my time analyzing it because these stakes are too high and I care too much. That’s why I announced my candidacy in the middle of a blizzard by that Mississippi River, because I wanted to make the point that it is time to cross the river of our divides, to stop spending every day looking at the latest tweet and the latest attack and walk over that sturdy bridge that is our democracy to a new plateau in our politics, to a new ground in our politics.
And to me, which is why it’s so cool we’re here in Austin, is to take on the challenges that are before us. Because this is a city that has taken on challenges that has walked right into the digital world and developed new businesses and new ideas, that is on the cutting edge when it comes to culture and music and understands that America isn’t just on the coasts, right? That America, just like Minnesota, is in the heartland of this country and in the heart of Texas.
Well, okay, Austin’s really nice, the barbecue’s great. But I want to understand, though, why … When these things do degenerate, because it is part of the broader culture now, how stories pop up like this, they go through their cycles, there’s been dozens of them for each of the candidates. What does that say about our political culture now? Because it is a twitchy culture, we have a person who’s running this country who I think is probably the most epic troller of all time on Twitter.
He called me Snow Woman.
I liked that name, actually. I embraced it.
It could have gone so many other ways. How do you imagine that to be? I mean, you say that, we want to cross the digital divide, we want to get along. Can’t we all get … But life is not a Coca-Cola commercial.
It’s not just can we get along, no, no, no. I don’t think we’re all gonna get along. I think what we think we can do is have in the words of my friend, John McCain, the last thing he did when I saw him alive on his ranch was to point to some words in his book, which said, “There is nothing more liberating than fighting for a cause larger than yourself.”
Well, America is that cause right now and when I see the corrosive divide, instead of trying to find ways to bring us together in times of crisis, he finds ways to bring us apart. This is Donald Trump. Every single day. And so that is the No. 1 thing on people’s mind.
The second one is to make sure we have someone in the White House that is willing to rise to the challenges of the day, whether they’re climate change, whether there’s how we handle privacy legislation, immigration reform, something so important in Texas, so important for our economy, something that he doesn’t talk about enough. How we handle income inequality. These are the challenges of our day. And because we are spending all of our time being governed by chaos, he is not governing by opportunity and I want to govern with opportunity.
When you think about doing that, what is your path to winning in that way? How do you look at your path? Because first of all, there’s the money path, the raising of the inordinate amounts of money. There’s the noise of social media, there’s the divide, what is your path? Lay it out for us.
Well, I start with how I have won every single election that I’ve ever run in. And that is by going not just where it’s comfortable, but where it’s uncomfortable. Texas is a great example here, by the way. Look at those congressional races you won in this state, right? That people did not expect that you could win. And if you didn’t have candidates that came up and ran in areas that were unexpected, we wouldn’t have those seats. So that’s what I’ve done in my own state. And I have won in three U.S. Senate elections, every single congressional district, every single time — including Michelle Bachman’s, okay? That is in a purple state and that is in a state that Donald Trump nearly won, which includes winning, he won a bunch of rural counties that I then went on to win two years later.
And that is because I think when you talk to people in rural areas, you quickly find out that rural poverty for kids is just as bad as it can be in urban areas. You quickly find out that they feel like there are people in urban areas that think that their food just lands on their plate and don’t understand the hard work that goes into it. So there are rural hospital issues that are so unique. There are rural broadband issues. And that’s why as president, one of the things, as we talk about tech here, which I think should unite our country is that yes, we can be as good as Iceland, okay, we can get …
Is that your campaign slogan? “Yes, we could be as good as Iceland?”
I don’t think that would really work in the warmer parts of the United States, but the idea is that we should be able to get rural broadband out to every household, broadband, by 2022. There is no reason that we can’t do that.
But your platform, the key platform that you talked about when you were in the snow: Pharma prices, tech, what else?
I talked about the idea that we need to have people’s back, that everyone matters in this country. And for too long, yes, we want to move to universal health care, and I have ideas for that, but the pharma issue has been neglected really under any administration in the last 20 years. They actually think they own Washington. Well, they don’t own me. From the very beginning since the day I got there, I have led bills that have been focused on bring pharmaceutical prices down. To me, that means more competition. In Minnesota, we can see Canada from our porch and that means we see these less-expensive drugs all the time.
So if you were to bring in safer drugs from places like Canada, that’s a bill I had with Senator McCain and now Senator Grassley has agreed to take his place, you could bring down prices. If you stopped the pernicious policy called Pay for Delay, where big pharma pays off generics to keep their products off the market, think about how anti-competitive that is, you save $2.9 billion for customers in just a few years. Medicare, allow to unleash that bargaining power of 43 million seniors and lift the ban on negotiating prices. Those are all pro-consumer issues. Those are all ways to deal with competition and to bring back what I think is a strong system, the capitalist system.
But you’re not gonna have entrepreneurship like we’re seeing in this town if you allow big companies to buy out other companies and to completely dominate a marketplace. Then you lose competition. It was Adam Smith that said, as much as he loved capitalism, he said that he fears that power of monopolies. Well, that’s what’s happening right now.
You said pharma doesn’t own you but it owns Washington. How do you then do anything about it?
Well, because it’s starting to be such a big political issue that politicians get scared, right? So politicians get scared when there’s a crisis, like when we had the financial crisis and then we had to act. Well you don’t want to wait until you get to that moment of a crisis. But right now, the voters clearly said we don’t like what’s happening when it comes pharma prices. Ads were run on it, people who had been too much in their pockets were in trouble and it was used against them. So you’re reaching this pinnacle of a political moment where you could actually get action and you’ve got to seize that moment and that moment is now and that moment will be when I’m president of the United States.
When you think about this idea of large companies, we’re gonna get to tech in a minute. One of the things that you are also doing is sort of the idea of you’re in the middle, you’re in the middle of the country, you have a more, some people think is too compromised. There’s a lot of pull to the left in the Democratic party. Talk a little bit about that issue, because I think it’s hard to resist what’s happening within the Democratic party itself.
What I see as a real election model, and that was 2018, when yes, there’s differences in our Party, I think that’s healthy that we’re not all in lock step. And we certainly are at a moment in time when we need new ideas in our party. So you can have new ideas from the left, from the middle, from the right. But you’ve got to be open to new ideas. And that’s, by the way, how you always get compromise and how you get things done. If you just shut down new ideas, then you’re never gonna get to a different place in our politics.
So I saw in 2018 that people united behind candidates. Yes, there were a few well-known primaries, but in the end people united behind the candidates and we elected people like Laura Kelly in Kansas, Democratic governor who beat Kris Kobach that people didn’t think was possible. In my neighboring state of Wisconsin, we elected a new governor who beat Scott Walker, that happened, and we also elected some exciting new liberal candidates to Congress all over the country. So we have people of all different stripes. The important thing is we realized that there was a cause greater than ourselves, whatever our individual differences are, and put some new people in who now can be that check and balance on the Trump administration.
So when you have a campaign, and the Trump campaign is gonna be sort of scorched Earth, it looks like it from this …
Yes, I know, shocking. How do you then push back against that? As a compromise candidate, “I’m gonna be reasonable.” You tried to do that in the Kavanaugh hearings, you kept your … when he was yelling at you about beer.
I kept my cool. I wasn’t gonna go down into that swamp with him, no.
Right. Do you have to possibly go down into that swamp, even though there you …
You have to pick your moments. And I would say one of the things that we learned out of 2016 — and Hillary Clinton would have been a great president, she had great ideas, she had a great policy platform — but no one had run against someone like Trump before, so this is across the board, not just her campaign, everyone didn’t know what to do. And it seemed to me that by going down every rabbit hole, that we lost our optimistic economic agenda for America that we regained. We had cases to make in 2018 that were really important. Don’t kick people off their health insurance for pre-existing conditions. So part of this is staying on the issues that matter to you and making sure that he doesn’t mess around with you.
The second thing is, you pick your battles with him, right? You don’t go after every single tweet he does. When he called me the Snow Woman, I thought, “Well, this isn’t bad,” so let it sit out there for a while and then I finally said … something I will do effectively is use humor. I finally said, “You know what, I’d like to see how your hair would fair in a blizzard,” Mr. Umbrella Man. So I think you have to …
Is that your nickname for him, Mr. Umbrella Man?
No, I just made that up right now, no, it’s not really, it’s not like a focused-group moment.
I’ve got some others.
I think that you have to pick your moments, you have to use humor, and you have to have a different approach to him than we’ve had before. But when he says things that are racist, when he says things that are anti-immigrant, that are meant to foment hate, yes you call him on it but you never lose track of your goal, which is to bring this country together.
So in doing that, because a lot of people do the tit for tat with him and they get drawn into his agenda. I think that’s absolutely right that you get …
Oh, he wants to get on every news cycle when you have something rolling, like you decided to announce in the middle of a permanent snow globe, then he wants to get in there. So you have to decide how are you gonna deal with it that moment.
What did you learn? You were talking about the sort of going down every rabbit hole in the Clinton campaign, what did you learn from that as you studied that?
Well, I learned that being in a Midwestern heartland state, I learned that there were people — and Hillary was strong on the farm bill and things like that — but I learned that there were people that weren’t hearing that. That they felt left out. That they felt our party, not just her, was not speaking for them. And that is why I’ve always had this mantra, that you go where it’s not just comfortable, you go where it’s uncomfortable. You meet people where they are and you listen to them and you don’t always agree with them, you stand your ground but you have got to hear them out.
So in that sort of middle position, which I think, would you call yourself …
By the way, could I use one example? Like guns, okay. I come from a prosecutor background, I’ve always believed that you have to have sensible gun safety legislation. I know we’re in Texas right now, which isn’t that different than Minnesota when it comes to hunting. So I look at every single proposal in front of me — and I have an F rating from the NRA, let me make this clear. I look at every single proposal before me and I say, “Does this hurt my Uncle Dick in the deerskin, okay?” And when I met your son with his Cabela’s shirt telling me that he had shot a boar, that was cool, I started talking to him about that because that’s what I look at.
And then I point out that the vast majority of Americans and even many, many gun owners believe that we can have universal background checks, right? So you have to make the argument, which doesn’t diss all of hunting, a quality of life issue for my people in my state but makes the safety argument. Because I sat across from Donald Trump and literally took track, nine times at that gun meeting we had, I was there because I was leading the gun safety legislation. The school safety legislation with Senator Hatch and also had a domestic violence bill. Nine times he said he wanted universal background checks. And the next day, he met with the gun lobby and never got it done.
Right. All right. So one of the ideas is getting, being in the centrists. With Biden entering the picture, and I hear Sherrod Brown coming out, how do you, he’s more of that kind of candidate, like you’re more of a centrist. How do you manage, you know, the 412 people running for the Democratic party?
I’m sorry, Kara, that’s a bit of an exaggeration.
There are a number of great candidates, no, there really are. And I always like to jokingly say, may the best woman win. But no litmus test, many of them would be good. But I think that competition is good. Barack Obama has told this to people, maybe not publicly, but I’ve heard he’s told a lot of people …
Did you have one of those meeting with him?
Yes, I did.
He was in a really good mood.
All right, okay.
He’s really happy, and …
… well, why not?
he was really happy about Michelle’s book tour and how well she’s doing and how she’s filling stadiums and that this is her moment. And it was just really quite beautiful to hear him talk about it.
But I think that he has always said that competition is good. And I believe that, that you need a competition of ideas, especially now when we’ve been so stultified by not moving forward on the challenges in front of us, and also that you want to hear different voices, and from different people in the country, and I am proud to be a heartland candidate; I think you want to hear from the Midwest.
All right, in that thing, the idea that why should you, this is a question I got from Twitter, why should we elect a candidate who says, no, that’s not possible, to do everything progressives want?
Because I’m being honest, and I think you want honesty. And you can have legitimate differences on how you get places. You know, I want to get to universal health care, and I want to do it with a public option; I think you could do that immediately, that was something that Barack Obama wanted to do with the Affordable Care Act, by expanding Medicaid or expanding Medicare.
I think that we need to move quickly on climate change, which is really the challenge of our time. When you look at the rising sea levels, when you watch that video of that dad driving his young daughter and singing songs to her through that lapping wildfire in northern California, and you think of people watching that and realizing that could happen to me. These are things are going on all over our country right now. And that’s why as president, I would rejoin the International Climate Change Agreement on day one, bring back the Clean Power Rules, bring back the gas mileage standards, introduce legislation to finally do something on building codes. This is the challenge of our day.
All right, that’s rolling back what they rolled back. What about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal? She’s here looking for tacos right now, apparently, according to the internets. How do you look at that? Because that’s quite …
Yeah, I’m a co-sponsor of that, it is a resolution, and I liked to get on that, not because I thought we could get everything done in 10 years, but because I thought that it harnessed this energy right now to say, let’s stop admiring this problem and do something about it, right? That’s what that is.
And I’m looking forward to seeing Mitch McConnell trying to use that against America, because America believes in science, and they know we have to move on this, they know it’s not gonna be one size fits all, that we’re gonna have to use renewable energy, and maybe solar works some places, and wind works other places, and hydro works some places, and we’ve got to do more with energy efficiency and electric cars and other things. But they know we have to do something.
The debate on whether it’s happening is over, the debate on how we handle it and how quickly we respond and whether we’re gonna be alone against the rest of the world or we’re with the rest of the world is happening now.
But that’s precisely what they’re doing, they’re attacking Ocasio-Cortez personally, which they’re doing a lot; she’s become their favorite. It’s not working particularly well, but …
No, not very well. She’s good at responding.
Yeah, but they are doing that right now around the billionaire stuff, around the taxing, around the Green New Deal, around a lot of these issues.
Yeah, that’s what they do, but my point is, America is on our side. And we need to, just as we did in 2018, we need to unite. There’s gonna be some differences on the policies and how you get there. But we can’t just diss the young people who want to do something on this; I know because I have one of them, my daughter, she’s 20.
All right. So, I want to finish up with this presidential thing. What’s the topic …
Yeah, let’s just finish it …
Yeah, no, president. No, I’m gonna get to tech, I wanna talk about tech.
Yeah, we got to. That’s why we’re here, yeah.
What’s the topic you want to avoid on the campaign trail, aside from hair care issues?
Oh, get out of here. Let’s see, I want to avoid constant attacks on what label are you, where do you, how are you different? And I want us to in a really good way, and maybe this is a Pollyanna, just be able to discuss policy differences. I’m looking forward to those debates.
And the gotcha every single day on things that are differentiating people, or something they said about each other, I think it’s gonna be one of the hazards that we’re gonna have to deal with. Because you get asked every day, “Well, what do you think about this person’s policy?” And then you say, “Well, I agree with this part, but not that part.” Or, “I agree with this,” and then that can be exploded into, “Oh, they hate each other.”
You know, I just hope we can get beyond that as a nation. There was times in our country, we mentioned antitrust, where we had big debates about big issues, and that’s what we need to do right now, and I have faith in my colleagues who are running for office that we’ll be able to do that well.
All right, so reasonableness is what you’re looking for?
Reasonableness in how we treat each other, because we have one goal, and that is to win the White House.
Let’s get to tech. You introduced a bill last year on social media privacy, you did The Honest Ads Act, all kinds of things. Three days ago, you talked about re-upping the investigation, the FTC investigation into Google’s dominance in search. Not many people heard that, I did, I heard when you said it, but then Elizabeth Warren came out with this astonishing proposal, and I think most people in tech are sort of vomiting in their Allbirds.
That’s really appealing!
Yeah, I know, it’s not. They’re gonna get someone to clean them, so they, it really went far, kind of thing. Talk first about the Elizabeth Warren proposal, and then talk a little bit about your issues around Big Tech.
Well, you know, there is merit in — and I want to look at the whole proposal — in the fact that she’s talking about that you have to look at the anti-competitive aspects of this. We all know that. And the way that I have approached it is this way. No. 1, privacy. For so long, these companies have said, “We’ve got your backs.” Well, that’s just not true.
And they’ve somehow equated a free and open internet, which we all support, net neutrality, this idea that you should be able to, everyone should have access to it, that’s true, but that doesn’t mean that we just say, “Okay, so just take all my data and I trust you. I’m a commodity to you; you make money off of me.” So the first thing we do is privacy legislation; I have a bipartisan bill to do that with notice of breach and those kinds of things.
The second thing is to look at the consumer pieces of this, in terms of how much they are making off of us, basically. Because the problem is that we just thought, oh, we can just put our stuff on there and it’s fine. But they’re making money off of us. So one big idea I think we need to discuss, in addition to privacy and making sure that the election ads are out there, is looking at, and that’s why I’m asking this here because I want to get your feedback later, is maybe there’s a way we could actually tax when they use data, when they use us and we’re their commodity, and we’re not getting anything out of it, right? Well maybe then we could tax them, so the money goes back to us, when they are exchanging that data. Right?
When they sell our data to someone else, well, maybe they’re gonna have to tell us so we can put some kind of a tax on it, just like we do with other businesses. If you go on a truck, if you send stuff on rail, you have to pay for the roads and you have to pay for the rail, and maybe there’s some way we can do that with large sets of data. When they use it or when they sell it. That is one idea that I want to put out there today.
Otherwise, we’re just being used, right? And this isn’t about taxing ourselves, it’s about doing this in a way that wouldn’t limit innovation, maybe you would do it with larger platforms, not startups, maybe there’s some way. But we should be looking at something like that, because these days that we think that they can just make money off of us, and we don’t get anything out of it, I don’t think that’s right.
And then the last thing I would add, which you know about, is just antitrust laws, which go way beyond tech. And those are my ideas to supercharge the agencies, and this would get at some of the stuff Elizabeth’s trying to get at in a different way, which is to give them the resources; by putting a fee on the mega deals. This is not on consumers, this is on the big companies that are merging, sometimes billion dollar, trillion dollar companies. So that they have to pay more so that then that is used to fund FTC, Justice Department, so they can be more on an even playing field, and as sophisticated as the tycoons that are making these deals.
That will allow them to do the — thank you, one person. That will allow them to do the investigation so they can better look at what’s going on, so you can look at what happened when they did the AT&T breakup, right? That was a big thing, but costs went down for long distance. We’re trying to replicate that in a much more complicated, sophisticated scenario.
And the last thing would be to change the standard. So on the big deals, that they have the burden to show, the companies have the burden to show in a merger that they do not materially reduce, I would change the standard, materially reduce competition.
Because otherwise you’ve got, you know, Google Maps buys Waze, and I don’t think most consumers know that, right? Well, they bought Waze. So we all love Waze, super cool, right? Well, now they own it. All right? And you have these things going on, online travel, when you go to all those sites to get a deal, 93 percent of them are owned by two companies. They have different names, but they’re all owned by the same companies. This is what brought Teddy Roosevelt into the White House, right? He ran on breaking up the trusts, and making sure that he preserved a capitalist system. Woodrow Wilson actually had an antitrust campaign song.
Can you sing it?
No one laughed, so sad. But actually it’s true, because people saw this as a way of guaranteeing competition, lowering prices, and increasing innovation.
All right. So antitrust, the idea of changing antitrust first, let’s talk about specific companies. Should Facebook or Google be broken up? And how?
If they are at a point where you have, there’s competition …
I’m asking you, are they?
I would want to have it investigated; that is how I do things, okay? I don’t just come in and say …
Well, there’s been a lot of, there was investigations.
No, no, no. I would think that you go in there, and we have just not had adequate investigation, which is why I called for that from the FTC; you go in there, and you figure out what are the anti-competitive, the major anti-competitive problems, and then you come up with a plan to break up or to move something out. If there’s a piece of it that is anti-competitive.
The other way you could do it, especially under the bill that I just introduced, you can strengthen, and I’m going to introduce a third one, you can strengthen the review going backwards after a merger has occurred. And one of the things I’m worried about with the potential that you’re gonna integrate Facebook and Instagram and WhatsApp, is that then it’s gonna be impossible to untangle it.
That’s why they did it.
To use the antitrust laws to do it. So that’s another argument for …
You realize, that’s why they did it. That’s one of the reasons.
Exactly. So that is why I think you have to have adequately funded government agencies with a president in charge who just doesn’t use antitrust as a weapon, right? “Oh, I don’t like CNN, so let me get involved.” Really bad. Instead, you see it as one of the governing principles for ensuring that we have a capitalist system. And that is, we don’t have all this monopoly consolidation that’s squeezing out new competitors and new market entrants.
All right, so antitrust regulation; it also has to change the idea of antitrust, correct? The house subcommittee just hired Lina Khan, who has some new ideas about antitrust; you were a lawyer. How does that … because competitive harm is hard to prove here, everybody loves Amazon, they deliver on time, and they’re never wrong, like that kind of, like everybody likes it.
Oh, you’re saying this to the home state of Target?
I understand that.
Which, by the way, went up last year because they started some innovative things, like you can go and pick your stuff up right in the parking lot, to give a little …
Yeah, but they, look, they missed a lot of turns; a lot of retailers missed a lot of these turns, but here you have the idea of consumer harm.
By the way, you want competition, right? You want this innovation that Amazon brought into the market. You just don’t want them controlling everything under them, that’s a monopsony. Whole Foods is another example of that. You want to have the ability of a government that’s a countermeasure to go in and investigate and figure out, hey, is this one so bad for competition, and shutting things out like we did in the long distance market, like they did back over a century ago with …
Rail and all kinds of industries, and the Pullman strike in Chicago. You want to be able to have pushback so that you guarantee that you’re not stifling the innovation, but innovation is there. That is always how we have worked in America.
And sadly, because of conservative courts, that have gone so conservative, including the two new nominees, Kavanaugh and Gorsuch, that are even more conservative on antitrust than who we’ve got there, you’ve got to do something legislatively and through the agencies to change this.
How likely do you think that is to happen? The idea of it. Because Republicans have their beefs with tech too, it’s largely around whether …
Right. And so by the way, that creates some likeliness, right? That creates likeliness that you can move on antitrust; a number of my colleagues on the Republican side have talked to me about that idea of increasing the fees on the mega mergers, that’s not on the taxpayers’ backs, drop in the bucket for them, so you can beef up the agencies, so they can better do these investigations. That’s something they are open to, we just have to set it at the right price. So I would say that first.
I think the public is gonna get more and more aware of this issue because of the presidential debates and what’s happening. I’m coming out with a book on this, actually, on antitrust. I’ve been looking at this for the last two years, and I think that you’re gonna be able to have a better discussion of this, framed in a way around things like pharmaceutical prices, data privacy, that’s gonna make it more bite-sized and more doable for an election.
All right. Privacy bill. Should be the lowest rung to jump over. Why, there’s a privacy bill in California that’s coming into force, which some people say doesn’t have enough teeth, there’s one in Europe that has a lot of teeth. I’m interviewing Margrethe Vestager tomorrow, who runs the competition bureau at the EU, you have that happening over there. You’ve got California, there’s different state things. But the federal government has not passed a privacy bill ever.
No, it’s pathetic; we had a hearing on this, and some of the witnesses were saying, “Oh, we hate this patchwork that’s coming up through the states. We hate the industry. We hate the California law.” And I finally said, “You know what? Why do you think the states are doing that? Because you have lobbied against any federal privacy legislation for years.”
And so now the time has come. Senator Kennedy and I have a bill, Kennedy of Louisiana, Republican, that would allow for 72-hour notice of breach, something that Zuckerberg said he was open to when he came before Congress, that would make clear that you have to, that you can opt out of this data sharing, and then also make very clear that it has to be in plain language. So those things would go a long way; there’s other things we can do, but we cannot keep going without privacy legislation.
But what has been the gatekeeper to having this happen?
Well, it has been lobbying, and making this … people are scared that it’s gonna look like they’re regulating the internet, and I think we have, you know, we blew past that when Russia was paying in rubles for ads in our last election. That’s over. We have got to look at …
And one more pitch of the bill that I want to pass the most immediately is the Honest Ads Act. We have 12 Republicans on it now in the House, and it simply says, when you spend a bunch of money on internet ads, like everyone’s doing right now, $1.4 billion in 2016, forecast to go to $3 billion to $4 billion in the next election? You have to have the same rules in place that the other media companies have. Newspaper, radio, TV, they have disclaimers for issue ads and candidate ads that says who pays for them, and then you have to disclose them so the other candidates and the press can see what you’re running.
One of the funniest arguments that companies used on me, they go, “Well, it’s too hard for us to do that,” to figure out what a federal issue ad is, that’s what the standard is. And I said, “Really? Okay, so my radio station in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, can figure that out, I think that you guys can.”
So what has happened since then is that Facebook and Twitter are both now supporting the bill. As you know in the last election, which was helpful, they undertook voluntary measures to put up their own archives, which was very, very helpful. But we need to have the law in place, so that everyone’s doing the same thing and we do not put ourselves at risk of foreign governments again buying ads in our elections.
Do you trust these tech companies?
No, no, I don’t; I mean, I like that they are incredibly successful for America. I like that they employ so many people. I like that they brought in new ideas and new innovations, but I don’t like that they’ve been saying “trust us” for so long, and we did it.
I think we have to have, as we’ve always had in this country, we have not always just embraced business and let them run the show. We have said, we love business; we want to have them employ people, this is part of why we’re great as America, but we always have a check and balance. The biggest goal of government in my life, and I said this when I was a newly minted county attorney, was protecting people’s safety. Well, right now, they did not protect our safety. Not the safety or our privacy, not the safety of our national security.
And I would also add, our government has to learn a little bit of the Austin way here, okay? We have to upgrade our cybersecurity, right? And one of the things that I put in with Senator Thune of South Dakota, I always work hard to make sure we got bipartisan support on big things like this, the idea is you give people a tour of duty, two years in Washington, from the private sector. And our people then can take a tour of duty with the companies. And it is a way of bringing some high-tech expertise into the government.
We’re not like China and Russia, we can’t requisition people and say, “You’re gonna work in a warehouse for five years.” Okay, we can’t do that because it’s America. But what we can do is create incentives to get the best of the best into our government, and the best of our best in our government to learn in the private sector.
So that’s been a difficult thing; that still remains very difficult, because they make more money working in other places.
Yeah, I know, but we found a way to do this in this bill.
All right, so when we’re talking about the idea of China, one of the things, I did a recent podcast with Mark Zuckerberg, and one of his arguments of why we should continue to trust them is that the choice is what’s going on in China, which is essentially a surveillance economy. They’re doing all kinds of things like facial recognition, social scoring, all kinds of things where you can see it going in any country, it’s like an episode of Black Mirror. And one of the things, when I talk to tech people, is I said, “Imagine your creation is an episode of Black Mirror. Then don’t do it.” If it becomes that, like imagine what could happen. Which I think is excellent advice.
But one of his arguments was, well, China gets to do all these things, and they’re gonna collect more data, have better AI, have better robotics. The government’s running it. And his argument was essentially, “it’s Xi or me.” And I don’t like the choice at all. I don’t like either of them.
You know, I like him better than Xi, but it’s kind of a low bar. So when they do make that argument, though, in that argument there’s a very cogent thing, is that tech has been innovative, has created jobs. How do you keep innovation, and at the same time throttle some of this behavior, which is careless at best and malevolent at worst?
Right. And you’re always going to get those arguments that you are gonna, you know, stop everything from innovation. That’s why I like the idea of doing it through FTC antitrust, moving it and putting some very basic privacy rules in place that will save us from where we are right now. But this idea that we’re just gonna do nothing, which they were saying as recently as a year ago, right?
They’re saying it today, but…
Pre Cambridge Analytica, they’re saying it in different ways. It’s just not right. This is not how our country has been run. I go back to even the colonists in the Boston Tea Party, that was about taxation without representation, but it was about that the colonists didn’t want to have to buy tea and sell their tea to the East India Tea Company, to one monopoly, right?
It literally is part of the founding of our country that we wanted to have entrepreneurs. Many of the Pilgrims and others came over here because they didn’t want to have people telling them what they had to do. They had this independent spirit of innovation. That is what we have to call back when we deal with tech in the modern day, that we have to suspend belief and say, “Okay, you guys are really cool and I know what you do is super complicated,” and there’s a bunch of people in Washington that can ask dumb questions and don’t understand what it is.
Okay, we understand all that’s going on, but you can’t then say, “Well, let’s disarm and we’re not going to do anything to create a counterbalance.” Small companies, I cannot tell you the number of innovative companies that come to me and say, “This isn’t right. We want to get into this market.” There’s actually a market outcry and there’s some really smart people that can help us get to the point, including in this town, where we can regain that balance, so we can have these successful companies, but we make sure that we’re opening up the market so that new people can compete.
I have two more questions on tech. One, should Facebook, Google, Amazon, be allowed to buy anything large at all right now?
That is where I get very concerned and why I want to put these merger standards in place and why I want to be president because I think we got to look carefully at all of these deals. If you look at them through an analysis that includes the standards that I want to put in place, which will at least look monopsonies, which is, do you control things under you, as one of the standards and also changes that burden, then you’re going to be able to get a much better answer to that question.
And section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives them broad immunity, which has I think led directly to this sloppiness in the platforms in terms of not managing them properly. Should that be changed so that they have some, they remove immunity?
Right. It is something else that we should definitely look at as we look at how we can create more accountability. That is our goal. We do not want to destroy these companies, right? But what we want to do is to put more accountability in place and we have been failing at that effort, and that’s why we need all of your help to get to a better place.
Does tech like you? Do you get …?
Well, they did not like that, which I thought was so crazy, they did not right out of this part, they complained about the Honest Ads Act. How can you complain about something called the Honest Ads Act? But they did not like that and that really made me mad, honestly. They did not like the privacy legislation I keep trying to push them. I think the fact that I’ve been outspoken makes them not like me.
However, and by the way, if you haven’t learned in the news, running for president shouldn’t be a likeability contest. But let me tell you what the other thing they did like and that is that they employ a very diverse workforce. They like that I’ve been out front since the day I got to the Senate on immigration reform, that I believe that Dreamers should stay in America, that I believe that you should have a path to citizenship for our immigrant workforce and that you should not put these mean-spirited caps on refugees because they have a workforce that is diverse.
They have also …
I’m going to push back on that. They do not have a workforce that is diverse.
Okay, now then we get to, they don’t have a workforce at the top that is diverse. That is a very good point. Thank you. They have a workforce that they need to come in that is diverse. And they recruit people at levels of their company that is diverse. Thank you for correcting me, but they have a real trouble at the top as we do in many areas of our country. What they want is they want to have employees. They have, I think Apple was telling me they have 300 Dreamers that work there, so that is a true fact. I’m not just talking about social media platforms.
They have employees that they want to be able to have and keep, so they’ve appreciated that I’ve been outspoken on that issue. They’ve appreciated that I’ve been outspoken. I head up the Diversifying Tech Caucus with Tim Scott. They’ve appreciated that I’m willing to listen on business ideas and trying to do what we can during the downturn. I was a supporter of President Obama’s stimulus. I was a supporter of being smart and moving on affordable health care.
Businesses, not just tech, appreciate that I’m willing to take on farmer prices, that is not a left versus right issue. All businesses care about that because it’s an expense of doing business that shouldn’t be that expensive. I have worked with businesses extensively, but I don’t think that means that you have to suck up to them every step of the way.
Yeah. They do have a lot of money and you are running for president in case you … You know, you need a lot of money to do that.
But I’m not taking corporate PAC money.
All right. That’s just in the news stuff. We’ll finish up, we have 15 more minutes. Manafort handed a 47-month sentence, well below federal guidelines of 19 to 24 years. Your reaction?
That was appalling to me. I had a job where I was the chief prosecutor for the biggest county in our state. I had about 400 people that worked for me. We would try every day … We had sentencing guidelines. Minnesota notoriously and I remember looking at what Austin was doing in Travis County at the time, also was doing a lot with working with the communities. This is years and years ago.
We worked really hard to use drug courts a lot and to try to be fair in our sentencing. We were not perfect. I tried to do things to improve things, but one of the things that I realized was that we weren’t doing enough with white-collar cases and that crimes in the boardroom were not being treated as seriously as crimes on the street corner, that you could go out and create a crime with the computer that cost people millions of dollars and you got a lesser sentence than you did if you broke into someone’s house with a crowbar. And that’s wrong.
When I saw that Manafort sentence that day, I did my tweet on the couch and I was watching. I just thought, “Wow,” because he deviated from those sentences and then sentencing guidelines and then added to putting salt on the wound by saying, the judge said about Manafort, “He led a blameless life until then,” and that just wasn’t true.
Let me just, my reaction to this. When we took on white-collar crime, I get to one story here, one of my big cases was a judge that we put in jail. He had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from a disabled woman, a woman that literally in her adult years lived in a world of dolls and toys and he had taken over this, basically, a trust for her from his client who had died and then he became a judge and they let him keep doing it.
What he was doing was putting on the trust document that he was buying things like a bed for her and he was buying fancy artwork for his house. He was a judge on the second-biggest court in Minnesota. And when we took the case on, literally no one believed it. We did all this investigation, we had to do a search warrant on his chambers. Anyway, we had him cold on the evidence.
And then there was the sentencing. And we asked for the guideline sentence which I think it was three or four years for that crime at the time. I was in the courtroom and it was filled with all his friends from his church, from his courtroom, and there was no one there to make that case for justice. And we had no idea what the judge was going to do.
All of a sudden, in the middle of this day-long sentencing hearing where literally, the former Miss America testified for him, true story. In the middle of this thing, these two African-American guys walked in — and they were the only two African Americans in the courtroom besides the court reporter — and I saw them sitting there and they were kind of nodding their head agreeing with our witnesses. Then there was a break and they walked out.
I was sitting in the hallway and they looked at me, and they go, like, “Oh, you know, we were upstairs for a drug court case that we had and we heard about the judge getting sentenced because it makes us mad and we came in here and we have somewhere to go, but man, sitting in there, we think you need us in there.”
And I’m like, “I do need you in there.” They sat there through that entire sentencing hearing. And for me, they were there to say, “You can’t have two systems of justice, one for the rich and powerful and one for everyone else.”
In the end, we got the sentence that we asked for and that judge went to jail, but I’ll never forget those two guys because when I heard that Manafort sentence — and by the way, it’s not over. There’s going to be a new judge in the coming weeks on other charges and it may all be taken care of that way, but you just can’t treat people differently, not just based on race, but also based on the types of crimes that they commit. That’s wrong.
Right. All right. Mueller Report, should it be released?
Yes. Remember at the core of this is a foreign country trying to influence our election. And when people use that word “meddling,” never use that. That is what I do when I call my daughter on a Saturday night and ask her what she’s doing. This was an actual attack on our elections. That’s what Mueller is investigating. I think the country has to see this.
I’m hoping that when you see all the gory facts, it’s going to help us to want to understand what went on, that’s most important. But too, maybe it’ll compel my colleagues to immediately put in place that Honest Ads Act and do more than Senator Lankford and I already did, which was get 360 million to the states for shoring up election equipment, but actually pass our Secure Elections Act to have backup paper ballots. What is so outrageous about that, right? That’s why they have to see the report. I questioned Barr on that. He was all squiggly, you know, well …
Squiggly, yeah. You don’t want to call the Attorney General manic, but he wouldn’t really commit to making it public. This was going to be his moment. I hope I’m wrong. I didn’t vote for him because of that but I hope that he comes through. I hope that he makes that whole report public because America deserves to see it.
All right. Putin, just go ahead.
Putin, just go ahead.
It’s just like a lightning rod, what about Putin?
Okay, well, you look at what he’s done. It’s not just the elections, right? This is bringing down a plane. This is like killing innocent people. This is a dictator. When Donald Trump went and sat next to him and embraced his views of what happened over his own intelligence, that was so wrong. You don’t show strength that way. You show weakness.
That is why I continue to support NATO. It’s why I went with Senator McCain on one of the last trips before he got sick where we stood with the president of Ukraine on the front line on New Year’s Eve to make the point that America stands with our allies and that’s why we went to Lithuania and Latvia and Georgia and Estonia, don’t forget Estonia, because we wanted to make that point.
I think we are at the moment where Congress actually — because of how Donald Trump is cozying up to Kim Jong Un or the crown prince in Saudi Arabia after they murder a journalist for an American newspaper — we are at a point where Congress must stand up and make clear that we stand with our allies for democracy. We stand against these acts of dictators and these murders and that we stand with sanctions, that we are a country that has always been a beacon of democracy.
And one last thing I will add, since I brought up Saudi Arabia and the Khashoggi murder, is that we stand up for the First Amendment while we have a president in the White House that tweets whatever he wants in the morning but doesn’t respect the amendment that allows him to do it.
On that, we have two more things, his attacks on the press. I don’t love talking about the press, but these attacks are really quite an astonishing thing to happen from the president of the United States. How do you look at it?
I still didn’t hear it because the claps …
The attacks on the press. What do you …
The attacks on the press, yes.
And at the same time calling them all up himself.
Right. As I said, I’m a journalist’s daughter. My dad spent his entire life in journalism, starting with the AP where he got to actually call the 1960 election for John F. Kennedy. Minnesota, Illinois, and California were the three states out. He went from a hardscrabble mining town to interview everyone from Chicago Bears Coach Mike Ditka to Ronald Reagan to Ginger Rogers.
If I wasn’t for the First Amendment, my dad would never talk to me again. No matter what the press does, as long as they are doing their constitutional duty, I think it’s very important that you not attack the press. You can disagree with them. You can defend yourself. You can make arguments on the other side, but we must allow access in a free democracy.
To me, that is one of the most evil things that’s going on right now because it doesn’t feel like it, because the press is so strong and because you don’t always agree with every story they wrote. But because of that, you don’t then turn around and start trying to use the wheels of government, like it appears the president did from the news reports last week in going after CNN. You can’t use your power to go after the press. That’s why I’ve always asked every attorney general nominee about not sending journalists to jail, neither former attorney general Sessions or Barr would really answer that question and I’m now following up in writing, which I found disturbing, but we must stand up for the First Amendment.
All right. Impeachment.
Okay. This is like the Kara lightning round.
Okay, so, and I think you’re going to hear this from other senators that may have braced this stage. We are in a different position in the Senate. We are the jury, and so I never comment on evidence. I didn’t as a prosecutor before the case came before me. We will see what comes out of the Mueller Report. We will see what comes out of the House, and then it’s our constitutional duty to look at evidence and make a decision. I never weigh in on what is impeachable or what should be impeachable, just because that is our profound constitutional duty.
All right, that’s fair. Representative Omar. “I want to talk about political influence in this country that says it’s okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” To be fair, what did you think of that? She’s from Minnesota.
I did not agree with what the Representative said there because I believe you can be true to your country and advocate for another country, whether it is Israel or Canada or Ethiopia. There are many Americans that feel strongly that they love their own country, but they advocate for maybe it’s the country of their own ancestry or maybe it is another country that they care a lot about.
I didn’t like what she said there. But what I do believe is that the president has ignited in his own way a string of things against other people. It is everything from we see anti-Semitism on the rise to anti-Muslim rhetoric on the rise. I try to go back home and look at how we’ve handled some of this. We have the biggest Somali population in the country. In fact, Ilhan Omar is a refugee herself and she is in a unique position to advocate for refugees from Somalia and I hope you’ll see this and the fact that the president has put what I consider to be unfair caps on refugees to talk about those issues.
One of the things … My favorite story is about our state, because we have a strong Jewish population and we also have a major Muslim population. One of my best stories was when the Jewish Community Center got a bomb threat and not just the staff there, but the young kids that had been in the swimming pool, senior citizens in an exercise class were wandering around outside of that community center in the cold because they had to immediately leave and they finally found some warehouse to be in.
When they got back, the first call they had gotten in their messages was from the Islamic Center asking if they needed a place to meet. We have Happy Ramadan signs in front of all of our churches, not all of them, but a big part of our churches in our religious community. During the Super Bowl, we staged a football game between faith leaders with one of our more prominent rabbis, a woman, throwing a pass to an imam.
We have tried, it went viral, over and over again to try to bridge that gap. What I don’t like is when rhetoric, no matter who it comes from but who I see it primarily coming from is the president, doesn’t try to fix things but tries to make things worse. Our goal should be to see the populations in our country as not diminishing America. They are America.
My last question, who do you, if you had to pick a politician you would be most like, who do you think it is, in the past?
Wow. It is hard for me to pick one politician, but my mentor has been and I wouldn’t say I’d want to be quite like him, is Walter Mondale. He’s a really good guy, but in the modern day, I’m trying to think who it would be. I don’t know.
You can do a dead one.
There are so many. I really don’t have one person.
Who’s the person you look up to?
I have always looked up to some of the women that came before me that were incredible that were mentors to me like Olympia Snowe and Barbara Mikulski, the dean of the women senators who were so strong and taught me so many things. Like Barbara Mikulski would, she was so short she would stand on …
Don’t insult short people.
Yeah. She would stand on a couch and she would literally say, “Square your shoulder, put your lipstick on, and get ready for a revolution!”
I’d be like, “What revolution?”
”Whatever we’re going to go vote on!”
They were incredible. But I do want to mention one person. And by the way, when you look at, as David Brooks said, “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone.” One great president was Barack Obama, but let’s keep going.
I did want to mention one president I got to meet recently was Jimmy Carter. I’ve met him a few times. And I got to go to Plains to see him. He is 95 years old and he was giving me advice on how he ran his campaign in the ’70s. It was just incredible serving me — with Rosalynn — pimento cheese sandwiches. He then sent me an email the next day at 95, signed J.C., also the initials for Jesus Christ as you know …
I got that.
That was an amazing thing. I think I told you back in the green room, I had visited when I did the Atlanta, the Democratic Dinner for Georgia, I told Jimmy Carter this, the Carter Presidential Library, looking for Mondale memorabilia a few years ago, like where is Joan’s dress?
And on the wall were these words from Walter Mondale, looking back at the four years which weren’t perfect, and as you know, they lost every election, but there was one thing that is important to cherish from that time. Mondale looked back at that time and he said these simple words, I wrote them down, put in my purse, didn’t think they were relevant until Donald Trump won.
Those words were, “We told the truth. We obeyed the law. We kept the peace.” I think that is the minimum that you should expect from a president of the United States. And that is that they try to keep the peace and they tell the truth and they obey the law and that is what I will do as your president.
All right. Thank you. Amy Klobuchar.