Election 2020

Scandal-Plagued Sen. Amy Klobuchar Announces 2020 Presidential Run

"Minnesota Nice" branding belies mean streak and temper, said staff. Will it harm her presidential chances?


screenshot/Klobuchar announcement/NBC News/YouTube

In front of a snow-drenched crowd on Boom Island, Minnesota, Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced her 2020 presidential intentions. "I am running for this job for every person who wants their work recognized and rewarded" and "every parent who wants a better world for their kids," said Klobuchar. "I am running for every American." And no matter what, "I'll lead from the heart."

She went on to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, for passing a law that automatically registers Americans to vote at age 18, for universal background checks for gun owners, for "sweeping" legislation addressing climate change, and for "net neutrality for all."

"If you don't know the difference between a hack and Slack, it's time to get off the digital highway," said Klobuchar in a cringe-worth line apparently meant to demonstrate her tech savvy.

The 56-year-old, three-term senator has received less national attention than fellow Democratic senators like Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), both of whom have already announced their 2020 candidacies. Klobuchar could benefit from that if it means she's seen as having less baggage, too. But that reputation suffered last week with the release of several stories describing her as a terror to work for.

Klobuchar "demeaned and berated her staff almost daily, subjecting them to bouts of explosive rage and regular humiliation within the office, according to interviews and dozens of emails reviewed" by Buzzfeed. Her office had the highest staff turnover rate in the Senate between 2001-2016, according to Politico. And then there's this, from HuffPost:

Liberal pundits have rallied around Klobuchar anyway, with many dismissing the idea that how a senator treats subordinates should matter when assessing her fitness for office. Some suggested it was only an issue because she's a woman.

But in general, and especially with Klobuchar campaigning as the nice Midwestern anti-Trump, her temperament behind the scenes matters. Blowing up at staff and driving them away at high rates don't suggest "Minnesota nice," nor someone who may handle presidential pressure well. More so than being a member of Congress even, head of state is a position that requires restraint and good people skills to do well.

Aside from the high employee-turnover distinction, Klobuchar's tenure in Congress hasn't been terribly remarkable. The successful legislation she's sponsored mostly falls in the category of completely useless, and on occasion actively bad. One of her first successful bills toughened formaldehyde emission standards for plywood, fiberboard, and particleboard. Another set up the Attorney General to micromanage the disposal of drugs at nursing homes. She's sponsored several bills that slightly tweak the process of adopting children from abroad and one about rural call quality.

Some of Klobuchar's worst work has been around "human trafficking." Legislation she introduced saw that the National Human Trafficking Hotline (a federal clearinghouse for trafficking tips that provides no actual victims assistance nor investigative action but does report to federal agents) could get more funding than grants going directly to victims services. Another Klobuchar law expanded funding for the Department of Transportation to study and spread dubious propaganda about human trafficking. She's also been an outspoken supporter of last-year's federal ban on prostitution ads (FOSTA-SESTA) and a 2017 "anti-trafficking" measure that was full of civil liberties concerns.

In September 2017, Klobuchar joined John McCain in trying to get tough on online political advertising in order to address alleged election interference. As Scott Shackford wrote at the time, "Russian meddling is just being used as an excuse to do what politicians and federal agencies have wanted for a long time—to regulate how people campaign online."

So far this year, Klobuchar has introduced legislation to strengthen federal law enforcement involvement in cases of stalking and domestic violence, to ban deals between pharmaceutical companies that delay generic versions of medication coming to market, and to tighten regulations on social media companies.