Interview: Amy Klobuchar on carbon tax, Cuba, Biden’s busing quote and her chat with Gillum

The Minnesota Senator and presidential candidate sat down with the Tampa Bay Times. Here’s what she said.
Minnesota's U.S. Senator and Democratic contender for president Amy Klobuchar holds a climate change round table in Tampa on Sunday, March 10, 2019 at the Waterside Marriott. [TAILYR IRVINE   |   Times]
Minnesota's U.S. Senator and Democratic contender for president Amy Klobuchar holds a climate change round table in Tampa on Sunday, March 10, 2019 at the Waterside Marriott. [TAILYR IRVINE | Times]
Published March 11, 2019|Updated March 11, 2019

TAMPA — U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar arrived in Tampa around 2 a.m. on Sunday. At least she thought she did.

The clock in her hotel room said 3 a.m.

“Did the time change?” Klobuchar said. “I thought, am I imagining this?”

Though a victim of the annual “spring forward,” the Minnesota Democrat declined to weigh in on a push by some in Congress to end Daylight Saving.

“I have not gotten into this issue,” she said.

RELATED: Amy Klobuchar, first Democratic presidential candidate to visit Tampa Bay, talks climate change in Tampa

Klobuchar became the first 2020 Democratic candidate for president to visit the Tampa Bay area when she held a round table on climate change Sunday. After the event, she sat down with the Tampa Bay Times to discuss her positions on the environment, the crisis in Venezuela, Cuba, Ron DeSantis’ education plan, Joe Biden’s busing quote and Andrew Gillum.

One of the things that was mentioned during your round table was a carbon tax. Where do you stand on that?

If we were going to go that route, and I’d have to look carefully at any proposal, it would have to be done in some way that is not at all regressive because the middle class and lower income people have already been having a harder and harder time affording things and you don’t want to make it worse. That’s the first goal if you were to look at that. And the second thing is there’s things that we just have to do immediately. One of the things that’s bothered me is that we haven’t even done the low-hanging fruit, except for energy efficiency. We’ve done some stuff there, passed some bills there and the Obama administration did some things there. To me, the low-hanging fruit is one the compromise has already been reached on those clean power rules. I’m not saying everyone was for them, but I remember when they came out, some of the businesses go, “Oh ok, this isn’t as much as we thought and I think we can deal with this.” So you’ve got those clean power rules keyed to get them in place. And you can do those without legislation. It would be a rulemaking.

Number one is getting in the climate change agreement so you can start working with the rest of the world. Number two is those clean power rules, which I would propose literally the first few weeks. Number three is the gas mileage standards. And then number four is some major legislation which would involve building codes going forward, which would involve how you incentivize more and more of this renewable energy, electric-grid infrastructure, adaptation infrastructure, and looking at how you pay for that. I’ve put out one pay-for which is repealing portions of the corporate tax cut that went way lower than anyone thought it was going to go.

Would you expand the existing moratorium on offshore drilling for more years? What are your thoughts on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico?

Yea, I have some major issues with some of the drilling there and I would look at that as well, work with your Florida people on that. I voted with (former Sen.) Bill Nelson on that.

Do you think drilling off our coast could be part of the U.S. energy portfolio in any respect?

I would not be expanding the drilling on the coast in any way.

We have a large Venezuela population in our state and a lot of people paying attention to what is going on there. The rhetoric from Sen. (Marco) Rubio, from (National Security Advisor) John Bolton and others, does it concern you? Do you feel like we’re being pushed toward a confrontation there? (RUBIO AND VENEZUELA: What a Twitter campaign to oust Maduro says about modern diplomacy)

Well you’ve got in (Venezuela disputed leader Nicolás) Maduro you have a dictator there in place who is violating human rights and I am very concerned about what he’s doing. And I think you have to leave all possibilities on the table. But right now my major focus has been getting humanitarian relief into the country and working with allies to continue to push him to give up his reign of terror.

In a June 23, 2010 file photo, crews work to clean up oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill washed ashore at Pensacola Beach in Pensacola Fla.  [AP Photo/ Michael Spooneybarger, File]
In a June 23, 2010 file photo, crews work to clean up oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill washed ashore at Pensacola Beach in Pensacola Fla. [AP Photo/ Michael Spooneybarger, File]

When it comes to foreign policy in general, what do you see as the biggest issues facing us.

I see cybersecurity as a major issue that’s not being addressed in part because the Trump administration doesn’t seem to want to admit — that’s not true, the intelligence officials will admit it but the president doesn’t to seem to want to admit what Russia was up to in our last election, which his own intelligence people said happened. So, upgrading cyber capabilities for our military. Every time we have a briefing that’s one of the top potential attacks that’s listed, the potential attacks on power grids, things like this.

Upgrading our election infrastructure of course is a piece of that. That’s an attack on our democracy and anyone who uses the word meddling, that’s what I do when I call my daughter to see what she’s doing on a Saturday night. This was an actual attack on our democracy.

Sen. (John) Thune and I have a bill to allow for tour of duty for two years from the private sector into various areas of our government, some of it would be military because they wouldn’t have the classification, but into different areas of our government to upgrade our expertise and then our government people could tour through private industry. We’re not like Russia or China that can requisition people, throw them in a warehouse. So that would be a piece of it.

Other military challenges, of course the Mideast and working toward a two-state solution with Israel, doing all we can to try to bring peace in Syria. I did not support the precipitous withdrawal of the troops in Syria without even a warning to our allies there and certainly not to the Kurds who have been standing with us. I do think we should be bringing our troops home from Afghanistan. I do favor continuing to work on a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. We’ve been there so long now there are kids that were born when we went in there who are now old enough to serve.

And then of course Russia, taking that seriously. The trio of dictators that the president has seemingly embraced from time to time instead of standing firm with our own intelligence, that would be the Crown Prince in Saudi Arabia, (Vladimir) Putin and Kim Jong-un. I think we have to be much more resolute in the world’s eye when we stand up to them when they mess around with us.

One more thing I favor is lifting the embargo on Cuba. I know there’s been a change of sentiment among some in Florida. I actually went there with Rep. (Kathy) Castor (of Tampa) and a group of others with President Obama and saw the baseball team play. I lead that bill to lift the embargo.

Cars pass by the U.S. embassy in Havana in February 2016. (The Associated Press)
Cars pass by the U.S. embassy in Havana in February 2016. (The Associated Press)

What do you say to the counterargument from Sen. Rubio and others who say that any sort of opening would help embolden the Castro regime?

I say that decades and decades of a failed policy is enough and that we need to move in the right direction. Of course I would keep in place all of the human rights provisions that are already law in regards to Cuba but I think that we need to move in a different direction. We already saw that the people of Cuba want to do that as well. I’ve gone there now three times including when we opened our embassy and stood there when these three marines who had been there when we closed the embassy down and sat there while people cheered them and came back with Secretary Kerry to give the flag to three young marines who hoisted it over our embassy. To me that was a sign that change is always possible. And by the way, with Florida obviously, there’s just even more possibilities there if we open this up and do it the right way.

Our governor has proposed a large-scale move of tax money toward private schools, charter schools. Do you think the federal government has a role in helping expand that or scaling it back? (MORE: Ron DeSantis and GOP poised to redefine Florida public education)

The role of the federal government should be to encourage excellence in public education. And to figure out what are our nation’s needs when it comes to education. To me right now we have a workforce need, a major need in certain industries, in technology and in manufacturing and training and science and engineering and math. We don’t have enough women in those fields. We don’t have enough people of color in those fields. And we’ve got kids that are still not graduating from high school. What I would do is to encourage excellent public education. And by the way we did reverse some of the mandates from the No Child Left Behind. But I would also put in place more and more incentives for those one and two year degrees and getting kids interested in apprenticeships and interested in that kind of work at a very young age. We’re doing some of it, but I think it should be a national call to action.

So do you think the Race to the Top program under President Obama was a success?

Some of it was a success, not all of it. I am very much focused on how you get kids especially in underserved populations into the jobs that we have right now. And I worked a lot on truancy. I was a DA, right? I did a major thing on truancy and some of the things we found there was you can’t wait until high school to start working on that stuff. You have to do it in middle school. Getting kids interested in that middle school, high school level in the careers that are out there, I cannot emphasize enough how important that is, and getting their parents interested in it. What we’re seeing in my state and other states and even real conservative areas, voters are willing to vote to upgrade high schools and middle schools to train kids on the jobs that are there right now as opposed to just seeing one-size-fits-all as a career path.

There’s a quote from the 1970s from Joe Biden that has been circulating the last couple days about the efficacy of busing.

Yea, I haven’t read that quote. You should ask Joe Biden.

Well do you believe that busing and desegregation of schools should continue?

I think desegregation of schools is very important but I’m not going to comment on Joe Biden’s quote.

Lastly, you talked to (former Democratic nominee for Florida governor) Andrew Gillum recently. What was your conversation like? What did he say?

He’s an incredibly charismatic leader, I’ll start with that. He cares deeply about Florida and what’s happening in 2020, and he also is someone that is very focused on the climate change issue, which I appreciate.

More from Klobuchar on Gillum from an earlier interview: The last election was really close. There’s no way you can say it was some runaway. I was talking to Andrew Gillum a few days ago about this. It was a very very close election. A lot of factors. Including some issues in voting. You’re going to see more people voting in 2020 election in Florida, i predict, than you’ve ever seen before. You’re going to see a lot of interest.