Transcript: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)

Monday March 5, 2018

Claire Shipman: This week we will hear from Congressional leaders and officials from both sides of the aisle on the hot-button issues facing America in the Middle East. Our next guest is one such leader. An analysis by the Medill News Service ranked her first among all 100 senators in sponsoring or cosponsoring bills that were enacted into law in the last Congress. She's a champion of the U.S.-Israel alliance. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome from the great state of Minnesota, Senator Amy Klobuchar.

Thank you, Senator.

Amy Klobuchar: Well, thank you, Claire. It's great to be with this intimate discussion with you and thousands of our friends.

Claire Shipman: Just a few people. Exactly, so many of our friends. You have been a consistent supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Talk about why that issue is so important to you.

Amy Klobuchar: Well, a lot of it, of course, has to do with home. I know we have some great Minnesota AIPAC people and we're excited about that, and it also has a lot to do with Israel's position in the world. This is this democracy, a beacon of democracy in what is a really tough, if not incomparably tough, neighborhood.

And when I talk to people at home, they see it in that way. If they're not Jewish, they see the importance of that friendship. If they are Jewish, they always remind me that we've had not one, not two, not three, but four Jewish senators in the last few decades out of Minnesota, and we have a really powerful community despite our very Scandinavian reputation and the fact that four of the five members of the gold-medal winning U.S. curling team were from our state. I would like to bring that up.

And so, this community in Minnesota is what really got me so interested in this, bringing me to Israel. While I was running for the Senate – I was the DA at the time – and I still remember going to Sderot and meeting a family whose house, the roof – a rocket shell had gone right through their home. Their daughter was doing the homework at the kitchen table and if it wasn't for the alert system, she would've been dead.

And hearing their story actually reminded me of the work I did as a prosecutor and when we would be in these high-crime neighborhoods and how people would be terrified every single day of what was going to happen to them next, and no country should have to live like that.

Then to go full around, on my last visit to Israel – my last Minnesota connection for you – with Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Gillibrand and Senator Hoeven, we were meeting with the prime minister and he was noting to me that he has a lot of relatives in Minnesota and he had been there. He said when I got back to our state I could tell them that I had met with the Israeli Prime Minister of Minnesota. That was kind of amusing, but what's most amusing is he said it to me as I was sitting next to the senator from New York.

Claire Shipman: That's nice. You probably know, as well as anybody these days, given the current hyper-partisan political environment, how hard it is to find issues on which Democrats and Republicans can work together. Is a possible that this issue can remain a bipartisan issue and especially in Congress?

Amy Klobuchar: I think it can. A lot depends on the Jewish community in America because I believe that you can find common ground while still standing your ground. That has been really a hallmark of all I have worked in Congress and we have seen this in Congress with support for Israel, whether it is Iron Dome, whether it is David's Sling, whether it is the Iran sanctions in the 98-2 vote out of the United States Senate, or whether it is the Memorandum of Understanding and the $38 billion, largest amount ever put into Israel security.

At the same time, as you know, things have become very polarized. And so the way I would suggest – and your leaders know this and you know this better than anyone – to try to do everything and stop people from injecting partisanship into the Israeli-American relationship and push back. If you're a Republican, reach out to Democrats; if you're a Democrat, reach out to Republicans.

Getting youth involved and seizing on some of those issues that Israel and that this community has long stood up for, whether it is taking on climate change, whether it is immigration reform, whether it is standing up for refugees, these are issues that the Jewish community has been uniquely active on, and I think those are issues that are appealing to young people, and ways of talking about and teaching people what happened with the Holocaust and what the Jewish community has experienced because so many of them don't really know that history. So that's why I appreciate how AIPAC has reached out in that.

And the last thing I'd say about this is for me it's just as you do, it's finding friends that maybe you didn't know were friends before. I have spent a lot of time traveling the world with John McCain who I just talked to this weekend – he said to say hello by the way – Senator McCain and Senator Graham. We've spent actually, not this last New Year's Eve but the one before that, we were in the Baltics – something you've covered – and Ukraine. John McCain has always stood up for me when we're meeting with all these male leaders around the world. He always says, Senator Klobuchar is the lead Democrat. She will go first.

But there we were on the front line with President Poroshenko in a blizzard. He decided he was going to show the strong American might to Russia. He presented me – first he went to McCain and gave him a machine gun – true story. He then went to Lindsey Graham and gave him a pistol. All the cameras are on. We have thousands of people. I thought what am I going to get, and he gave me two daggers. That is a true story.

Claire Shipman: Nice.

Amy Klobuchar: That was my –

Claire Shipman: No discrimination. I like that.

Amy Klobuchar: Exactly; nothing at all. But it just reminded me, again, John McCain has been through everything in his life, but he still sees this importance of not just going with party but reaching out and thinking of country. I think that's what we have to think about when we talk about this relationship.

Claire Shipman: Thank you. I imagine him to be a great traveling buddy.

Amy Klobuchar: Yes. He is a lot of fun. I'll say that.

Claire Shipman: As you know, the administration has maintained full funding to Israel in its budget request, but it continues to look for big cuts in international affair spending, foreign aid. How do you think Congress will deal with both the request for security assistance to Israel but also overall foreign aid? And how do you talk about the issue of maintaining spending on foreign affairs to your constituents at home?

Amy Klobuchar: Well, this is a really timely question because we have the budget right before us coming up, and I thoroughly believe that Congress is going to stand up, put that money in the budget that was promised out of the memorandum of understanding to fully fund our commitment to aid to Israel. So that's the first part.

The second thing is the foreign aid in general – and I have so appreciated the Jewish community standing up or foreign aid in some of the bleakest time for foreign aid outside of Israel. I think part of that is no one better than the Jewish community can make the case for refugees since Israel was a haven for refugees from the beginning.

Secondly, as we look at how when we have many people that would like to cut off nearly all of foreign aid, how we make that argument, first, is national security. I think it was Secretary Mattis that's it recently said the more you cut the State Department, the more ammunition I have to buy.

There's a clear relationship between a strong military and strong diplomacy and strong foreign aid. Our congressman in Minnesota, Congressman Emmer, a conservative Republican, he and I decided to make the point at home by doing an event at the American Refugee Committee about keeping foreign aid strong. Those kinds of arguments done on a bipartisan basis is important.

The last is economics. George Bush got this in Africa, all the work he did to reduce AIDS. Bill Clinton got this and I think it is very important you make those two arguments: security and long-term economics.

Claire Shipman: Very interesting. It's good to hear about the joint events at home. We have just about a minute left, but on the issue of security, as you know, last month Iranian forces in Syria sent a drone into Israel, set off a series of actions that led to the downing of an Israeli F-16; the destruction of substantial parts of the Syrian air defense system.

I think that incursion highlighted the real and growing threat that Israel faces on its northern border. How can the U.S. and Israel work together to confront that Iranian threat in Syria and ensure that Israel gets the support it needs to deal with the threats?

Amy Klobuchar: Well, I think this was a real wake-up call for Washington and that is that we must stand tall and we must be firm on this, that Iran has been building up their military presence in Syria and in Lebanon. We're talking right on Israel's northern border. And the first is what I've been talking about, the importance of aid and keeping our aid strong for Israel. I'd say the second is being very firm on these sanctions against Iran and enforcing them to a tee and enforcing that agreement.

This is everything from the primary sanctions to the secondary sanctions, about making sure that we go after companies that are doing business through Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, and making this a major priority in our foreign policy, or it's just going to get worse and worse.

And the last thing I would say is just the importance of taking on anti-Semitism across the world because we're going to have trouble getting allies against Iran if we just let that fester. And that means the 100 senators adjoin together to push back at the U.N. for the anti-Semitism that we have seen there, and it also means securing ourselves internationally, but at home.

Our community senators in Minnesota that were targeted, what we've seen, and even swastikas on homes in the last year in my state, so that means security money, but it also means a culture of reaching out to people and making sure that people stand tall for Israel.

And I'd end with one story to remind you of this importance of reaching out in today's kind of crazy political culture, and that is the ad that most went viral in our Twin Cities during the Super Bowl – was not a Vikings ad because sadly they didn't make it to the Super Bowl – but it was an ad, a video of an interfaith event where one of our most popular rabbis threw a football to an imam and he caught it and ran in for a touchdown.

And I think the message to the young people in our state was that kind of reaching out in a good way, reaching out but at the same time standing our ground for Israel and finding common ground where we can. So that's what I thank AIPAC for doing, and keep up the good work and thanks for having me, Claire.

Claire Shipman: Senator Klobuchar, a lot of great information. Let's give her another round of applause.

Amy Klobuchar: Thank you.

Claire Shipman: Thank you for your time this morning.

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