Sen. Klobuchar On Her Bill To Ensure Mail-In Voting Rights, And On Joe Biden
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The results from Wisconsin are in. It took six days for election officials there to tally the outcomes in local races and the presidential primary there. No surprises in that presidential contest - President Trump won the Republican primary, and Joe Biden won the Democratic one. Polling places in Wisconsin had remained open last Tuesday, and throughout the state, voters lined up - quite a few wearing masks - to do their civic duty. Now many are wondering, if the coronavirus pandemic continues to threaten the public's health, how can a general election in November proceed? Well, Sen. Amy Klobuchar thinks she has some solutions. She's a Democrat from Minnesota and joins us now.
AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, thank you, Ailsa, and thanks for - in the middle of all of this with the gear we need for our hardworking health care workers and the testing we need for focusing on this long-term problem because while this administration didn't plan for this pandemic, we cannot let them destroy our democracy by not planning ahead. And...
CHANG: Well, let's talk about that. You have a bill that would ensure that every voter in the country can turn in a mail-in ballot. Tell me very briefly how this bill would work.
KLOBUCHAR: Sure. This is a bill that I lead with Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon. And basically, it puts the resources out there to the states so that they'll be able to pay for the postage and pay for the envelopes - also, training poll workers because we know we'll need polling places open. And - but we want to encourage more and more people to vote early. So it requires that the states have their polls open for 20 days, and you'll have less crowding of the polling places. But most of the focus is to expand vote by mail, vote from home. And some states - it's unbelievable - have nearly 100% - some Republican states, some Democratic states. Then some are at...
CHANG: That said, though, that's...
KLOBUCHAR: ...54% (ph).
CHANG: That said, states do have wide latitude to regulate their own elections, and this bill would in part diminish that local control by forcing every secretary of state in each state to go along with this federal plan.
KLOBUCHAR: Well, we're in the middle of a pandemic. And what we saw in Wisconsin we cannot have repeated. The courage of those voters, who basically are risking their lives and their health because they have to stand in line because the Republican legislature wouldn't allow the election to be postponed like so many other states had done - and so that's why we think it's a reason to come in with some minimal standards about keeping polls open 20 days ahead and making it easier to vote by mail. The other thing...
CHANG: Is getting your bill - I'm sorry. Is getting your bill approved a condition for your support of a fourth relief package?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, what we want to see is some basic reforms, and that's what we're going to be pushing for in the fourth relief package. And at the very least, we need more funding. We got $400 million on a bipartisan basis in the last package, and we are pushing for much more funding to help the states do this. And despite the fact that President Trump has questioned this idea, I note that he voted from the comfort of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, that he requests his own mail-in ballot from his adopted state of Florida, from Palm Beach. And he has voted that way in the past, and I think what's good enough for him should be good enough for those people standing in line in Wisconsin. And they were not getting...
CHANG: So are you...
KLOBUCHAR: ...That same ability.
CHANG: Are you getting - you are getting distinct signals from President Trump that he would not sign this legislation. Is that correct? He has said that mail-in...
CHANG: ...Voting could lead to fraud, for example.
KLOBUCHAR: He has signed legislation that contained money for it. And I will note that Republican governors across the country, including just recently in Maryland and New Hampshire, have actually ordered it. So you have Republican secretaries of state, like in Washington state, that are solidly behind this. And so I think, like everything else, this will be a negotiation. But I just think people need to know the hypocrisy of him voting that way while other people are standing in line with garbage bags and homemade masks.
CHANG: I want to turn to presidential politics now. You, of course, ran in the Democratic primary, and when you dropped out, you endorsed Joe Biden. President Obama has now endorsed Biden. Biden says he is committed to picking a woman as his vice president. Are you interested in the job?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I am so focused right now on the work that we are doing to get the testing out and to help people and the unemployed and everything that's going wrong right now - not a time to engage in that hypothetical. I will say that Vice President Biden was a great vice president. He knows very well what he is looking for in a vice president, and he's going to make that decision himself.
CHANG: Did you and Biden talk about the possibility of you being his vice president when you dropped out of the race?
KLOBUCHAR: No. In fact, we had a great talk. His family, my family, Jill was there. And I just pledged to help him in any way I could. I knew him when I was - he was still in the Senate, and I know him quite well from 10 debates. You know someone pretty well when you stand next to them on the debate stage. And so we talked about some issues and had this joyous rally, one of the last rallies of the political campaign, in Dallas. And I couldn't think of a better way to end a presidential campaign than giving my support to him. And I think you saw that today in Barack Obama's video - just the warmth he felt for Vice President Biden and the empathy that Vice President Biden has, which I think would go such a long way right now, to have someone in the White House that thinks like that.
CHANG: If I may, I want to turn now to a woman named Tara Reade. She has accused Biden of sexual assault. These allegations have been reported by The New York Times and the Washington Post among others. Biden's campaign has adamantly denied her allegations, but I want to ask you. You are a former prosecutor. What more do you need to know?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I actually thought that - and I agree with Vice President Biden about this - that all women in these cases have the right to be hurt and have their claims thoroughly reviewed. And in this case - and your listeners should look at the story - there was a thorough review by The New York Times. And I think that's very important to have, especially involving public figures. But I think when I look at - when I see Vice President Biden, someone I worked with, I see him on - a leader on domestic abuse - led the bill before people were even willing to talk about those horrific crimes and has really been a champion of abuses of power against women and has used his voice on the domestic abuse front in such a big way. I know that because I worked with him on it.
CHANG: Yes, Vice President Biden has championed himself as a women's rights advocate. This is the first presidential election in the #MeToo era. Do you feel that Democrats as a whole are having enough of a conversation about Tara Reade's allegations currently?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I think that, again, people believe in evidence. And I think you can look at that article in The New York Times, and they thoroughly interviewed dozens of people. They thoroughly interviewed dozens of people who was - were working directly at that time. I think what Democrats are focused on - and I know. I led the bill on better rules in the Senate for reporting of sexual harassment, holding members accountable, so I know a lot about this. And I think what we should all be focused on is stopping abuses of power, getting to the truth. And Vice President Biden has supported that work that I did and others did in the Senate to change the rules.
CHANG: All right. Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, thank you so much for your time today.
KLOBUCHAR: Oh, it's great to be on. Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF CLOUDKICKER'S "EXPLORE, BE CURIOUS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.