Mini-episode: Andy Calls Senator Amy Klobuchar
Andy brings you into his bubble, as promised, by sharing his call (with permission) with Minnesota’s U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar. They discuss her husband John’s COVID-19 recovery, what an election might be like during a national health crisis, and how the Congress needs to support Americans during the economic crisis.
[00:04] Andy Slavitt: Hi, I’m Andy Slavitt, and this is In the Bubble. There’s a lot of questions, a lot of questions about how long are we going to be in social isolation? What’s the path out? And we’re starting to see some even more frightening numbers on television. I get that, and we’re going to work through those things together over the course of this podcast as they come up. So in my world, things are moving along. I have been in frequent contact with people who are hopefully helping us try to solve this problem, both scientifically as well as some of the logistics required to help our frontline workers. And I’m going to keep bringing you information directly and some of those things.
[00:47] Andy Slavitt: One of the things that I have committed to in this podcast is that I would give you an inside peek at some of the conversations I have day-to-day with people who are trying to make things happen here. And so I have got a call today with Senator Amy Klobuchar. And I decided to ask her if she wouldn’t mind if we recorded the conversation for the podcast. So this ought to be interesting. I want to try to talk with Amy in a way that she and I would normally have a conversation, not in a way that she might on cable TV, because she’s so good at communicating. There’s a lot of information that she has about this virus, given how it’s affected her and her family personally, that I think I’ll be able to relate to as a person. Amy is someone that we talk to quite a bit, she often calls sometimes late in the evening after a long day. And we have long conversations not just with me, but with my wife, Lana, about things going on, things going on in Washington. So hopefully this will be a fun conversation. We’re going to give me a call now.
[01:51] Amy Klobuchar: Hey Andy, how are you?
[01:53] Andy Slavitt: I’m good, Amy, how are you?
[01:55] Amy Klobuchar: I’m doing as well as I can.
[01:56] Andy Slavitt: Good. How’s John? For those of you who don’t know, Amy’s husband, John, who is a dear friend to so many of us, was in the hospital with Covid-19. How’s he doing?
[02:06] Amy Klobuchar: Well, he’s doing a lot better, actually. You know, he had a really, really long track. He had a high temperature for 10 days and started coughing up blood. And then when they went to just have him go to the hospital to just look at what was happening, they found out he had pneumonia, and his oxygen was really low. And he ended up being in the hospital for five days. And then he kind of turned around the last day on oxygen and he ended up coming back and they just gave him the green light. So I got to see him. So we’re excited about that.
[02:41] Andy Slavitt: I’m guessing there’s people listening in who may be in a similar situation and are scared. What advice do you have for people who either have a spouse or someone in their family that’s with symptoms?
[02:56] Amy Klobuchar: Yes. Well, I think the first thing is this is such a lonely disease. And in his case, I was in Minnesota when he started to feel sick back in Washington, and he smartly just stayed in the apartment. And then days went by and it didn’t get better. And I remember I just kept calling and saying, “what’s your temperature? What’s your temperature?” So there’s going to be cases of people that are alone, and they start getting really woozy and tired and they’re not really taking care of themselves. So my first advice is to just keep bugging them and seeing what their temperature is and what’s happening. Because then at some point when he mentioned that he was coughing up blood, I said, well, maybe you better figure this out now. And so that’s when he goes to the hospital and says they check him in right away, said it was really serious. And I think there’s a lot of cases like that. So I think the first thing you do is just keep checking on someone. The second is to get used to this horrific situation where you can’t visit the person you love. You can’t be at their bedside. You can’t even meet the people who are taking care of them. You can only talk to them on the phone. And it’s just against everything that we’ve ever believed in for family and values and who we are as a country. But it’s the best thing because then you don’t get it and other people aren’t exposed to it.
[04:13] Amy Klobuchar: And that’s what we did all the time he was in the hospital. And then when he got back, it’s actually still the same until you get the green light that he’s not contagious anymore. And that was a lot easier because I could wave out the window and have things delivered to the apartment and things like that. So this goes in a lot of different phases. And I think the stories that are so much worse than ours of people who are on ventilators and people who are dying and you can’t even be by their side. You’re going to hear more and more of those stories in the days to come. And I think the one thing that I was left with with all of this is follow the rules, do what you can within those rules to advocate for the person you love. And then even after they’re out of the hospital or they’re feeling a little better, to remember that you don’t want to suddenly go in there if they still could be contagious. So that was our story, which again there’s so much more stories of people that didn’t make it.
[05:14] Andy Slavitt: Do you think it’s a guy thing that, like you could be coughing up blood? I think I would probably tell Lana like a week later. Oh, yeah, I coughed up blood last week. If she had a little thing going wrong, she’d be all over it.
[05:26] Amy Klobuchar: I think that he just kept hoping it would go away and he would never be taking temperature enough, so I kept bugging him about it. And I do think that there’s something about that. So that was in my mind when I kept being like the irritant that kept calling him every two hours. And then I’d say, well, did you take Tylenol or did you take Advil? And what is it now? So I think that’s part of it. And then I also want to just thank those people that took care of him. I can’t wait to meet them at some point here, and all of our friends and family and people that were so helpful. And then my colleague, our other senator, Tina Smith, who has loaned me out her apartment in Washington while he was still what they thought, potentially contagious. So I’ve been basically squatting in her apartment. I noted the other day that I’d eaten her last frozen burrito, but I’ve since ventured out and replaced it. So, you know, there’s just a lot of things that happen that people are experiencing right now where people lend a helping hand.
[06:30] Andy Slavitt: This point about how men are not — they let things go. They are not attentive to things and women are on top of things. I wonder if there’s a political analogy. I’m wondering, like, if we had a woman president right now.
[06:45] Amy Klobuchar: There you go. What would be different? I actually. I’ve spent most of my time focused on going forward instead of backwards. But I just keep drawing on the precious time that we lost those months when it first showed up at China, which could have been used to develop extensive tests. And instead the decision was made to just let the CDC do one test. And then it didn’t work for a while. And all these other healthcare providers stood down. So what did that mean? Well, obviously, we’re seeing it now. People can’t get tests when they want to get it. Healthcare workers can’t get tests back soon enough. It’s improving daily, but we lost so much time to be able to track and contain the disease. And then that led to the part, too, which was not having enough protective equipment for health care workers because, one, we should have had it that. Two, we wouldn’t have needed as much and would have bought more time to get it if we had simply had the testing. So I just look at whether it’s a woman or a man — and I’m excited to support Joe Biden for president, because I think we are going to need someone as this crisis will have aftermath that go on and on and on that is able to manage things and put people in place and most importantly, tell people that truth.
[08:02] Amy Klobuchar: Because, you know, when the president said, oh, we can all go to church at Easter, won’t that be great? That sent such a message to so many people that it was going to be OK immediately. And sadly, a lot of people followed through on that. I am glad that they’ve dialed that back. I’m glad that they’re now reporting the inordinate number and tragic number of deaths that we’re going to see, because hopefully that will have some impact. But yet again, we lost precious time. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t get our act together now. And that’s what I am pushing for every single day. And I know you are, Andy, with your vast experience.
[08:39] Andy Slavitt: I would like to ask you about politics in a little bit, how politics fits into this. But, you know, one of the things that we always talk about, and that you’re so well respected for, is you don’t really see Democrat or Republican or independent when you see people in the state. It’s one of the things that I think so many people liked about you when you were running for president, certainly love about you here in Minnesota, and all the bipartisan things that you do. And I also know that despite what you just said, I know how much you’re rooting for this administration to actually succeed because it’s going to save lives. And that’s a really interesting place to be where you want him to succeed, but you also are on the other side of the aisle. I’m going to come back to that. But first, I want to ask you something even more important, which is when Lana told me that you were staying with Senator Smith, with Tina, who is Laverne and who was Shirley?
[09:29] Amy Klobuchar: Well, she’s now back in Minnesota, actually, with her husband. Yeah, that’s what’s really funny. I’ve been watering the plants, hoping that I don’t kill them. Now I’m really like off on my own here. But I’m trying to, you know, respect her stuff. And it’s been just very kind of her to let me stay here. But, yes, let’s just say she might be more of a better cook than me, judging from some of the things she has in there. And so it’s fine.
[10:00] Andy Slavitt: Anything you learned about her that you didn’t know just by looking at her stuff?
[10:03] Amy Klobuchar: Well, I didn’t know about these plants that I had to — they’re very well taken care of. I didn’t know about that. And Tina always has really good taste. And things are very well-run and simple. And I really like that.It makes me wonder why have so many knick-knacks.
[10:21[ Andy Slavitt: People who don’t live in Minnesota may not appreciate that Tina shows up to events in jeans, without a lot of staff. Amy invites people into her home, into breakfast. And it’s a very different way than in some states that people relate to their senators. I want to ask you about something that you’ve been talking about for a long time, and it hasn’t been popular. And that’s this crazy idea of science. You’re one of the only people that I heard from the U.S. Senate who repeatedly talks about science, and who even in the presidential debate, when the topic came up of Covid-19, rather than choosing to politicize it, I remember you looked into the camera and said, “listen to the CDC. This is something to be worried about.” So I wonder if you can reflect as we start to talk about Senate responsibilities, how you see the intersection of science and policy and what we can be doing about it?
[11:16] Amy Klobuchar: Well, science rules here. And that’s why on that debate stage, I remember thinking I could see already what was happening because it was being downplayed. Science was being downplayed, not around the world, actually, but by this administration. So I thought I would make it really clear that that’s what matters. It’s what matters for climate change. It’s what matters for dealing with a global pandemic. And you have to listen to the scientists and the doctors, because it isn’t just, “oh, what can make people feel good today?” If we tone this one promising thing so then they think they can go outside and hang out at a bar and everything’s fine. We just can’t do that. We have to listen to the science. And I’m hoping that more and more people are going to start doing that. We’ve seen some brave souls through this thing with Dr. Fauci and yourself and so many others who have stood up from the beginning and said, look, we know this stuff and this is really bad. Dr. Osterholm, who I know you’ve worked with, and so many others. And I think people are beginning to see in a really tragic, visceral way that they were right. And so I think science matters. And we have seen this disregard of science, not just with this pandemic, but many other ways with the administration. And one of the things that’s the most heartwarming about all of this is the uplifting of the scientists, the researchers, the doctors, the nurses. And I’m hoping this is going to have lasting effect of believing the facts and not just the spin. And who knows the facts better than a doctor that’s just come out of ICU?
[12:58] Andy Slavitt: Look, there’s gonna be such tragedy ahead, but wouldn’t it be great if this began a STEM boom where your heroes were not only LeBron James — who, by the way, I think is an incredibly admirable guy — but Dr. Fauci, or knowing the names of the scientists in labs at Mayo Clinic, or University Minnesota, or University Pittsburgh or anywhere else. And you know, my kid Zach is right here with me. And he’s much better at science than I ever was. I cannot imagine being so motivated not to want to go into fields like public health, chemistry and biotechnology fields where you can discover things and save lives. I think we know that our future is going to be about preventing diseases like this. And I hope that the young people took that as a rallying cry.
[13:43] Amy Klobuchar: Right. You know, and I think about this change, I think about some of these videos that are out on social media, like the people in Atlanta cheering as the shift changed at the local hospital. And they’re standing on balconies and buildings, cheering and cheering incessantly for these heroes. Or the two doctors from Mayo who did their own rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine in this beautiful voice with this beautiful piano/. Or the workers that have been repeatedly interviewed all over the place telling people to wash their hands, telling people, you know, stay home so we can do our jobs. All of that is going to be forever marked in Americans’ memories. And I think it will make a big difference. And I hope it encourages more and more kids like your kids to go into science, and to care about math, and to care about healthcare, because we really need this next generation. I have this picture in my office in Washington and it shows an outstretched hand with an angel putting this globe in the hand. And it says as she shrugged and she placed the world in the palm of their hand and she said, if we fail this time, it will be a failure of imagination. And I use that line allowed in graduations for high school and college kids, because I don’t think we have a lot of imagination right now in our policymaking in Washington. And we need this next generation to take it on. And part of their mission is now going to be to solve that next pandemic and to do such a better job than what we’ve just seen in Washington.
[15:30] Amy Klobuchar: That’s a great description of a future that I think we can attain. Let’s get down to business. I know what the things we wanted to talk about was the Senate and the Congress and what we could be doing. Let me just give a little bit of background to folks who are listening. We’ve had three bills signed into law at this point. If you’re listening later, it’s possible we’ll have a lot more. Covid 1, Covid 2 and Covid 3. And I want to hear your perspective, first of all, on what you think we accomplished with those bills. And then I want to ask you a couple questions that flip to what priorities are for Congress now, and how Congress can show people that we have their backs. I want to preface this by saying most people don’t trust Congress, politics, politicians. They tend to trust their own elected representatives, but they tend not to trust Congress. I think this is an interesting time in that people are really looking for people to have their backs. And this is an opportunity for Congress to perhaps turn that around by having people’s backs. So how well do you think we’ve done so far? And then I want to come to what might be in the Covid 4 and beyond.
[16:34] Amy Klobuchar: Sure. Well, I think we know the obvious issues from the very beginning that were problems, the delay and what that cost us and the inability of the administration to really lead and govern when it came to the tough decisions that had to be made. Getting the equipment, getting the tests. So for me, this has been kind of makeup since then. And one of the things that was most significant is just in this last bill, the $150 billion to hospitals and the healthcare system for things like ventilators, ICU beds. But we know it’s not just money. It’s also a supply-chain issue. And so getting that out there is key. Making sure that we help the workers that through no fault of their own have been uprooted from their jobs. And that’s the extra $600 a week for unemployment insurance. Helping people directly with checks. Small businesses — that part of the bill was very weak when Senator McConnell first put it out there. And I think we’ve greatly improved that to get billions of dollars out to small businesses with unforgivable loans if they keep their employees on the payroll, basically, or hire them back. So that will be very helpful. I’ve talked to some of my friends that own small businesses around the country after we passed it just to double-check, and they all said that was really, really helpful. And the state and local government funding, which was much-needed, since they’re on the front lines.
[17:56] Amy Klobuchar: As we go forward, your question about what’s next? Well, it’s building on what we did. Everything you do, you’re going to find problems. It is doing more when it comes to state and local government. I think they’re going to have major issues. Doing more for our hospitals. Remember, all elective surgeries are on pause and that’s where they make money. So you’re oddly, while we’re in the middle of a public health crisis, seeing some hospitals concerned they’re going to have to shut down, or they’re already laying off people when we need the people. And they can’t do anything about it because they don’t have the money, because they’re not doing the elective surgeries. The test, which I hope we talk about in length. Getting those out there will not just help with this public health crisis, especially if you can find out if someone had it. And if they have immunity, that’s going to also help with the economy. Doing more on broadband, distance learning, helping the rural areas, understanding this is not just going to be an urban issue, that’s going to be huge issues in the ag country and in farm country and in areas that aren’t going to be able to handle this. And then one of my favorite topics, preparing for the election in November, so that more and more people vote at home. Vote by mail. I’ve been leading that effort in the U.S. Senate. We got some money in this bill for that. But there’s so much more we have to do. There’s many, many other things. But those are things that are on my mind right now.
[19:13] Andy Slavitt: So let me ask you a question I’m hearing from a lot of people who are far from politics and probably would like to keep it that way. The country spent a few trillion dollars. And the question that I hear often is, gosh, how much money could we afford to spend? And I want to ask that question along with this other supposition, which is that I’m starting to see data that there could be 80 million to 100 million Americans going hungry in the next few weeks and months.
[19:42] Amy Klobuchar: And I think what you’re getting at is something that this shoe is just starting to fall, is that this disease is going to have an inordinate impact on people who have less money, the less fortunate, the people who are more vulnerable. It didn’t maybe start that way when it came over with business from China, and people who had been traveling and things like that. But when people say things like, “oh, go in an extra room so you can self-isolate,” well, maybe people don’t have an extra room. Maybe they have one bedroom, maybe they are in a little apartment, maybe they are homeless. And so I think you’re going to just see more and more issues in terms of the have and have-nots and the unfairness that’s already in our system with people not being able to afford food. You’re going to see gig workers — who we did include in this bill, but we’re going to have to do more and more on that. You know it’s not going to be easy to make sure this gets out the right way. So there’s going to be people that before we’re just kind of getting by with one, two, three, four jobs, and we’ve included them. but we’ve got to make sure they have enough money to be able to get by. So this is going to be an enormous hit, that is true, to the government budget. We can’t think of business as usual. You know, I’m someone that always has and will want to do something about the debt and be smart about it. That’s one of the reasons I hated that Trump tax cut because they put so much money in the hands at the top when they didn’t need it. And now here we are now. You know, a trillion dollars from that. We will have time to adjust all of that. We will have to for our country. But right now, our major focus must be on getting the money to the people. The number one job in government is to keep people safe. They’re not safe.
[21:24] Andy Slavitt: So, what I’m hearing you say is if it costs us another several trillion dollars in order to give people the support to stay home long enough to beat this disease, I hear where you are on this issue. Do you think that there will be a consensus in the Congress and the White House to spend what it takes?
[21:41] Amy Klobuchar: I can’t speak for the White House, but I think there’s a consensus that it’s like we’re at war. We’re at war with a disease. And so when you’re at war, you will have to make decisions where do you spend money that you wouldn’t have spent before. And that’s exactly what’s happening right now.
[21:55] Andy Slavitt: Let me ask a question about this intersection of politics and policy here, which I think is, quite frankly, confusing me to some extent. This is a podcast that aims to be nonpartisan, because I think we’re at a moment in time when it’s not Democrat against Republican, it’s not even the U.S. against China. It’s our species. And people like you and others carry that forward. But I’m going to ask you a completely hypothetical question, OK? Let’s say that there is a Democrat running against Trump in the fall. And let’s say he has on his ticket a Midwestern senator, and the job of that ticket is to make the best case to defeat the president. At the same time, we have this need for the president to be successful. And the way this president operates sometimes is he needs to get credit. Is that a difficult thing to manage, those two kind of competing ideas?
[22:57] Amy Klobuchar: OK, well, first, I don’t do hypotheticals about the election for obvious reasons, but that may be the longest hypothetical I’ve ever been given on any kind of interview.
[23:08] Andy Slavitt: I’m terrible at podcasts. This is my second episode.
[23:12] Amy Klobuchar: What do you mean? You have a great podcast! People are excited. You’re actually giving, in a normal way with all of your incredible background, you’re giving facts to people in a way that I think isn’t too much, but is the right way to do it. So we’ll leave that aside. But it was a really funny hypothetical. It’ll go down in history. I think it was like a minute long. But OK. So I think I’ll just step back from that hypothetical and talk about what I think has got to be the priority for anyone that’s running. Like, of course, Vice President Biden, who I’m supporting. I think that a lot of this has to be about doing everything we can as a nation to make sure that we save lives. And I have tried really hard, including when I was on that debate stage, to keep focused on telling people the truth, because it could literally save their lives if they can stay that six feet away, if they can figure out if someone else can go to the grocery store and stand in line instead of someone who is a senior or someone with preexisting conditions. Or you don’t go over like you want to do to see your grandma, because, you know, you’ve been with someone at work a week ago that might have coronavirus.
[24:22] Amy Klobuchar: All of these things. That it’s our job as leaders is to get that out there. And then, of course, to get the supplies and the testing and everything we need, that’s just got to be paramount. But that doesn’t mean in an election that you’re not going to have that moment in time — there will be many of them — to debate what happened. And how a true leader should lead, which means telling people the truth, which means planning ahead the minute you see this thing spreading through China. You know there’s a good chance it’s going to end up on our shores. So what do you have to do to get ready? Who do you have to consult with? What tone do you have as a leader during this time so people aren’t misled? I think all of that is fertile ground for a political campaign, and for the discussions that we’re gonna be having. And it’s not just going to be in debates. It’s going to be every American at their kitchen table that has watched these press conferences and know exactly what I’m talking about. That’s all going to happen. But especially right now, our focus has got to be on saving lives. And we do that across the aisle, regardless of it’s a red, blue or purple state, regardless of who the leaders are. We just have to keep moving and we have to act as one team.
[25:28] Andy Slavitt: So you think it’s possible for Biden, if he’s the nominee, to both run against him and support him in his efforts to save lives?
[25:37] Amy Klobuchar: Yes, I think especially when you have someone with experience — a number of us who’ve been in leadership positions, you do that a lot, actually. People are running for election, but then they have a hard decision to make. I think about when we had the last financial crisis and President Obama, then Senator Obama, supported the work of the Bush administration, even though he didn’t agree with everything, to be able to steady the ship at that moment. And Senator McCain did the same thing. And of course, there’s things you can dispute about that effort and that bill and caused it. But when they were forced to be in that leadership moment, they made the right decision, which, by the way, I did as well. And so did a number of other leaders that were in Congress at the time, including Vice President Biden. So, you know, I think that’s what happens. I think about that moment because of how they acted in that moment. And, you know, that was the same time when Senator McCain was asked in Minnesota by the woman about questioning Barack Obama’s background. And he said, no, he’s a patriot. He loves his country. That’s leadership. That’s leadership.
[26:46] Andy Slavitt: That’s great to hear. That’s a great example you reminded me of that I’d forgotten. Well, look, I know you have to run. I just want to offer thanks to you for a couple things. First, for running for president, influencing the civility and the compassion. We think so highly of you here in Minnesota. It was nice for the rest of the country to see that. I can’t imagine that that’s easy. Secondly, at this particular point in time, I feel it’s really important for people to feel like their government represents them, because if there’s a time when the government is not listening to the problems real people are facing, then we’re going to miss it. And so just the fact that you’re available, ask people for advice — that not just people like me, but lots of people — and then formulate your own thinking, talk publicly about it. Say here’s how I’m thinking about things. The extent that you and all of your colleagues view this as an opportunity to reconnect with the constituents the way that, you know, you normally do, but the way that I hope everybody does, I think it’s gonna be necessary to get us through this. Thanks for doing that and for being on my podcast.
[27:56] Amy Klobuchar: Well, thank you, Andy. And thank you for getting out there with the facts and interviewing people who are in the medical profession and researchers and the like, as well as some of us out there in the political world. And I think this is a moment for leadership. And I look forward to being on your podcast again, but only if you promise hypotheticals down to like 10 seconds.
[28:19] Andy Slavitt: By that time, I’m gonna get good at it.
[28:22] Amy Klobuchar: All right. I’ll see you soon.
[28:23] Andy Slavitt: Thanks, Amy.
[28:27] Andy Slavitt: I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Amy Klobuchar. She’s a really interesting and special person and I’m glad she let us record this.
[28:37] Andy Slavitt: I’d ask you if you like this podcast, feel free to go to LemonadaMedia.com/inthebubble and show us that you support it. And feel free also to follow me on Twitter @ASlavitt, or Instagram @AndySlavitt, because we’ll probably live a century between now and our podcast that comes up next. Our next podcast will be coming up Wednesday. And I think you’re really going to find it interesting. The guest is going to be an amazing guest. And don’t forget that our first podcast with Mark Cuban is up. Now, this is a family-friendly podcast, I think you’ll enjoy the conversation with Mark. But if you want a slightly less family-friendly version, I believe there’s one on Patreon. When Mark exclaimed something that I would never want on this podcast. But listen to that one on your own, not with your family in me time. I hope everybody is good and we’ll get through this together. Thank you.