MSNBC INTERVIEW WITH SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN)
SUBJECTS: SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER, AFGHANISTAN, VOTING RIGHTS ACT, H1N1 VIRUS INTERVIEWERS: CONTESSA BREWER, CARLOS WATSON
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MR. WATSON: Beyond the symbolic prize of a veteran Republican Senator switching sides, there actually are some very practical implications for the Democratic legislative agenda.
MS. BREWER: In other words, every vote helps. So now how much help will the Democrats get if Arlen Specter has defected and joined them?
Joining us now, Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
What do you think? I mean, how much does it help? Because he says he's not going to be a party line voter with the Democrats.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Well, you know, Arlen Specter, as you know, Contessa and Carlos, has always been a very independent thinker. You talk to Democrats; they'll tell you that, you talk to Republicans and I think that will continue. While 60 is a great number, it's not a magic number because I think on any one vote, look at the stimulus package. You saw three Republicans come over and vote with us on that. I think you'll see in another areas some Democrats that won't agree and some Republicans that will, especially in the area of health care where we've already had bipartisan work going on for years.
I expect and hope that you will see a number of Republicans working with Democrats on that bill.
So it is, of course, good news that Senator Specter came over to be a part of our caucus. I think it will be very helpful, but again, he's an independent thinker and you have a situation which is very fluid in many of these votes.
MR. WATSON: Senator Klobuchar, I know you just got back from a trip to Asia. You traveled with Senator John McCain and others. You heard President Obama say yesterday that he's gravely concerned about the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Any new additional thoughts that you have in terms of what we should expect to see the Obama administration do over the next 100 days as it relates to that region of the world?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Well, you see, a renewed focus in this area. I think there had been a falling away of the focus in the last administration. I think it's a very good thing that the president is focused on more troops there in Afghanistan and much more diplomacy with some high-level diplomats there, as well as the work that's already going on with the Defense Secretary and others in working with these countries.
I will say this, traveling with Senator McCain time and time again when we were in China or Japan or Vietnam, he would pick a number of proposals of President Obama's that he agreed with in the international relations area, you know, everything from the closing of Guantanamo Bay to the shifts that Secretary Gates wants to make with some of the defense spending and that was heartening to see after he had been running hard against President Obama, to see, again, some seeds of bipartisanship happening everywhere.
MR. WATSON: Senator Klobuchar, speaking about bipartisanship, you know that a couple of years ago, 2006, President Bush signed into law an extension of the Voting Rights Act. That provision now is being challenged in front of the Supreme Court and the question is, now that President Obama, an African-American has been elected president, some say you no longer need some of the so-called protections to make sure that voters, particularly in southern states have extra protection to make sure that there aren't violations.
What do you think of that as a member of the Judiciary Committee? Do you think the Supreme Court should overrule some of the Section 5 protections?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Well, as you know, the Supreme Court just heard the arguments and we'll have to wait and see how they rule. I'm hopeful that that act will be upheld. It was just voted on unanimously just only three years ago, and if they do make any changes to that, I doubt very much the reason would be that we elected an African-American president. I think the fact that we elected an African-American president is a tribute to the work done with that Voting Rights Act and allowing so many people to vote and to have access to our democracy.
So I would doubt very much that any justice or anyone would give a reason for changing the Act be that we are finally electing some African-Americans to national office.
MS. BREWER: Senator Klobuchar, before I let you go, I want to ask you about the big story that we've been talking about, swine flu. I know Minnesota has a case on its hands at this point.
Are you concerned that we're on the verge of seeing a pandemic? I mean we're at 5 right now out of a possible 6 in terms of the stages. And do you think that the federal government, your state of Minnesota and the localities and municipalities, they have enough on their hands to fight back?
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: You know, first of all, as the president has said, this is a cause of concern. Everyone is concerned. We expected to see more cases. We're starting to see more cases, but this is not a time to panic. There's common sense things that people have to do from washing their hands to not making unnecessary travel to countries like Mexico that are having more of this flu. But the bottom line here is that for years as the president explained last night, we have been stockpiling some of the drugs that will be helpful if people do get the flu. Immediate work is going on to develop a vaccine, and again, people have to listen to the professionals here --
MS. BREWER: Right.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: And not take matters into their own hands. I think Secretary of Homeland Secretary Napolitano, new HHS Secretary Sebelius, have been very clear in saying, let's be very cautious, careful, listen to the news, watch what is happening. I know in my state of Minnesota, we do have one case now in Cold Springs, Minnesota, and again, people have been urged to take caution, to do what you do when you start seeing flu in your school or other places and there will be more of this. We know that. But let's not panic until we see how extensive it is.
MR. WATSON: We hope it all goes well. Senator Klobuchar, before I let you go --
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Okay.
MR. WATSON: I've got to tell you that I've gotten a lot of Twitter tweets and Facebook messages from Slovenia who say to tell you, hello.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Well, that's right. I am half-Slovenian. You just tell them we had potica in our office this morning for all our visiting Minnesotans. It's a Slovenian nut bread. They love it and I'm their Slovenian Senator.
MS. BREWER: Thank you, Senator. Good to have you with us.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.
MR. WATSON: Good to have you.