The Washington Post
By Jennifer Rubin
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has continued his meteoric rise after his improbable presidential run in 2020. Making good use of his wonkishness and verbal acuity, he is one of the administration’s best spokesmen for its most popular accomplishment, infrastructure, even venturing onto Fox News. However, there is another, less flashy, beneficiary of the 2020 presidential race who may help chart the future of her party.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) has maximized her role as chairwoman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, putting her front and center in the battle to pass President Biden’s agenda. She’s perfected the art of framing an issue in populist terms and casting Republicans as the Scrooges of American politics.
Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, she argued that a key reason Democrats will pass the Build Back Better bill is that “we’re paying the highest prices for drugs, for prescription drugs, of any country in the world. Yet our taxpayers have funded all this research.” She added: “This Build Back Better bill is the first time we’re finally going to take on pharma. We’re willing to do it. The Republicans are not.”
She reiterated that the key Democrat to reaching a deal, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) “is someone — he gets our country.” Making her best populist pitch to a senator from a poor state she declared, “He gets the plight of so many people in West Virginia, and how they have been having to pay more for prescription drug prices. He’s been actually a strong proponent of taking on pharma to bring down prescription drug prices.” That’s how you sell a progressive goal to a conservative, critical senator.
She is also a key player in the fight for voting reform, having helped broker with Manchin and other Senate Democrats a compromise voting rights bill, the Freedom to Vote Act. The bill not only addresses voter suppression but also recognizes the arguably greater threat of vote-rigging and voting subversion (by providing for protections for elections officials from partisan removal, protection against intimidation, penalties for refusal to certify votes, and standardized audits). Should Build Back Better and voting rights get over the finish line, Klobuchar will claim a measure of credit, not to mention strengthen her standing with African American voters. (She is also championing a bill to regulate social media companies such as Instagram that studies show are injurious to kids — a political winner for which there is rare bipartisan support.)
However, more than her dogged pursuit of legislation, the Minnesota senator consistently evidences the ability to frame contentious issues in ways designed to cajole rather than insult red-state voters who may still be persuadable. CNN’s Jake Tapper asked her about Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who decided to snub mask-wearing at Bob Dole’s memorial service as he sat next to cancer survivor Klobuchar. Rather than tearing into Cruz (an opportunity many would relish), she explained the obligations we have to one another:
I think people should wear masks, especially when they’re in settings when they’re supposed to. I think part of our duty as civic leaders is actually to model behavior, because it’s not just about masks. It’s also about vaccines. And Ted Cruz, he’s gotten a vaccine. He gets that.And part of what I don’t want to get lost here is why we were there. We were there to honor Bob Dole and his memory. Bob Dole was all about consensus, bringing people together. And let’s not forget that.
You have to admire her finesse in reminding Cruz’s anti-vax base that Cruz himself is vaccinated. And in extolling a revered Republican for consensus-building and civil rights support (e.g., making Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a national holiday), Klobuchar cleverly knocks the current brand of obstructionist Republicans while appealing to the better angels of Americans’ nature.
Coming from the heartland where she has earned the votes of rural conservative voters, Klobuchar has honed her skill in advancing progressive causes while extolling American values (e.g., selflessness, responsibility, tolerance). It would be awfully hard to paint her as a “socialist” intent on pushing wacky left-wing views on ordinary Americans.
Other Democrats would do well to listen to her — and adopt a values-based message aimed at adding to the Democrat base, not offending potential swing voters.
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