Do Tell: Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Funny Senator
In this week's installment of "Do Tell," we chat with first-term Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), whose class peers have deemed her funniest freshman.
Klobuchar discusses the challenges of being a new kid on the block - from her most embarrassing etiquette faux pas and the thrill of gaveling Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) to order to her husband's tireless work in the Senate Spouses organization. (Watch the video below to see what Klobuchar's husband, John Bessler, did to make another senator call him sexy.)
The Minnesota senator, a rising star of her party who has become a leading proponent of efforts to combat climate change, also divulges her rare case of compassion for journalists, having grown up the daughter of a newspaper columnist in Minneapolis. (Her father, Jim Klobuchar, who is now retired, wrote for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.)
She, her husband and their 11-year-old daughter drove to Washington in their Saturn to live in a roughly 1,000-square-foot apartment and lead very different lifestyles for all of them, perhaps especially for her husband, who is a lawyer.
KLOBUCHAR: My husband is the first man to consistently be involved in the Senate Spouses group.
SLEUTH: So while you're working on immigration and global warming, he's having lunch with the First Lady?
KLOBUCHAR: He was the only man to be involved in the planning of the First Lady luncheon. He got to sit at the head table because of this.
I knew things were getting out of hand when [Sen.] Claire McCaskill and I were driving out of the Senate one day and we looked out the window and we see my husband. And he's carrying this pink box. And she said, 'Isn't that your husband?' I said, 'Yeah, I don't know what he's doing here.' We called him over and it's a baby present. I said, 'What are you doing?' He said, 'Well I'm here for a Senate Spouse event. It's Jim Webb's wife's baby shower. At that moment I thought - this was a great victory for women.
Of course Claire yelled out the window, 'That is the sexiest thing I've ever seen.' [laughter] So we have a good time.
SLEUTH: You're a freshman senator, almost six months on the job, how are things going, how are you settling in?
KLOBUCHAR: It has been going quite well. We have a great freshman class. We're all friends and hang out together, learn together. And I'm stepping in the footsteps of people like Hubert Humphrey and [Walter] Mondale and Paul Wellstone. We have so many great Senators - Dave Durenberger - who came from Minnesota. I put all their pictures on the wall in the conference room, all the Minnesota Senators, including Henrik Shipstead, who looks like he had a bad hair day.
SLEUTH: And you and at least one senator have a contest going - the race for the Golden Gavel - it's the first person to preside 100 hours straight?
KLOBUCHAR: When any senator reaches 100 hours they get this golden gavel. Now, it's not gold. But it's like a plaque for your wall. It's something of an amusing contest.
KLOBUCHAR: There have been some funny presiding stories. My personal one was when I was just brand new and it was on a Friday afternoon and Senator [Dick] Durbin came up to me and said, 'Something might happen and you might have to object.' He said you have a right to say 'in my capacity as the senator from Minnesota I object.'
The next Monday the Senators from Louisiana were speaking, I was presiding. And they had lost a bet over the football playoff game to Chicago. They were commending the Bears and they were going on and on. And finally because I felt I had these newfound powers as a chair I said, 'Senators, in my capacity as a senator from Minnesota I'd like to tell you that our team, the Minnesota Vikings, went to the Super Bowl four times. They lost every time but we still have hope.'
At that moment the phones start ringing, the parliamentarian runs in. You would have thought that I had committed some cardinal sin. They said, 'You can't speak when you're in the chair!' I said, 'But Durbin told me I could object.'
'That's all you can do, is object. You can't talk about Vikings and football games.'
SLEUTH: What do you do when you're in the chair?
KLOBUCHAR: I guess my claim to fame is I've now gaveled [Sen.] Ted Kennedy to order twice. That's one of the things you do. If people are talking, and you have to get them in order you say, 'The Senate come to order.'
Every so often you might have an outburst in the gallery. That's one of the most exciting things that happen because then you can say, 'Unless there's order we will call the Sergeant at Arms.' And that sounds really scary.
SLEUTH: And you've gotten to say that?
KLOBUCHAR: I don't think I've yet gone to the Sergeant at Arms level. I've more asked for order and they were scared of me so they stopped their outburst.
SLEUTH: You're the daughter of a journalist. So does that make dealing with the unruly congressional press corps a little bit easier?
KLOBUCHAR: I might have what is probably a naÃ¯ve trust of the press given that I grew up in a newspaper family. My dad was a sports writer when I was younger and then he became just a general columnist. But I grew up with him literally getting into brawls with football coaches. The Vikings football coach at the time, Norm Van Brocklin, in our living room - they got into a fist fight.
SLEUTH: And do you remember what the fist fight was over?
KLOBUCHAR: I have no idea. I think it involved some drinking. Back then. Now he doesn't drink.
The other thing I grew up with...sometimes he wrote stories about our family. My most embarrassing moment was when I was 13 years old. And he was watching the Vikings game with me. There was an injury on the field. He said, 'What do you think it is?' I said, 'I think it's a groin injury.' He said, 'No, it's too serious, that's not what it is.' Well half an hour later they announce that this player had this serious groin injury.
So, two days later I'm walking into my little junior high school with my bag lunch and these boys are laughing while on the front page of the metro section of the newspaper was this huge headline: "Daughter, Age 13, Spots Groin Injury."
SLEUTH: Funniest moment so far in the Senate?
KLOBUCHAR: I would say right when I started, they had a very fancy lunch for the Democrats. We had just elected Harry Reid as majority leader. It was in the LBJ room. And it just seemed very special. And it was actually just a buffet table but for me it was a big deal. And I went over and I got a salad and I got a cup of soup and I brought it over to my table. And I'm starting to dive in with my soup spoon and there's eight senators at the table and Patty Murray lunges over and grabs my arm and says, "Amy, you just took the entire bowl of Thousand Island dressing and you're about to eat it." And someone told me later I should have said, 'That's what we do in Minnesota, we eat the Thousand Island dressing.' That was probably my single most embarrassing moment so far."
SLEUTH: Anything else you want to mention?
KLOBUCHAR: Somehow I got placed on the oceans subcommittee. I didn't ask for that. But it does have jurisdiction over the Great Lakes, which is important, and so I can be a voice for the Great Lakes. But when I got there the first day I realized all the other senators had an ocean. Olympia Snowe was on there, John Kerry was on there. And I wrote a note to Frank Lautenberg and I said, "I am the only senator on the oceans subcommittee without an ocean." And he wrote back, "Just come back next year and ask for one."
Mary Ann Akers
June 8, 2007; 6:16 PM ET
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