Amy Klobuchar announced her run for president last February while standing outside in the middle of a snowstorm. It was a badge of honor for the third-term Minnesota senator and native of the state, a metaphor for her midwestern common sense and effectiveness during one of the most unsettling times in American political history.
A graduate of Yale and the University of Chicago Law School, Klobuchar served as prosecutor for the most populous county in Minnesota before becoming the state’s first elected female senator in 2006. Her ability to reach across the aisle to target the opioid crisis, inflated prescription drug costs, and sexual harassment led Vanderbilt University to hail her as the most effective Democratic senator last Congress. Meanwhile, her affable, folksy charm (she encourages constituents to call her Amy) makes her one of the most popular politicians in office. That “Minnesota nice” image was dented, however, by a series of news reports in February detailing her demanding and sometimes humiliating behavior toward her staff.
Nevertheless, she’s betting her genial pragmatism and penchant for bipartisanship—and her potential to pick up Midwest swing states that sealed President Trump’s victory in 2016—will be just the antidote needed to win in 2020. In April, shortly after releasing her tax returns to the public, the heartland candidate spoke to ELLE about what she’s really like as a boss, sexism in Congress, and her unusual choice of eating utensils.
ELLE: What compelled you to go into politics?
Amy Klobuchar: When our daughter was born, she was unexpectedly very sick. She was being fed with a tube in intensive care. Back then, insurance companies had a rule that [new mothers] could only stay in the hospital for 24 hours. I had been up all night, as had my husband, and then they just kicked me out. As we nursed her back to health, I started hearing about other mothers who had had the same experience. So I went to the legislature, not as an elected official, but as a mom, and testified for one of the first laws in the country guaranteeing new moms and their babies a 48-hour hospital stay. I brought a bunch of pregnant friends. The legislators asked, “When should this take effect?,” and all my friends raised their hands and said, “Now.” They put it into law immediately.
You also raised $17,000 from your ex-boyfriends to run for Senate. What were those phone calls like?
I mean, it wasn’t that many. [Laughs] One gave from him and his spouse. But I try to keep good relations with people, even when things aren’t perfect. That’s what I’ve done in the Senate. I try to find common ground with everyone I work with.
I have high expectations for myself and my staff, and most of all, I have high expectations for the country.
Staffers have suggested that things aren’t so pleasant behind the scenes. What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses as a manager?
My strength is to get things done. We have gotten 34 bills signed into law while President Trump has been in office. I know that I can be tough and push people too hard; you can always improve, and I’ll do that. I have high expectations for myself and my staff, and most of all, I have high expectations for the country.
Do you think your managerial strategy has been held to a different standard than that of your male peers?
I find it interesting that we have really strong, incredible women running for president who have had some criticisms along the same lines. Three of us have run major offices, and when you are in these tough jobs, you have to make tough decisions and deal with things in a way that doesn’t always make everyone happy. We can get some enemies here and there. But those are the kinds of skills you have to have when you’re president. It’s not a popularity contest every day.
Electability seems more important than popularity. What does being electable mean to you?
Well, it’s pretty important! It maybe sounds dry, but in the end, you want to win. A ton of women won congressional seats across the country. A lot of that was people who are authentic and have strong beliefs, and that’s why we won. If you want to call it “electable,” I guess it is. But it’s more about the fact that they could connect with voters. People understood them and believed that they would go to Washington to represent their constituents. I think that all goes into whether or not you’re electable.
I have a sense of humor, and I do see the humor in some of the craziness every day.
Congress looks a lot different now than when you started. What kind of sexism have you faced in your career? Are there any moments that stand out?
A memory I have is from when I’d been in the Senate for a few months. I was on the elevator with two of my staff members. The door opened, and a male senator was standing outside. He said, “Excuse me, this elevator is for senators only.” My staff member said, “She is a senator.” And then I looked at him and asked, “But who are you?” I knew exactly who he was. The elevator door closed, and he never got on. He’s no longer there.
Do you think Americans are ready for a female president?
Yes. The best example of that is all the women they put in place in 2018, including several governor’s offices. As I always like to say: May the best woman win.
It was reported that you once ate a salad with a comb after realizing you didn’t have a fork. Were you surprised by how much press that generated?
When you’re running for office, you’re gonna have all kinds of stories come out—the good, the bad, the funny. That’s just how it is. I have a sense of humor, and I do see the humor in some of the craziness every day. Whether it’s the president calling me Snowwoman [on Twitter] to all the people running on the Democratic side. You just have to stay grounded in the reason that you’re doing it: for your neighbors and fellow Americans across the country who want to see someone in office who’s going to bridge the divide and work to get things done—which is what I’ve done my whole life.
And use whatever resources you have. Anything else that works as a utensil in a pinch?
I don’t know. I’ve been camping a lot, but we usually pack our little camp gear.
This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of ELLE.
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Rebecca Nelson Rebecca is Cosmopolitan.com’s senior writer covering politics.