Klobuchar’s vice presidential hopes take hit amid unrest in Minnesota
Amy Klobuchar‘s chances of becoming Joe Biden‘s running mate, already weighed down by her record as a prosecutor in Minnesota’s largest county, have taken a significant hit as widespread racial unrest roils her home state, Democrats say.
The death of George Floyd at the hands of police and subsequent strife in Minneapolis have reignited long festering Democratic concerns about Klobuchar’s criminal justice record and the seven years she spent as the top prosecutor in Minnesota’s most populous county, a position she secured by promising to be tough on crime.
It’s inopportune timing for Klobuchar, who has been widely seen for months as a leading candidate to be Biden’s running mate. But the resurgence of questions about her criminal justice record — along with her inability to address long-running accusations of racism inside the Minneapolis police force and her failure to bring charges against multiple officers involved in shootings during her time as a top prosecutor — has led many Democrats to outright say they will question Biden’s judgment and commitment to black voters if he picks Klobuchar as his running mate.
That chorus includes Rep. Jim Clyburn, the powerful South Carolina Democrat with close ties to Biden.
“We are all victims sometimes of timing and some of us benefit tremendously from timing,” Clyburn said Friday. “This is very tough timing for Amy Klobuchar. … The timing is tough.”
Clyburn added that while he respects Klobuchar and believes she is qualified to be vice president, the last few days of strife in Minneapolis have notably hurt the senator’s chance of being Biden’s running mate.
“So often in politics, timing really dictates things,” said the lawmaker, who has long pushed for Biden to pick an African American woman as his running mate.
Clyburn’s comments could prove powerful for Biden, whose overwhelming performance in the South Carolina primary — a win delivered by black voters and partially facilitated by Clyburn — helped clear the Democratic field and take a major step toward locking up the party’s nomination.
Biden would not say on Friday whether Klobuchar’s prosecutorial record and the unrest in Minnesota disqualify her from being his running mate.
“What we are talking about today has nothing to do with my running for president or who I pick as a vice president,” Biden said in an interview with MSNBC. “It has to do with an injustice that we all saw take place.”
Klobuchar’s somewhat scattered response to the Floyd killing has not helped quell the animosity toward her becoming Biden’s number two.
One of her first statements on Floyd’s death was quickly condemned by a range of activists for not being direct enough. And then much of Klobuchar’s work has taken place behind the scenes, including meeting with community officials and speaking with African American civil rights leaders leaders like Rev. Al Sharpton and former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson.
“She is on the right side of this issue,” Jackson said, adding that he met with Klobuchar in person on Thursday afternoon, before some of the most violent and fiery protests broke out in Minneapolis. Jackson said that Klobuchar — who he has a “high regard for as a person” — was very focused during their conversation on ensuring that the officers involved in the Floyd arrest were themselves arrested.
As she was doing that on Thursday, however, a story about her involvement with a past case involving Derek Chauvin, the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck, gained traction online. Chauvin was one of six involved in a 2006 shooting involving a man who stabbed multiple people. The shooting happened near the end of Klobuchar’s tenure as county attorney and shortly before she was sworn in for her first term in the United States Senate. The case was not heard by a grand jury until after she became a senator.
“Amy Klobuchar’s last day as the Hennepin County Attorney was Dec. 31, 2006; she had no involvement in the prosecution,” Lacey Severins, spokesperson for the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, said in a statement.
But the animosity the story engendered — even though aspects were later proven false — highlighted the antipathy many have for Klobuchar becoming the Democratic party’s vice presidential nominee.
Klobuchar’s presence became more active on Friday. She said on Twitter that her community is “hurting for justice & charges for George Floyd,” and later was one of the first officials to announce that Chauvin had been arrested.
But that public presence, which included with media interviews, did little to quell the concerns.
“It would be a mistake of epic proportions,” said Jess Morales Rocketto, the political director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Rocketto added that many progressive voters “weren’t sure what she brought to the ticket … before all of this came up.”
When asked what the reaction would be if Biden picks Klobuchar, Rocketto laughed and added, “The laugh is on the record.”
Angela Rye, who along with a host of top black female Democrats wrote a Washington Post op-ed earlier this month urging Biden not to pick Klobuchar, said the protests in Minneapolis highlighted their greatest concerns about the Minnesota senator.
“What you are seeing right now is the reason why we oppose Amy Klobuchar,” said Rye, a CNN commentator. “(Biden) will not win if he picks Amy Klobuchar. Full stop. There is no path to victory by picking Amy Klobuchar.”
Rye argues that although Biden did well with black voters during the primary, Democrats need excitement from black Americans to defeat President Donald Trump in November. With someone like Klobuchar on the ticket, that excitement would be hard to find.
Klobuchar subtly dismissed the idea she would pull her name from contention on Friday. When asked directly on MSNBC, Klobuchar pivoted back to her focus on her community and repeated that, “This is Joe Biden’s decision.”
“He was an excellent vice president. He’s going to make the best decision for him, for our country, for the pandemic,” Klobuchar said.
This is not the first time that Klobuchar’s criminal justice record possibly imperiled her political hopes, either.
As Klobuchar gained more traction in the presidential primary, especially after a surprising third place finish in New Hampshire, the senator’s time as a top prosecutor — paired with her inability to win over black voters — began to weigh down her bid.
At the heart of that criticism was Klobuchar’s handling of the case of Myon Burrell, a Minnesota teenager who was sentenced to life in prison for a 2002 murder under then-County Attorney Klobuchar. Burrell continues to claim he is innocent and, in interviews around Klobuchar’s presidential campaign, argued that the would-be senator was too focused on getting any sort of a conviction that she did not actually look into the details of the case.
“I believe she gave the police free rein and said, ‘Just bring me back a conviction,'” Burrell said in an ABC interview published in February.
The case dogged Klobuchar throughout the final weeks of her campaign, making it nearly impossible for her to turn a breakout performance in New Hampshire into anything moving forward.
“I don’t know what other warning signs the Biden campaign needs to understand that it would be a huge slap in the face to the black community to pick someone like Amy Klobuchar, whose record is so entwined with violence towards people of color,” said Rodericka Applewhaite, an operative who worked on Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign. “Her stock in this shouldn’t be dwindling, it should be obliterated.”
Klobuchar’s second to last event as a candidate was also marred by protests about Burrell. Family members of Burrell and protesters affiliated with the Racial Justice Network, Minneapolis NAACP and other groups overran the stage at a Klobuchar event that was slated to take place in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, in early March, shortly before voters went to the polls in her home state. The protestors refused to leave the stage and Klobuchar’s campaign canceled the event at the last minute.
It is criminal justice issues like the Burrell case, said Bakari Sellers, a former South Carolina lawmaker and CNN contributor, that would make it hard for black voters to fully get behind a Biden-Klobuchar ticket.
“Amy Klobuchar’s biggest issue has always been her relationship or lack thereof with communities of color and the problem that’s she has is she is trying to make up for a lifetime of neglect in a few months,” Sellers said. “I have a hard time believing you can activate the base with a Biden-Klobuchar ticket.”