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Amy Klobuchar: Canceling $1.5 Trillion in Student Debt Is Unrealistic—Free Community College Isn't

Melanie Eversley

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat and White House hopeful, sounded a mostly moderate tone Monday night in New Hampshire at a CNN town hall meeting.

The former prosecutor appeared at St. Anselm College in Manchester with CNN anchor Chris Cuomo. It was the first of five back-to-back town hall meetings Monday with front-running Democratic candidates.

Klobuchar, 58, declined to offer an opinion on the redacted report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller that found President Donald Trump attempted to stymie the investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential campaign. The report was released last week. Klobuchar said the president should be held accountable for his actions, but when asked for her thoughts, she punted over to her colleagues in the other chamber of Congress.

“The impeachment proceedings are up to the House,” the senator said. “They’re going to have to make that decision. I am in the Senate.”

Klobuchar said she believes the House and the Senate should hold hearings into the president’s actions and said Mueller should testify before the Senate. But that was the most opinion Klobuchar, Minnesota’s first elected woman senator, would offer.

“I believe I’m the jury here, so I’m not going to predispose things,” Klobuchar said.

Addressing another issue that has emerged as a prominent one in this campaign, Klobuchar said she could not support concepts to offer free college tuition or forgive student debt because those concepts are unrealistic. She noted that there is $1.5 trillion in student debt as it is—not to mention home mortgage, credit card, and government debt.

“I wish I could staple a free college diploma under every one of your chairs—I do,” Klobuchar told the audience of St. Anselm students. “Don’t look. It’s not there. I wish I could do that but I have to be straight with you and tell you the truth.”

The senator said, however, that she supports allowing students and former students to refinance school loans at a rate a little bit above 3%—or even lower. Klobuchar also said she would like to expand Pell Grants, and bring back President Obama’s proposal to make community college free.

“Everything that I have proposed to you,” she said, “I have found ways to pay for it that I think makes sense that we can actually get done.”

In one moment in which Klobuchar sounded less moderate, she said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “shouldn’t be in her job” after trying to get rid of funding for special education and for the Special Olympics.

Klobuchar, the former Hennepin County, Minn., attorney, said she advocates taking a second look at some convictions, as the Innocence Project and other similar organizations have. She also said she supports a clemency board that would review potential pardons.

Regarding the issue of color disparities in the nation’s prisons, Klobuchar said, “There is racism in our criminal justice system and we must pledge to fix it.”