MINNEAPOLIS — Shortly after announcing her presidential bid on Sunday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) offered a defense against the recent reports that she has consistently mistreated members of her staff.
“Yes, I can be tough, and yes I can push people,” Klobuchar told reporters following her rally at Minneapolis’ Boom Island Park. “I have high expectations for myself, I have high expectations for the people that work for me, but I have high expectations for this country.”
She added: “In the end, there are so many great stories of our staff that have been with me for years.”
Accounts from several of her former employees that surfaced in recent days describe a long history of Klobuchar constantly berating her staff and creating a hostile work environment. At least three people have withdrawn from consideration to lead her 2020 campaign, in part because of her behavior as a boss, HuffPost reported on Wednesday.
In interviews with HuffPost and BuzzFeed, former staffers said Klobuchar regularly chastised and shouted at her employees over minor errors, berated them in late-night emails and sometimes threw objects, leaving some workers often in tears. Others said she would task them with her personal errands, such as washing dishes at her home, which violates Senate ethics rules.
Klobuchar’s mistreatment of staff caused then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to privately reprimand her in 2015, HuffPost reported, citing multiple sources.
Reid does not recall if this encounter occurred, a spokesperson said. Now retired, Reid described Klobuchar as “one of the most brilliant, hardest-working members of the Senate.”
An outspoken critic of President Donald Trump’s administration, Klobuchar made national headlines last year with her tough questioning of then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during his Senate confirmation hearing. She has maintained high approval ratings in her home state, where she is known for being warm and personable, and she easily won a third term in November.
She joins an already crowded field seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination that includes several women ― Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).
“The rumor around here is that working for her is hell.”
Klobuchar’s supporters and some of her former staff members believe much of the criticism of the lawmaker’s managerial style stems from sexism.
“Female politicians get treated very differently than male politicians in matters like this,” said Tom Reimann, 26, who attended Sunday’s rally with his fiancée. “If men are seen as aggressive, and kind of domineering, it’s seen as a positive trait, like they’re just trying to get things done. When women do the same thing, there are a number of negative stereotypes.”
Still, Klobuchar has been plagued by one of the highest staff turnover rates in the Senate. When she first ran for the Senate in 2006, her aides wrote a memo outlining duties for the staffer in charge of her personal needs and logistics. “... DON’T interupt [sic] her unless ABSOLUTELY necessary and be careful when trying to calm her down,” it warned.
During her 2006 campaign, Klobuchar was serving as the Hennepin County attorney, and the president of the union representing many of her employees claimed she had “created a hostile work environment” and “severely damaged the morale of the office.” At the time, Klobuchar and her staff said that characterization was part of a broader backlash over salary negotiations.
The surfacing of more details of Klobuchar’s employee mistreatment raises questions about how it will affect her ability to campaign with the “Minnesota nice” reputation she has long enjoyed.
“I’ve known about [Klobuchar’s mistreatment of staff] for quite some time,” said 69-year-old Bruce Olson, a longtime Minneapolis resident who attended the rally. “The rumor around here is that working for her is hell.”