Amy Klobuchar: I'm Not A "Magic Genie" Who Can Give Free College For All

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Sen. Amy Klobuchar declined to support Sen. Bernie Sanders' call for free four-year college if she were elected president in 2020.

"If I was a magic genie and could give that to everyone and we could afford it, I would," Klobuchar said at a CNN town hall in New Hampshire. "I'm just trying to find a mix of incentives and make sure kids that are in need — that's why I talked about expanding Pell Grants — can go to college and be able to afford it, and make sure that people that can afford it are able to pay."

DON LEMON: So, Senator, Griffin Sinclair-Wingate is from Dover and he works at a nonprofit.



AMY KLOBUCHAR: OK. What's your first name?

LEMON: Griffin.

QUESTION: My name's Griffin.

KLOBUCHAR: OK, very good, Griffin.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you so much for taking my question, Senator. So I graduated from college in 2017, and I currently pay roughly the equivalent of my rent in student loans every month. And, you know, I have friends that graduated six figures in debt. Here in New Hampshire, students graduate on average with the highest average student loan debt in the nation.

KLOBUCHAR: At $36,000, or something like that.

QUESTION: It's absurd.

KLOBUCHAR: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: And so I'd like to ask you, would you be willing to stand with my generation and end the student debt crisis by supporting free college for all? And would you include undocumented and formerly incarcerated people in that program?

KLOBUCHAR: OK.

QUESTION: And if you could please just preface your answer with a clear yes or no, I would really appreciate that. Thank you so much.

KLOBUCHAR: OK. All right. OK. Let me answer you, first of all. I think we have to do everything to help our students afford college. My idea is to make it easier to refinance, to start with two-year degrees, the community colleges being free. That's something that President Obama was pushing. There's a reason I'll get to why I'm starting there instead of four-year.

So I want to answer that question first for you and let you know that I also had student loans. And when I married my husband, he had tens of thousands of student loans to make you feel better, but I married him anyway. All right?

OK, so here's what we need to do. The first thing is we need to make it easier to afford college, and you need to do that by making it easier to refinance these loans, by extending Pell Grants so it includes more students. Those are simply grants, right? So if you extend those Pell Grants, that's going to make it even easier, because right now it's for a limited number of students. And I think we should expand it to more students.

I think that we should do as much as we can with some of the other populations that you referred to. We've got to make it easier for people getting out of prison to afford going to school, you name it.

But the other thing I want to talk about here is something -- I know we're in a four-year degree school, a great school. But you also have in Manchester a two-year community college. And there's a lot of kids right now who are off the grid, right? They don't graduate from high school around the country or they end up maybe barely graduating from high school. They accumulate debt in a four-year college. Then they end up not being able to either finish that college or they end up not being able to get a job that pays for it.

So right now, there are a big number of jobs that require certifications, two-year degrees, everything from welding to technology to robotics, something big here in New Hampshire. I know Mr. Kamen with the Segway educated our whole country on robotics. And they require various degrees.

So one of the things that I want to do is really have a big discussion in our country about what we do about kids that aren't graduating from high school, kids that don't get to the point of being at this great college, right, and how we get them into the certifications, the two-year degrees, and make sure that we're paying for that, because our economy needs that, and then go from there. So thank you for your question.

LEMON: So he did ask you yes or no. Would you support free college for all?

KLOBUCHAR: No, I am not for free four-year college for all, no. Thank you.

LEMON: So let me ask you this, because...

KLOBUCHAR: And I wish -- if I was a magic genie and could give that to everyone and we could afford it, I would. I'm just trying to find a mix of incentives and make sure kids that are in need -- that's why I talked about expanding Pell Grants -- can go to college and be able to afford it and make sure that people that can't afford it are able to pay.

LEMON: Yeah, we're on a college campus so you know many of the...

KLOBUCHAR: I know that. I know that. But I've got to -- I've got to tell the truth. I mean, we have this mounting...

We have a mounting debt that the Trump administration keeps getting worse and worse. I also don't want to leave that on the shoulders of all these kids, right?

LEMON: Yeah.

KLOBUCHAR: And so we've got to do a balance. Some of it's major tax reform in terms of reversing some of the things that this administration has done. And then some of it is making sure that students are getting degrees and being led to jobs where we actually have jobs.

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