Amy Klobuchar on Save Our Stages: 'We were able to get a really strong coalition'

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Senator Amy Klobuchar outside First Avenue
A portrait of Senator Amy Klobuchar at First Ave in Minneapolis, Minn., on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (Jenn Ackerman)
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As the Save Our Stages Act makes its way towards becoming law as part of a COVID-19 stimulus bill, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the act's co-sponsor, spoke with The Current's Sean McPherson.

Later today, Klobuchar will be joining Dayna Frank at First Avenue to celebrate the bill's progress. (Details have not yet been announced.) For updates on the bill, which has now passed Congress and is waiting for President Donald Trump's signature, follow MPR News.

Sean McPherson: Can you tell me about the process [of the Save Our Stages Act becoming law] and where we are at within that process?

Amy Klobuchar: Well, first, none of this would have happened without Dayna Frank and NIVA. She and I spoke late at night on a Saturday night, right at the beginning of the pandemic, and she said, "I don't know how we're going to stay afloat, how small theaters are going to stay afloat," and put together this coalition. Her job was to get musicians, theater owners big and small — I mean, imagine, Fargo theater, Broadway. Hip-hop, country music venue in Texas — all together and agree on how we could do this in a formula. And that literally stood the test of time throughout the entire year. It never really wavered, and the groups never wavered. They didn't break off and [start] infighting.

That helped me to build the support in red and blue states, 'cause I couldn't just do it with Democrats. Sen. Cornyn, Republican from Texas, and I are the leads on the bill, and we were able to get 57 Republican and Democratic Senators in total. We were able to get more money than we originally asked for, because we had such a strong case. These venues were the first to close down, the last to open...you can't stand in a mosh pit in the middle of a pandemic, and you can't be arm-to-arm in a theater. So we were able to really get a strong coalition and ended up getting more than the full funding in the bill, which is going to allow these venues to stay open for at least six months and really help them with their revenue.

It's not the same as it was a year ago. You can't sort of buddy up with a senator and ask him a couple of questions, 'cause there's a lot of social distancing. When you're navigating these conversations during the pandemic, how are you able to build that consensus with red and blue states?

First of all, just calling people the old-fashioned way. We are on the floor together — now wearing masks, thank God — but we are on the floor together, so you do talk to people sometimes, and then you're in the Zoom where it happens — it's no longer "the room where it happens" — and make sure that it happens to the end. One of the things that was so unique about this, it was a really positive project — people weren't dissing people that weren't on it, things like that — but we were able to harness the power of music, and it was everything from rock to classical. We had everyone from Pitbull to Lady Gaga, right?

People's fans went out on the internet, they went out on social media and then they contacted their representatives and senators, and made the case. It's an extraordinary story, because it wasn't some humongous lobbying effort. It was grassroots, and there were a bunch of other bills that were really meritorious as well that involved various aspects of this, but in the end, our bill was the one that had legs. We ended up adding more partners, which included museums, and so we actually got more funding because of that. We didn't cut into the funding that we had for Our Stages, and it's a grand program.

Small Business Administration, first two weeks people who've been 90% down on their revenue from 2019. This isn't just, "oh, we're down a few customers." 90% down on revenue apply, then the next two weeks 70% down on revenue.

This bill seemed like an all-but-certainty yesterday, that it was going to be signed and was all going through. But now I'm hearing that Donald Trump has some hesitations about the larger bill, so is this part of the bill in danger?

I like that nice Current euphemism, "he has some reservations." He did a video last night, let's be honest, saying that he didn't like this bill, after his own Treasury secretary had been in the room negotiating it on the phone, numerous sign-offs. Now, [President Trump] is throwing darts as always.

I would like to see more direct payments to people. I've been very clear about that. The Democratic Party wants them. Speaker Pelosi is going to bring up this bill for $2,000 direct payments, instead of the $600 ones, and that's tomorrow. I think she'll be able to get the Democratic votes. He's going to have to rally his own party to support it in the Senate and to get it done, and that's fine. You can do that while you're putting this bill into effect — which is not just about the stages. This bill is the $30 billion to get the vaccine out to everyone and expand the vaccine. [The COVID-19 vaccine is] not just going to parachute into the middle of Lanesboro, Minnesota. This bill is about getting rapid testing, so it doesn't just go to the NFL. It's about helping people with housing and rental and it's got help for unemployed people...that's over 20 million people unemployed, and that includes gig workers. So I think that it's really, really important that we get this bill done and we stop messing around. While he was hiding out, we were negotiating...great, let's get the direct payments as well.

Well, it sounds like the finish line is nearby.

It is. The support was so overwhelming that we can override a veto.

Now, Senator, later in the day you're going to be connecting with Dayna Frank from First Avenue to celebrate the anticipated passage of this bill. What do you think is going to be the first tangible result of this bill passing? You were talking some percentages, but I'm talking for businesses on the ground, what's going to be the first way they feel the impact of this bill?

Well, first of all, the minute it's signed into law, they're going to know that their help is on the way: they don't have to go under. Their bankers, everyone's going to know it, because these are grants, they're not loans. Do they have to apply for them? Of course, but they know what the criteria are. We spelled them out in the bill — about the seats and lighting and whatever it is, in the space — to make it very clear which venues this would apply to, and it doesn't go to the Ticketmasters of the world. It doesn't go to Live Nation. It doesn't go to the big guys. So that is very clear, and then they will know that they don't have to close down. So much of this money can be used for rent, for insurance payments, most importantly for wages and benefits for their employees. So we're pretty excited about this. It's very straightforward, and the Small Business Administration's ready to take it on. We just need President Trump to sign it into law, so it's possible all of our music fans all over the country are going to have to make it very clear that the White House should get this bill done.

And by the way, Dayna picking an outdoor event when it's ten degrees is going to be a lot of fun today — but what better way to celebrate?

Well, speaking of a well-known outdoor event, let's go back to when you started your presidential bid and there was snow falling all over you in Minnesota, and the tune that was playing was Dessa's "Bullpen." That's the one that you requested for today's show. This tune has been with you at some key points in your political life. What do you like about this Dessa song?

I love it because it is the story of a woman rapper, but it kind of is also the story of women in politics, right? Because she's basically making the case, why am I the only one acting like a gentleman? That's one of my favorite lines. She talks about what that's like in that song; it's very heartfelt. I love the tune, and I love the spirit she always has in all her songs. I literally would have that song playing, good or bad, whatever happened, when I was around the country running for President, that was my walk-on song, and I love that it was a Minnesota, local artist.


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