Candidate Briefing: What an Amy Klobuchar Presidency Could Mean for the Gulf


Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) became the fifth Democratic Senator to announce her candidacy for the Democratic nomination in 2020. However, in spite of a lifetime spent in America’s heartland, Senator Klobuchar has not been prevented from looking outward. During her Congressional tenure, Klobuchar has tackled Gulf-related foreign policy issues, with her most significant contribution having been leading the Senate’s efforts to ensure that Gulf-based airlines do not use government subsidies to create unfair competition with U.S – airlines.

The detail-oriented approach a Klobuchar Administration may bring to the Gulf is best demonstrated by her recent efforts to ensure that Qatari and Emirati Airlines were following international Open Skies Protocol. Simply put “Open Skies Agreements” ensure that international airlines operate under economic liberalization that minimizes government intervention in order to create a free-market. In January 2017 Senator Klobuchar was the lead signatory on a letter presented to then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, arguing that Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Emirates Airlines were receiving substantial government subsidies that unfairly increased competition for employees of US-based airlines.[1] It is estimated that over a ten year period Qatar Airways received $17 billion in government subsidies, a number that climbs to $25 billion for the UAE’s popular airlines.[2]  One affect of these subsidies is that these airlines were able to market international routes much cheaper than other carriers.[3]  Of these subsidies Klobuchar’s letter reads, “The overcapacity on these routes facilitated by the subsidies has made the flights commercially non-viable for unsubsidized carriers. In addition, the Gulf carriers have begun targeting routes between the United States and Europe that would not be viable without their substantial government subsidies…new transatlantic flights could put additional American jobs at risk at domestic airports and airlines.”[4]

Beyond this initial letter, Klobuchar attended a worker-led demonstration at Minneapolis – St. Paul Airport, where she joined in demonstrations alongside 700 Delta Airlines employees urging lawmakers to enforce “Open Skies” agreements with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. While at the event,  Klobuchar addressed the crowd and reiterated her belief that the two nations’ airlines had an unfair advantage over Minnesotan airline workers.[5]

Consequently, in early 2018 the Trump Administration forged new agreements with both Qatar and the UAE that addressed many of the concerns championed by Senator Klobuchar. The agreement with Abu Dhabi requires that Etihad and Emirates both be transparent in their sources of funding, and even includes an official recognition that government subsidies to airlines are harmful to international markets. The agreement with Doha includes similar obligations for financial disclosures, and takes other measures to ensure that American air companies remain internationally competitive.[6] In response to the Emirates deal Klobuchar released a statement, “Open Skies agreements are good for consumers and good for American workers. Today’s agreement takes important steps that will help enhance transparency and promote competition – but proper enforcement will also be necessary to ensure the benefits of this agreement are realized.  I’ll continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure U.S. airlines and workers have a level playing field on which to compete in the global market.”[7]

At a time when some Democrats view cooperation with the controversial President or his party as an immediate red-flag, Senator Klobuchar’s bipartisan efforts are unique. And to those who think pointing-out Klobuchar’s record of bipartisanship and legislative acumen evidences an unfair positive bias, it is worth pointing out that in 2016 Klobuchar was ranked as the Senate’s most productive Senator in terms of sponsored bills that became law.[8] However, with the overall current leftward lurch of the Democratic Party, is remains to be seen if there remains a lane for a Democrat with a history of compromise.

Aside from the “Open Skies” saga, Klobuchar has often fallen in line with the rest of Democrats on Gulf foreign policy. She came out in support of the Iran Nuclear Agreement, has voted to curtail weapons sales to various Gulf nations, and most recently has expressed outrage at the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. As a midwestern woman Klobuchar indeed seems to check off several boxes, potentially giving Democrats a nominee from a region that slipped to President Trump in 2016 at a time when identity-politics have drawn women to the polls in large numbers. If her midwestern persona resonates with voters and propels her to the Presidency, her criticisms of Gulf airline subsidies indicate that the Gulf should prepare for an American President looking to cut economic deals with the Gulf nations that are in America’s interests. However, unlike the sitting President who has often been criticized for seemingly prioritizing his own business interests, Klobuchar’s criticism of Saudi Arabia indicates her deal making will be more evocative of the traditionalist Presidents that came before Mr. Trump.

 

References:

[1] Amy Klobuchar, “Klobuchar, Isakson, Durbin, Inhofe, Baldwin, Tillis Urge Secretary of State Tillerson and Secretary of Transportation Chao to Restore Level Playing Field For U.S Airlines and Aviation Workers,” Office of Senator Amy Klobuchar, March 23, 2017.

[2] Nick Wadhams and Michael Sasso, “Qatar Airways Makes Concessions in Long Open Skies Battle With U.S Legacy Carriers,” Skift, January 29, 2018.

[3] “Arab Gulf Airlines Resolve Dispute with Major US Carriers,” The Arab Weekly, June 3, 2018.

[4] Office of Senator Amy Klobuchar, “Senators Urge the Administration to enforce policies that support American workers and address the impact of Gulf subsidies,” News Releases, March 23, 2017.

[5] Mark Brunswick and Liz Sawyer, “Protestors Gather at Minneapolis – St. Paul. Airport in Wake of Refugee Ban,” Star Tribune, January 18, 2017.

[6] Wadhams and Sasso

[7] Amy Klobuchar, “Klobuchar Statement on Open Skies Agreement,” Office of Senator Amy Klobuchar, May 14, 2018.

[8] Amy Klobuchar, “Klobuchar Ranks First on List of all 100 Senators with Bills Signed into Law in Current Congress,” Office of Senator Amy Klobuchar, December 1, 2016.


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