Stories about Amy Klobuchar's mistreatment of her staff have dominated headlines since the Minnesota senator announced her run for president earlier this month.
Ex-staffers say Klobuchar emails at all hours of the night berating them for minor mistakes in all caps, humiliates them verbally, and has even thrown objects, once accidentally hitting an aide with a flying binder, as BuzzFeed News reported. In multiple news reports, they describe an atmosphere of constant anxiety and fear that contrasts with the senator's outward "Minnesota nice" brand.
But other staffers have praised her for the high standards and expectations she has for her office, and for being a great mentor who's always there for them through major life events. And even though this behavior is clearly unacceptable for any boss, some have argued that there are gendered overtones in how her management style is discussed and the fact that it's overshadowing her presidential run. Consider that Klobuchar is high on the list of "worst bosses" in Congress because of her high staff turnover — but also that, according to Vox, in 2016 about a third of female senators were considered worse bosses than about 96% of male senators. Sounds like there might be another factor involved.
When asked about her behavior, Klobuchar reverts to a line about being as tough on America as she is on her staff. When George Stephanopoulos posed the question to her on ABC News, she replied, "I am tough. I push people, that is true, but my point is that I have high expectations for myself, I have high expectations for the people that work for me, and I have high expectations for this country." Then, when he asked whether she's ready to handle the scrutiny that comes with running for president, she made a point to say that she has "grit" and has overcome adversity, including her dad struggling with alcoholism and her daughter being sick when she was born.
Will this work with voters? Patti Wood, body language expert and author of Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, and Charisma, said she thinks voters will absolutely care about Klobuchar's treatment of staff, and that they will, unfortunately, care more because she's a woman. Justifying her behavior by saying she has high expectations for the country was not quite convincing, said Wood. "She was tense, her voice got tight, she was very uncomfortable and trying to overcome that discomfort."
Wood noted that she thought it was interesting when Klobuchar showed some vulnerability. "When she started talking about her experience with her alcoholic dad, that tactic was so fascinating to me because it was appealing to her vulnerability and the pain she's been through in her life that has made her tough," she said. "It worked effectively, but a guy could probably not have pulled that off."
She added: "It worked. It was memorable, and I know people were quoting it afterward. These were well-crafted talking points."
Wood said she noticed that Klobuchar "grimaced" as she said, "I have high expectations for this country."
"I think it's because the line didn't work for her somehow. There was something she was conflicted about and she didn't sell that line. She didn't sound or look like she believed it," she said.
In a CNN town hall, Klobuchar struck a similar note, talking up her long career of managing people. "Am I a tough boss sometimes? Yes. Have I pushed people too hard? Yes. But I have kept expectations for myself that are very high. I've asked my staff to meet those same expectations. The big point for me is that I want the country to meet high expectations," she said.
Here, Wood said she sounded a little more convincing, but she still had her doubts. "The way it came out, it sounded like an excuse for her bullying rather than what it should have done, which is leave us with the impression that she's going to be tough on America because it's a great country. I found it interesting that she's being accused of bullying and she seems nervous and tense, that doesn't bode well."
When it comes to Klobuchar's "baseline," however — when she's talking about issues that aren't as touchy as her treatment of staff, such as student debt — Wood said she seems more comfortable, which is telling.