There was no real doubt what the first question to Senator Amy Klobuchar would be.
Backstage at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Tex., where Ms. Klobuchar was the first in a series of presidential candidates to be interviewed on Saturday, the interviewer, Kara Swisher, asked: “Do you want to start with the comb or end with the comb?”
“We’re going to start with the comb,” Ms. Swisher, the co-founder of the technology news website Recode and a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, concluded.
“The comb” was a reference to a February New York Times article about how Ms. Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, treats her staff in the Senate. In 2008, The Times reported, an aide bought her a salad in an airport but fumbled the plastic utensils. On the plane, Ms. Klobuchar berated the aide, pulled a comb out of her purse and ate the salad with it.
“It was me sort of doing a mom thing,” Ms. Klobuchar responded at Saturday’s event, co-sponsored by The Texas Tribune. “I didn’t have a fork. I used a comb to eat a salad very briefly on a plane in a MacGyver move.”
The fact that Ms. Klobuchar ate salad with a comb was not the main conclusion of the Times report. She did not mention on Saturday that, after finishing the salad, she handed the comb to the aide and ordered him to clean it.
The article, based on interviews with more than two dozen former aides, also included details about how her Senate office employees who took paid parental leave were expected to stay in their job for three times as many weeks as they had taken off — and that if they didn’t, according to an employee handbook, they would be required to pay back the money earned during their leave.
In response to the article, Ms. Klobuchar’s office said it had never enforced that policy and would change the handbook. She did not address that on Saturday, and Ms. Swisher did not ask.
Ms. Klobuchar, who has previously said she “can be tough on people,” acknowledged — as she has in past responses to reports on her treatment of her staff — that she was “sometimes too tough.” “I can push them too hard,” she said. “I can always do better.”
Ms. Swisher then asked if Ms. Klobuchar felt the coverage of her treatment of staff members was sexist, given that many male politicians act similarly.
“I’m not going to go there,” she said, adding, “Whatever it is, I just can’t waste my time analyzing it, because the stakes are too high, and I care too much. That’s why I announced my candidacy in the middle of a blizzard by the Mississippi River.”
In the rest of the interview, Ms. Klobuchar and Ms. Swisher had wide-ranging discussions on health care, technology, foreign policy and other issues. Ms. Klobuchar expressed support for several policies to lower drug prices, including importing products from Canada (“In Minnesota, we can see Canada from our porch,” she joked); ending the “pay for delay” practice in which big pharmaceutical companies pay manufacturers not to produce generics; and allowing the government to negotiate drug prices with Medicare, a perennial proposal from Democrats.
She criticized the relatively short sentence given to the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in his financial fraud case this week, citing her experience prosecuting white-collar crime and declaring, “You can’t have two systems of justice, one for the rich and powerful and one for everyone else.” She denounced President Trump for his attacks on the news media, saying he “tweets whatever he wants in the morning but doesn’t respect the amendment that allows him to do it.”
She also said she disagreed with Representative Ilhan Omar’s recent comments about American politicians’ support for Israel, “because I believe you can be true to your country and advocate for another country, whether it is Israel or Canada or Ethiopia” — but condemned Mr. Trump for emboldening intolerance, including anti-Semitism, and noted Ms. Omar’s own background as a refugee.
Asked about a recent proposal by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, another presidential candidate, to break up big tech companies like Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook, Ms. Klobuchar refused to commit to it. But she endorsed antitrust action and the breakup of monopolies broadly as “one of the governing principles for ensuring that we have a capitalist system.”
Ms. Warren also appeared at South by Southwest on Saturday, speaking with Anand Giridharadas of Time magazine. Mr. Giridharadas began the interview by telling everyone in the audience who either worked for or hoped to work for one of those tech giants to stand, and then asking Ms. Warren to explain to them why she wanted to break up their companies.
Picking Amazon as her example, Ms. Warren condemned the ability of such giants to, essentially, play on a field they control. Amazon not only runs a marketplace, she said, but uses its vast trove of information about consumers’ behavior in the marketplace to create and promote its own products.
“You can be an umpire — a platform — or you can own teams. That’s fine. But you can’t be an umpire and own one of the teams that’s in the game,” she said. “Break those things apart and we will have a much more competitive, robust market in America. That’s how capitalism should work.”
“The monopolist will make fewer monopoly profits,” she added. “Boo-hoo.”
Pressed on what this outlook said about her philosophical differences with Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running on a democratic socialist platform, Ms. Warren said she wanted capitalism to work better.
“There’s an enormous amount to be gained from markets,” she said. “But markets have to have rules. They have to have a cop on the beat. Markets without rules are theft.”
As in her stump speeches, Ms. Warren also spoke at length about the systemic effects of racism, especially in worsening economic inequality. In the 1960s, she noted, when redlining and other forms of housing discrimination were legal, the homeownership gap between black and white Americans was 27 percentage points. Today, it is 30 percentage points.
“Race matters,” she said. “And until we say so and attack the problem head on, we are not going to fix it.”
Former Gov. John Kasich of Ohio was also interviewed at the festival on Saturday, as was the Starbucks founder and possible independent presidential candidate Howard Schultz.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and former Gov. Bill Weld of Massachusetts, who is challenging Mr. Trump for the Republican nomination, were also on the schedule.