On the seventh stop of an eight-city town hall throughout Missouri, Democratic Sen. Clair McCaskill was quick to note the importance of listening to citizens who hold views other than her own.
McCaskill is seeking re-election in 2018, and is expected to face heavy Republican opposition. Her speaking engagement came in downtown Springfield, in a county where nearly twice as many voters cast a ballot for Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton in November.
“I owe respect to the people in Missouri who voted for Donald Trump. I need to hear them, I need to see them. I was humbled by the election result.”
Since the election, several towns across the country held by Republicans have made headlines for the hostile crowds the lawmakers have encountered. Missouri’s GOP congressmen, Sen. Roy Blunt and Rep. Billy Long, did not hold any town halls this week while Congress was on break. Blunt did attend an agriculture forum at Missouri State University on Monday.
The vibe at Friday’s event was mostly positive, with some 350 people in attendance. A small group of protestors gathered outside ahead of the event at the Old Glass Place. Republican State Rep. Jeff Messenger, of Republic, was also present that morning.
"I think it's important that the people understand that McCaskill, even though she tries to make herself out a moderate, she's really not," Messenger told the Springfield News-Leader (Full video of the town hall is on the newspaper’s website).
Messenger criticized McCaskill’s support of Obamacare, sanctuary cities, and her recent opposition to President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. Neil Gorsuch was eventually confirmed with 54 votes after the GOP-controlled Senate changed the rules to allow lawmakers to break a filibuster with only 51 votes rather than the traditional 60.
“The smart thing for me to do politically was vote for him. If I was just worried about being re-elected that’s what I should have done,” said McCaskill.
She had even been called on locally to approve Gorsuch, with many saying the Supreme Court vacancy was their biggest consideration in casting a ballot in November. But McCaskill says she could not vote for him in part because the Colorado judge’s opinion against a trucker fired for abandoning his stalled vehicle in subzero temperatures.
“In the confirmation hearings one of the senators asked him [Gorsuch] ‘What would you do if you were that truck driver?’ And his answer was ‘I don’t know I’ve never thought about it.’”
McCaskill went on to say she believes judges need to put themselves in the shoes of the party “as they apply the facts to the law.”
McCaskill took written questions for one hour ranging from opioid abuse and healthcare to abortion and Russia.
Asked if she would support aborting fetuses diagnosed with Down Syndrome, she said that would never be an option she’d consider. McCaskill then criticized the government for attempting to criminalize those who do choose abortions, and emphasized the importance of birth control.
“We all agree we wanna prevent abortions. And here’s the thing – abortions are down in this country by a significant margin. Teenage pregnancies are down in this country by a significant margin. And you know what it is? It’s not rocket science – it’s birth control.”
She then called for making birth control accessible and affordable to any woman who wants it. Both statements earned strong applause from attendees, which included those wearing pink Planned Parenthood shirts.
On healthcare, reaction to her opposition to a single-payer health care system was not as favorable.
Her “no” vote, if it came up for debate today, is based on the country’s current debt, McCaskill said.
“We are looking down the barrel of a demographic bubble of Medicare as it is,” she said. “And so going to a single-payer system right now I don’t think is realistic and I don’t think it’d be good for our debt.”
Such a system is managed by a public entity that the citizens pay into, rather than purchasing health coverage from private insurers.
With her campaign for re-election not far from getting started, McCaskill acknowledged the ugliness that will ensue regarding political ads and campaign contributions.
“If it doesn’t say ‘paid for by the candidate’ and if there isn’t a disclaimer that says ‘I approve this message’ or my opponent approves this message than ignore it. Pay no attention to it. It’s probably not true. Because you know who gives me money – I have to disclose it.”
She railed against the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case, which gave corporations and unions the freedom to spend unlimited sums on ads and other political tools. McCaskill said the issue of hidden money in political campaigns is both a Democrat and Republican problem.
“Can’t we just know who’s paying for the ads? We have tried and tried to pass a law to just allow the disclosure so you know who is paying for the ad and you can decide if that is a credible source for you.”
McCaskill also took several questions on President Trump, from what her views are on his agenda to whether she’d be resisting him at every turn.
She stressed bipartisanship when possible, including on the president’s call to invest in the country’s infrastructure and lowering the cost of prescription drugs.
She offered support for Trump for his administration’s recent missile attack on Syria after the country allegedly released chemical weapons on its own people, killing 89. Syria’s president has denied his government’s involvement.
As far as investigations into the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia, McCaskill says she’s more focused on keeping her “head down and trying to work on your behalf.”