Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s town hall meeting Tuesday in Independence happened to come less than 24 hours after the top challenger for her seat finally made his intentions official.
McCaskill, a Democrat whose early career included a tenure as Jackson County prosecutor, spent a large part of the hour fielding a variety of questions from the audience at the Truman Memorial Building.
Late Monday, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley had confirmed what many anticipated – that he would seek the Republican nod to challenge McCaskill, a two-term incumbent, for the U.S. Senate in 2018.
Following the town hall – her 44th this year, the senator said – McCaskill said Hawley now will have to start answering some questions, ranging from his views on repeal-and-replace for Obamacare and the DACA issue to tax reform.
“I believe Josh Hawley has spent more time talking to insiders in Washington the last four months than he has Missourians,” McCaskill said to the media after her Q&A with citizens. “He's got a lot of questions to answer. For 44 hours now, I've answered any question any Missourian wanted to ask of me in places that are bright red.
“I welcome him to this race, and I would just say, 'If you want to represent this state, I think you have an obligation to not hide behind Washington insiders and (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell and get out and answer questions.’ There's some tough ones he's got to answer, and I think that now he's officially throwing his hat into the ring – even though he filed the committee to run months ago, and he's been hiding behind the way he named this committee to not answer any questions – now's the time to get out and answer questions.”
Hawley reportedly sought the favor of President Trump's former adviser Steve Bannon, and McCaskill said she finds that perplexing, adding that McConnell's favor matters more.
“I don't get that; I don't understand it,” she said. “If you look at (Bannon's) record, I don't think that's where most Missourians are.”
Before addressing her challenger, McCaskill opened her town hall by touting a few bipartisan efforts she has been a part of in Washington, including funding for treatment of veterans exposed to mustard gas, fighting the “hedge-fund model” of drug pricing, which gouged prices of some exclusive drugs, and allowing for over-the-counter – and thus more affordable – hearing aids.
“There's literally tens of thousands of Missourians that need hearing aids that can't afford them,” McCaskill said. “That's real stuff that impacts lives. It doesn't happen very often, but it happens.”
All the sources of extra drama in Washington tend to “take up the oxygen in the room” and divert attention from actual accomplishments, she said.
“It's not as bad as it looks from a distance,” McCaskill said. “There are things getting done.”
The senator answered questions from the audience on a variety of topics. Among the highlights:
• McCaskill said the country's tax code needs to be simplified, but Republicans' initial proposal “isn't close to enough” and does not provide relief for the middle class. Later, she said there's no question her family's business would stand to benefit from the proposed revisions.
“But my family doesn't need a tax cut,” she said. “My family should be paying more in taxes.”
• The senator considers Secretary of State James Mattis and Chief of Staff John Kelly as strong, essential leaders who can be a calming influence in President Trump's dealings with North Korea and elsewhere. She said she would worry if Mattis, Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were not part of the White House.
“You can't force the president and the secretary of state to speak with one voice, though I think it would be better if they did,” McCaskill said.
• Youngsters affected by DACA -- those brought illegally to the U.S. as children -- want to be productive citizens and shouldn't be forced to leave “the only country they've known,” she said. “They don't want to hide in the shadows.”
• McCaskill said she believes the recently announced rollbacks of EPA policies should not change energy production too much, as economics will drive continued advances in cleaner energy sources and make them more desirable than fossil fuels.
• Trump's budget proposal that eliminates Community Development Block Grant funds probably won't stand, McCaskill said, noting the many positive effects CDBG funds have had in Independence.
“It is not popular in Washington to do away with CDBG,” she said.