“…Well, have you talked to Vicky Hartzler? [laughter]…”
Senator Claire McCaskill (D) has scheduled a significant number of informational events and town halls across the state this week. Today’s events included town halls in Hannibal and Columbia. Approximately 150 people attended the late morning town hall held in the city council chambers of Columbia’s City Hall.
Individuals attending these town halls have the opportunity to submit a question in writing for Senator McCaskill. The written questions are then placed in a basket which is entrusted to a volunteer member of the audience – an individual who self identifies as not supporting the senator. Senator McCaskill asks that the volunteer not read the questions before pulling them from the basket. Once the question is pulled from the basket by the volunteer a staffer takes the question to Senator McCaskill.
Senator McCaskill spoke briefly at the start of the hour long event and then proceeded to take and answer questions. There were questions on immigration reform, the defense budget, the Keystone pipeline, propane prices, medical marijuana, recreational marijuana, and Benghazi!, among others. There was one question from someone in attendance about a specific constituent issue – the Senator asked her to get her question to a staffer at the event so that it could be addressed.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D), speaking at the second of two events of the day, a town hall in Columbia, Missouri – March 17, 2014.
A transcript of portions of the hour long town hall:
Question: (read by Senator McCaskill) “What can we citizens do to encourage immigration law reform since the House will not take up the bill?”
Senator McCaskill (D): Well, have you talked to Vicky Hartzler? [laughter] That’s important. Um, and it is a real competitive disadvantage of, we’ve got the [inaudible], they can’t fill the jobs they need filled. Uh, they just can’t fill ’em. And, um, the other thing is, of course, we want to make sure that the brilliant people that graduate from the University of Missouri that have fallen in love with America, who couldn’t, right, that are now have the great skill that can help our economy, and what we want to do is, the minute they get their diploma we want to kick ’em out. That doesn’t make any sense to me. Um, so we passed a good bipartisan bill in the Senate, uh, wide bipartisan margin. It, it wasn’t perfect, it was a compromise. And I think we are continuing to work hard, and I think the House is beginning to feel some pressure. Uh, at least I hope so.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D), speaking at a town hall in the city council chambers at City Hall in Columbia, Missouri – March 17, 2014.
….Question: (read by Senator McCaskill) “What is the status of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act in Congress? What is included or left out?”
Senator McCaskill (D): Um, well, it’s, we’ve got the votes in the Senate. We just don’t have the votes in the House. So, it’s a matter of getting more of our Republican friends in the House to be willing to either vote for it or at least give it a chance to be brought up. I think we could have enough, it’s a, you know, they have this thing called the Hastert Rule. I don’t know if you all are familiar with this. But this is a rule that says if a majority of the Republicans in the House aren’t for something the Speaker won’t bring it to the floor. So, there has to be a majority of Republicans for it for it to be considered. Which means you don’t have the situation where you could get a lot of Democrats and a few Republicans to vote for something, then pass it. Um, you know, so it is, uh, frankly my version of the Sexual Assault Bill was a lot of, there was, there was about an even split between Republicans and Democrats. And, but they don’t do that in the House. And so getting the Speaker to bring it to the floor is part of the problem. And that’s where we’ve, it’s a little bit like immigration reform. I think we could pass immigration reform the same way….
Question: (read by Senator McCaskill) “The Pentagon recently announced a two point five billion dollar contract o bring wings for the F-35 fighter in Israel. With all of the qualified aerospace workers in St. Louis, Missouri, Wichita, why not spend our dollars creating jobs for American workers?”
Senator McCaskill (D): Well, I’m gonna look at that. Um, I’m not a big fan of the F-35 in the first place. You look up in the dictionary a weapons system that is a poster child for over budget and off schedule it’s the F-35. Um, it is a very, very expensive fighter jet. Uh, it is more than twice as expensive as the [inaudible] so I’m continuing to monitor the F, the F-35 because I think it is something that, um, is, is, has just been out of control. So I would particularly like to see if they’ve done that on the F-35. I had not heard that they had done that on the F-35. But it would be one more weapon in my arsenal, pardon the expression, [laughter] because I’m not a fan of the F-35.
Question: (read by Senator McCaskill) “What progress is being made investigating the murders of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya?”
Senator McCaskill (D): [extensive outline of various hearings and investigations] …We had people come forward on Sixty Minutes that turned out were bogus, that said things that just weren’t true. Um, I think if, if you get to the bottom of it you realize that we have people in danger all over the world and at the same time we’re asking our military to do much less with much less. And the question is, how do we, and by the way, I’ve been on this embassy security kick way before Benghazi, because in Kabul [Afghanistan] we had a real problem with security contracts. We’ve turned over security contracts at the embassy two or three times, including finding some really wrong doing on the part of embassy security. So, it is a matter of, one, one hand saying spend less, we’re cutting your budget, and the other hand saying, why can’t you be everywhere at the same time, anticipating everything. Um, but no question, mistakes were made and, and, and my job is to make sure we learn from those mistakes. My job is to make sure we that do better.
By the way, I want to remind everybody about the federal government, though. ‘Cause I think that it’s been kind of in vogue in some quarters to say that the federal government is the enemy, if we could just somehow do away with the federal government we would be much better off. Um, I want to make everybody realizes that Jefferson City, the money they appropriate, at least half of the money they appropriate is federal money. So, we’ll take that away and, um, it, it, it, it would be a real challenge. And I don’t know how we do the Mississippi River, I don’t know how we do interstate highways, I don’t know how we go after bad drug dealers that come from other countries, uh, I don’t know how we make sure our air is clean and our water is safe. Uh, some of these things don’t work in, in state borders. And so, while I am absolutely, should we be helping build highways, the federal government? I think we should. Um, and if we’re not, then, um, we’ve got a real challenge in America staying in the top tier of countries in the world. There’s not a nation in the world that’s not using [their] federal money to support national infrastructure. Not a nation in the world. Now, we want to be one of those countries [that doesn’t] and we will be a country of the haves and have nots. We’ll have a, you know, that’s when you look around the globe, what people really admire us for, besides our rule of law, and our freedoms, to say whatever we want, to show up here and give me the business and, and me try to defend myself, of all of these things they admire that. But, the other thing they really admire? Every country has really rich people. Every single one. And every country has really poor people. But what a whole lot of countries don’t have is anything in the middle. And it is in fact the reason, because we did interstate highways, and we have programs like the Pell Grants that help kids get to school. It is that that has separated us [from the world] and allowed the growth of this middle class….
Question: (read by Senator McCaskill) “With the aggression of Russia, hostility of Iran, and potential of increased military spending by China, how can we justify cutting the military budget so drastically.”
Senator McCaskill (D): ….I, I think we have to be very, very careful….We have to be very careful. Um, I’ve been somebody who’s spent a lot of time looking at the way the Pentagon spends money when I first got there. And I’ll be honest with you, when I got to Washington I realized that for a decade after nine eleven it was like, imagine if you had teenagers and if every time they asked you for something you said yes. Can you imagine what they would eventually ask for if you never said no? And that’s what had happened. Because everyone in a visceral way was so upset about nine eleven, it went on such an escalation of military spending….
….I, I want to just tell everybody, um, I, a full room like this in the middle of the day on a week day makes me feel great about America. I know it’s a little corny to say this, but to me this is about, it isn’t a flag pin, or magnet you put on the back of your car. It’s whether or not you participate in this messy grand and glorious Democracy that we’ve made work for so long. And we can disagree with one another and many of us in this room do. Um, many of you who voted for me are walking out of here disappointed in me because I’m not there on some of the issues you care deeply about. Many of you who will never vote for me are walking out of this room going, I’m still never gonna vote for her. [laughter] But the point is we’re here together and we’re having a civil conversation discussing real issues. And this is something that is unique to our country in so many ways. I’m so proud of it. So, thank you for doing me this favor of being here today. Thanks [applause] [inaudible].
Senator Claire McCaskill (D).