Senator Claire McCaskill (D) held several scheduled open public town halls today across west central Missouri.
Starting after 11:00 this morning close to a hundred people participated in the hour long town hall in Warrensburg. After the town hall Senator McCaskill took questions from the press.
Question:…What are you really hearing? Is, is it all about health care?
Senator Claire McCaskill (D): Health care. Um, public education. A lot of people worried about public education, especially in rural communities. Because they’ve heard all the [Secretary of Education] Betsy DeVos talk about we need to have private schools get a chance and using public money for private school. So, people are really on fire about [crosstalk] protecting public schools.
Question: There’s, there’s a lot of resistance about that in rural Missouri, [crosstalk] isn’t there?
Senator McCaskill: A lot of resistance to that. Because the public, there aren’t private schools in rural Missouri. So when you take money out of public schools you are hurting, uh, the only schools they have. They don’t have that private school choice. So it’s really, um, a gut punch to rural Missouri because that’s the beating heart of rural communities, are their public school systems, so. Um, public education, transportation, a fair amount about transportation. Those are kind of the big three. Uh, some worries about Ag[riculture] in rural areas because of the NAFTA negotiations, um, commodities producers worried that they’re gonna have retaliation from Canada and Mexico on. That’s our number one and number two export for corn and beans in Missouri. So there’s some concern about that. Um, you know, certainly, I’ve gotten a lot of questions in a lot of the town halls about President Trump and, um, you know, what can you do and worries about North Korea and worries about Charlottesville [Virginia] and, um, so those come up with some regularity. But I’d say that certainly the thing that is touching people’s lives where there’s the most uncertainty that they’re most worried about are those people who finally were able to get health care, uh, with subsidies under Obamacare, worried that that’s gonna go away. And that’s really important to rural communities ‘cause there’s not a lot of large employers.
Qustion: [inaudible] One of the first questions that you got was about the concept of Medicare for all. You made your position on that clear, but there is a, at least, very vocal wing of your party that really wants to press that idea going into twenty-eighteen. Do you think, do you think that wing is being unrealistic? Do you, do you, what’s your message to that, that wing of the Democratic Party that, uh, that is really pushing?
Senator McCaskill: Well, I, I respect their advocacy of that issue. I respect that, um, when they advocate for that issue they point out that a lot of countries have done this. They point out that there are problems [in] our health care system that don’t lend itself to a competitive free market. I think those are important issues for people to have on their minds. But, I can’t get there until we figure out how to pay for it. And it is, um, just incredibly expensive. If you look at our debt and how it’s gonna grow, it would exponentially increase, to the point that we wouldn’t have any money. If the interest rate goes up we would literally have no money in the federal budget to do things like Veteran’s Affairs and things like public education and things like infrastructure. It would completely, the interest on the debt would completely gobble up all the discretionary funding. So, that’s why we can’t go there until we can do so responsibly.
Question: If Obamacare is supposed to be, as I’m hearing, dying under its own weight, that’s one way it’s being characterized, is another way , would you say to characterize it by saying it’s getting knifed in the back?
Senator McCaskill: Definitely. Definitely being sabotaged. There’s no question. The insurance companies have made it very clear that one of the reasons the premiums are going up is the uncertainty surrounding whether or not President Trump is going to pay the cost sharing subsidy payments, they’re not subsidy payments, let me say that again, whether President Trump’s going to pay the cost sharing payments that are due to the insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act. Him sabotaging it is creating uncertainty. And those insurance companies are factoring that uncertainty into their premium levels. So they’ve, the CDO study just came out this week that said premium increases of twenty percent because of the uncertainty as to whether or not those payments are gonna be made. That’s why the Republicans actually put those payments in their bill. They know we need to stabilize those payments. I think we’re gonna have some success getting a bipartisan majority to at least stabilize those payments in the short run so that we can get through the next round of exchange offerings, uh, with Missourians still having a choice that they can afford.
Question: Now I’ve heard that a few times. Is there a sense of urgency on the bill [crosstalk] they’ll actually do something?
Senator McCaskill: There is. There is. There is. And [Senator] Lamar Alexander has indicated that he will have hearings when we get back on stabilizing the markets. There’s a number of ideas besides just making those payments that we could potentially fold in. But I know, uh, personally, I have talked to and gotten reassurance from at least ten to twelve Republicans that agree that this is something we need to do, we need to do right away.
Question: Given the President’s fraught relationship with his own party how much, uh, drama are you expecting with the upcoming debt ceiling vote.
Senator McCaskill: I don’t know. It’s going to be weird. Um, you know he’s got a Director of OMB that always was a believer that we should default on our debt. Um, and then he’s got a Secretary of the Treasury that’s saying that would be a disaster, we cannot default of the debt, we must raise the debt ceiling, it’s not about raising our credit limit, it’s about paying the bills we already have due, and we need a clean debt ceiling right away. So, those are two members of his cabinet with a hundred eighty degree different views on the debt ceiling. So I don’t know how they’re going to communicate that clearly to Congress and what kind of cooperation, uh, the Speaker and the House is gonna get from the Freedom Caucus. And what cooperation [Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell is gonna get from the most conservative members of his caucus. But they’re gonna need all those votes to get this done.
Question: And I know you’re gonna talk more about, uh, issues of national security tomorrow with Senator Roberts….but the [Steve] Bannon interview that came out last night with the American Prospect, have you had a chance to read it, some of the things he’s, he’s saying in there about the administration and also, basically, not really having any options with North Korea?
Senator McCaskill: Yeah, it was, I didn’t get a chance to read the whole thing. I just read a summary of it that came across, um, my email. And I read the summary. But there are a lot of things about that interview that are very disturbing. One, that Steve Bannon would have the authority to fire people in the State Department. Um, I, I, mean, how much do they want to undermine [Secretary of State] Rex Tillerson? Rex Tillerson is the symbol of our country around the world. He is our diplomat. He is the one who carries the weight of the United States in to countries across the globe. The notion that Steve Bannon from the White House can brag, um, to not a friendly journalistic outlet, I mean this was not like Breitbart. This was like to brag to them that he’s firing people in the State Department. I can’t imagine how Rex Tillerson must feel. Uh, he is constantly undermined by this White House It’s really not good for our national security. It makes us less safe.
Question: What do you hope to accomplish with the eco-terrorism conference in Kansas City?
Senator McCaskill: Well, I think the eco-terrorism conference is pretty important because, um, it’s well, first of all, I’m proud of it because it’s a place that, um, I’ve worked with my, you know, sometimes it’s hard to work with people from Kansas if you were raised in Columbia, Missouri. [voice: “Yes.”] So I worked with somebody from Kansas first, and second, we got it done. And, um, I think we’ve not paid enough attention to how terrorism could strike our food supply. And could devastate an important part of our economy in terms of introduction of toxins, in, in terms of, um, agricultural targets. And we’re, we are, we’ve got this important, um, emphasis through our state and Kansas on animal science and plant science going all the way from St. Louis uh, to the, to the new [inaudible] that’s gonna be built in Manhattan [Kansas]. And, uh, so I think it’s great that we were able to codify the responsibility of the Homeland Security Department. And I’m, I’m looking forward to hearing them say what it is they’re doing every day to get after this and what, how prepared are we.
Question: I mean, we got nine hundred million acres of farm land, we’ve got, uh, livestock, it is so easy to infect with hoof and mouth disease. It, it’s looking at it from the outside it seems like an impossible task to try and stop that if a terrorist was really set on doing that.
Senator McCaskill: Well, that’s why we’ve got to make sure we’ve got systems in place to identify it if it’s happened, to isolate it if it’s happened. Uh, that’s why this facility that’s being built in Manhattan is so important, ‘cause it’s gonna be our, our chance to research what toxins are out there what kind of antidotes there could be to those toxins, what kind of precautions and measures should be taken.
Question: Now you acted to help Homeland get the funding that they need to do that, but there are two organizations, one focused on plants, one focused on animals, that actually monitors this stuff and their funds have been cut back. And they’re concerned about it.
Senator McCaskill: They should be. And we’re gonna talk about that tomorrow.
Question: And then, uh, I, I realize that you are not here in any political capacity but, do you have any thoughts on the Attorney General’s ongoing controversy about his residency and where he voted? Have you followed that at all, or are you not even paying any attention to that?
Senator McCaskill: Well, it would be hard not to follow it. The law is pretty clear. There’s never been an Attorney General in the history of our state that hasn’t lived in Jefferson City because the law says shall. He’s, listen, I’m a Mizzou educated lawyer, but I can keep up. [laughter] And I know what the word shall means in the law. Now I know he went to Yale, I think, or Harvard, one of those, one of those fancy ones. Um, I think they taught him the same thing, shall is shall. So if it’s shall then you must live in Jefferson City. And you are not legally entitled to vote somewhere other than where you live. Oh there’s a problem here. Either [crosstalk]…
Question: So there is voter fraud in Missouri, is that what you’re saying?
Senator McCaskill: Well, I, there may be. But, that’s not for me to decide. But the issue is, either he’s violating the law by not living in Jefferson City, or he’s violating the law by voting someplace he doesn’t live. One of the two.