The removal of Confederate statues, protests in Charlottesville, Va., and the release of Steve Bannon were among the most common topics Cass County attendees asked about during a town hall with U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill on Friday afternoon in Harrisonville.
McCaskill was in Harrisonville as part of her latest public town hall tour across rural counties the state. The senator promised earlier this month to hold 25 town halls while Congress is on its August break.
On Friday, McCaskill took questions from citizens at the Cass County Justice Center. More than 60 people filled a room inside the sheriff’s office where the senator spoke.
During the event, McCaskill answered questions ranging from concerns of voter suppression, gerrymandering, national security and immigration to Social Security, health care costs and wages in a new economy. The senator also took multiple questions addressing Friday’s current events, including the departure of Bannon, who was President Donald Trump’s chief political strategist.
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With Bannon out at the White House, McCaskill said she wasn’t surprised.
“I think (Gen. John Kelly) is one of the best appointments that Donald Trump made, as well as Gen. Mattis and Gen. McMaster,” McCaskill said. “I sleep at night better because those three are there. I think they’re doing a great service to this country by being there, because I think the president can be impulsive and inconsistent, and I think it’s a very dangerous thing for the president of the most powerful nation in the world to be impulsive and inconsistent. ... So it does not surprise me that John Kelly wanted to clean out Bannon because Bannon is somebody who is, I think, in that category that, frankly, is happy to divide us rather than try to bring us together.”
Before coming to Harrisonville on Friday, McCaskill made other stops in the region, including a town hall event in Warrensburg on Thursday. A lot of what McCaskill discussed at the Warrensburg event was echoed in Harrisonville.
McCaskill rejected the progressive policy goal of enacting a “Medicare for all” system to provide universal health coverage as financially unrealistic.
“We have a huge debt in this country. It is irresponsible of us to expand the program that is driving the debt the most in a way that is unsustainable financially for this country,” McCaskill said.
The senator also showed a reluctance to back a censure of Trump following controversy about the president’s response to violence by white supremacists in Charlottesville earlier this month.
“My job isn’t to fight the president. My job is to fight for you,” McCaskill said Thursday, contending that if Congress made opposition to Trump its sole focus, it would impede its ability to pass legislation to improve the daily lives of Missourians.
Questions about the Charlottesville protests arose again Friday when at least four constituents asked McCaskill her thoughts about the push to remove Confederate statues around the country, as well as her stance on whether protesters and counterprotesters were both to blame for hate.
The conflict in Charlottesville stemmed from a decision by the city to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Days after the clash in Virginia, protesters in North Carolina illegally toppled a Confederate monument in Durham.
McCaskill said that people who destroy public property such as statues should be prosecuted, but also stated that local communities should have the ability to determine which statues should be put up or taken down.
The senator also suggested Friday that citizens should all be united against hate groups, including the KKK and neo-Nazis.
One man, who did not identify himself, asked McCaskill, “But don’t you think we had as much hate on the other side? You have the same protesting on the other side,” he suggested.
The man was met with a resounding “no” from audience members.
“Well, the Nazis hate people, not the system, and secondly, I agree that if somebody is destroying property, they should be prosecuted. That’s not the issue,” McCaskill said, pointing to chants of white supremacists in Charlottesville, including “Jews will not replace us.”
Also during the town hall, McCaskill repeatedly emphasized bipartisan work and criticized the media for not highlighting “any of the good stuff” happening in Washington.
She noted that Trump signed her legislation that was co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, to ensure World War II veterans who were experimented on with mustard gas can obtain their benefits.
On her town hall tour, Republicans have repeatedly accused McCaskill of posturing herself as a moderate only because the election looms a little more than a year away. McCaskill faces a primary challenge from political newcomer Angela Earl, a 31-year-old Democrat from St. Louis County who is building her campaign around her support for a single-payer health care system.
“She’s widening the umbrella,” said Robynn Kuhlmann, a political scientist from the University of Central Missouri who observed the town hall Thursday. “That’s normal. She’s coming on an election. … She already has her far-left supporters. They’re not going to go anywhere.”