Opinion

Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri talks Trump, Gorsuch and whether she’s really running in 2018

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill talks Trump, new-look Supreme Court and offers some Missouri baseball thoughts

Star editorial board members Colleen McCain Nelson and Melinda Henneberger talk with Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri about Donald Trump's first months in office, whether Democrats are willing to work with the White House on health care reform or
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Star editorial board members Colleen McCain Nelson and Melinda Henneberger talk with Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri about Donald Trump's first months in office, whether Democrats are willing to work with the White House on health care reform or

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri evaluated Donald Trump’s first months in office, explained her vote against the president’s Supreme Court nominee and rebutted rumors that she wouldn’t run for re-election when she met this week with The Kansas City Star editorial board.

▪  On the Trump administration so far:

“I think it’s been a shaky start. …Within his inner circle, it appears to me that everyone doesn’t share the same values. And so if you’ve got a disagreement in your inner circle, that may work to play off people and have competition in a private business endeavor. But when you’re trying to convince members of Congress, everyone needs to keep a united front. And they have not been united, and as a result, I think they’ve had some fits and starts.”

She and some of her fellow senators are feeling left out of the conversation. “Most of us that are moderate Democrats have not had any reach out by the administration on either health care or tax reform,” she said.

▪  On her vote against the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch:

McCaskill said she voted no on Gorsuch because of his record, not politics.

“I can assure everyone that the political vote would have been to vote for him. That would have been the easiest vote for me to cast because that would be showing that I can vote with the Republicans, and Trump won my state by 19 (points).”

▪  On what she’s hearing at her town halls:

“I have been surprised by the turnout and how much support I’ve felt in the crowd. I purposely have only gone to places … in counties where Trump won going away,” McCaskill said. “I wanted to go out to places where I probably would get chewed on.”

▪  On Republicans’ quandary over health care reform:

“I think they’re having a hard time figuring out, do we please the Freedom Caucus or do we modulate and try to get a few Democratic votes?”

▪  On Democrats left out of tax policy talks:

“I would like to see this be a more open discussion, a more bipartisan discussion. … But instead, once again, they’re trying to figure it out within the Republican caucus in the House. And this is where the fight in the White House is going to get really interesting because there’s no question in my mind that (Treasury Secretary) Steve Mnuchin thinks he’s writing the tax reform bill. And that probably is a little bit jarring to Paul Ryan, who’s been working on tax reform for a long, long time.”

▪  On the American opioid epidemic:

“Now I am embarking on a challenging investigation where I want to find out why the United States of America is five percent of the world’s population and consumes 80 percent of the opioids. That didn’t happen by accident.…

“We have anecdotal evidence, not enough that I would draw any conclusions from it, but anecdotal evidence that some of the (pharmaceutical) salespeople were saying that this is not addictive, very similar to tobacco saying that this is not bad for your health. … We want to find out if this was over-prescribing by doctors, where pressure was being put on them about a pain level. Was this pressure put on them by patients? ‘Don’t give me 10; give me 30 because I don’t want to have to refill it.’ Or was this the manufacturers, pushing through sales and marketing techniques information that was not true and incentivizing doctors and prescribers to prescribe more?”

▪  On rumors she will not run for re-election:

“There’s no truth to it. I’ve been out killing myself raising this ridiculous amount of money you have to raise. I know what this is going to be like. I’ve done it before. It’s really hard. If there was part of me that wasn’t committed to doing this, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now 24/7. My husband would not be complaining every day that I’m running again.”

▪  On why the White House has so many vacant jobs yet to fill:

“I think because there’s a disagreement on what kind of people they want. Do they want a (Steve) Bannon acolyte, or do they want a Jared Kushner, more traditional acolyte? There’s been a lot of parlor games about who’s up, who’s down in the Bannon-Kushner push and pull.…

“And frankly, I think there are some people in this administration that felt compelled step up and volunteer and want to serve because they were worried that because of the different experience that Donald Trump had had, that maybe some old hands on board that really have been through some hard fights with Congress, who have been through some budget crises, that maybe they could help out. It will be interesting to see how this budget thing goes.”

▪  On Missouri’s infrastructure challenges:

“You might have noticed that we don’t have tolls. And most of the states around us have. And states that have had aggressive infrastructure projects in the past 10 years have all tolled them. And so the only plan (Trump) has ever presented has been one that depended on private investment. Right now, the problem in America isn’t that there isn’t capital washing around. There’s plenty of equity out there. If there were states that were willing to let businesses invest in tolled projects, we’d probably have I-70 under construction right now, with a big fat toll on it. …

“But the vast majority of the structurally unsound bridges in our state are in places that no business could pencil it out. They are not interested in building bridges or roads between Shelbina and Albany, or between Potosi and Hayti.”

Visit The Star Opinion Facebook page at www.facebook.com/KCStarOpinion/ for a replay of the 24-minute Facebook Live conversation with McCaskill, Colleen McCain Nelson and Melinda Henneberger of the editorial board.

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