This year’s Senate race between the Democratic incumbent, Claire McCaskill. and her leading GOP challenger, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, should be an epic matchup between two smart, talented candidates in a close contest that could decide control of the U.S. Senate.
In fact, until the Trump administration’s ongoing crackdown on undocumented toddlers fastened all eyes on that issue, you’d have thought the most pressing question in the state, if not the nation, was whether McCaskill’s campaign travel by private plane shows she has lost touch with the folks.
Obviously, the senator should not have tried to hide her plane travel, but the president’s jet hasn't hurt his cred any, and why would it? In as petty a back-and-forth as I can remember, McCaskill countered that she’d spent so much time in her humble campaign RV that a broken drawer in it “drove me crazy.” To which Hawley retorted that real Missourians aren’t driven crazy by broken drawers. Stop!
And now that we’ve been jerked back into the realm of real concerns by the wailing of the kids getting ready to be sent to one of our Orwellian new “tender age shelters,” where do our candidates think we go from here?
Completely different places, even when they use some of the same phrases about securing the border and keeping families together.
In a Friday news release, McCaskill accused Hawley of endorsing family separation. He answered, in a Friday phone interview, “that takes a lot of chutzpah when she’s encouraging the use of children as human shields.”
No, he’s not endorsing that. And no, she’s not encouraging any such thing.
It is true, though, that Hawley avoids letting any seam of daylight show between his position and the president’s — even while allowing that there was “never any need” for the family separations that Trump himself ordered as part of his “zero tolerance” on illegal immigration.
“The president has done the right thing by signing the executive order” to reverse course on separating families, Hawley said. And “he was right to say we’re willing to litigate” whether families can be incarcerated together a lot longer than the 20 days currently allowed.
They could be held for years, while their immigration and asylum cases work their way through the system. But to do otherwise, Hawley insists, would be to invite rather than deter other migrants from making the dangerous trip here.
“That may be so, but at least don’t bring children with you,” Hawley answered. And leave them behind, when it’s to secure their kids' safety from gangs that they come here? “I understand a lot of these folks are in difficult circumstances,” he said.
He also opposes the Democratic solution of releasing families together, and making sure they show up for court through electronic monitoring or the case management system Trump ended.
In effect, Hawley supports the “cruel-to-be-kind” notion that treating undocumented immigrants more humanely here only puts them in more danger by encouraging them to come.
McCaskill, of course, does not see it that way. She has a long history of supporting more border security, but “while also honoring our values,” according to a campaign spokeswoman. She feels a deal could be had “if we’re all willing to put down our political saber-rattling and actually try to find the solution that allows these children to remain with their families for an expedited removal.” Many of her fellow Democrats wouldn't put it that way; they worry that speeding up the process too much would put asylum seekers back in harm’s way before they had time to prepare their case. Obama did that, at the height of the influx of unaccompanied minors, and the result did not honor our values.
Hawley also talks about speeding up the process, so maybe they're not as far apart as their rhetoric would suggest. Yet it’s hard to imagine him agreeing to any measure she’d favor — or even more to the point, that President Trump would not.