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In Town Hall, McCaskill Balances Opposing Trump's Policies With Seeking His Supporters' Votes

Brian Ellison
KCUR 89.3
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said Wednesday she didn't think impeachment of President Trump was "the way to go," but supported letting the special counsel investigation play out.

Before a small but energetic crowd in Kansas City Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill walked a narrow path between opposition to President Trump’s views and caution not to offend his supporters — many of whose votes she will need to be re-elected this November.

McCaskill took a wide range of questions in a “town hall” format at the Mohart Multipurpose Center on Linwood Boulevard. The Missouri Democrat said it was her 52nd such event in the state, and her third in the Kansas City area. As has become her custom, she asked attendees to place questions in a basket and asked a member of the audience who said there was no way he would vote for her to draw them out.

“Elected officials don’t like to do this, because they want to be careful and not get a question that makes everyone uncomfortable,” McCaskill said. “It’s easier to stick to a script.”

There were plenty of off-script moments, as constituents raised individual concerns and personal experiences. But McCaskill steered most questions back to her opposition to Trump’s most controversial policy proposals, balanced with her support for issues important to “the middle class” and “working families.”

Credit Brian Ellison / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
McCaskill took questions from about 50 people at Kansas City's Mohart Multipurpose Center.

McCaskill explained her vote against last year’s tax cut, crafted by Republican leaders in Congress and supported by the president. She denounced the $1.5 trillion the tax cuts are projected to add to the nation’s debt over 10 years and its potential impact on foreign policy.

“China owns most of our debt,” McCaskill said. “They’re our banker. So giving them more leverage at this point in time, when we are desperately trying to seek some kind of trade balance, and desperately trying to seek their cooperation in North Korea, just seems so unwise.”

On immigration policy, McCaskill touted her support for Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama administration program. Trump has ended the program but called on Congress to find another solution for the estimated 3.6 million immigrants known as “DREAMers.”

“So if you were brought here as a child from another country, and this is the only country you have ever known, and you’re serving in our military, or you’re a teacher, or you’re a valedictorian, what on God’s green earth purpose does it serve to deport you?” McCaskill asked.

But McCaskill was more circumspect when an audience member’s question mentioned impeachment and the crowd broke into applause with some people yelling, “Fire him!” She said she did not think that was the “way to go,” even though her answer was “maybe not what people want to hear in this room.”

“I think the investigation needs to be completed and the facts will come out,” McCaskill said, referring to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of the president. “What you all need to know is I don’t get up every day figuring out how to fight Donald Trump. I don’t do that. I get up every day trying to figure out how to fight for you.”

McCaskill’s most immediate fight may be to retain her Senate seat. On Tuesday, Politico reportedthat former President Barack Obama will appear at a fundraiser for McCaskill in Beverly Hills, California, later this spring. By Wednesday morning, she was coming under fire from the campaign of Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley. Hawley, McCaskill's likely Republican challenger, retweeted the Politico report and taunted McCaskill.

Speaking with reporters after the town hall, McCaskill made no apologies for appearing with Obama in California and said she would welcome him to campaign for her in Missouri, too.

Credit Brian Ellison / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
McCaskill spoke with reporters after a town hall event on Wednesday in Kansas City.

“I don’t know how much he’s going to be campaigning,” she said. “If he wants to come here and campaign, I’d never turn down a previous president.”

But with Trump winning Missouri by almost 19 points in 2016 and still enjoying high approval ratings in the state, McCaskill must strike just the right notes to win over some of those voters and achieve victory in November.

“People make up their minds on who they vote for in this state for a variety of different reasons," she said. "One is authenticity. One is can they get things done. There’s a whole lot of people in Missouri that appreciate somebody who’s willing to work across the aisle and be a moderate.”

At the close of the filing period on Tuesday, a total of 20 candidates had filed to run against McCaskill, including six fellow Democrats. The primary election is August 7.

Brian Ellison covers Missouri politics and is the host of KCUR's Statehouse Blend Missouripodcast. Follow him on Twitter, @ptsbrian.

As a host and contributor at KCUR, I seek to create a more informed citizenry and richer community. I want to enlighten and inspire our audience by delivering the information they need with accuracy and urgency, clarifying what’s complicated and teasing out the complexities of what seems simple. I work to craft conversations that reveal realities in our midst and model civil discourse in a divided world. Follow me on Twitter @ptsbrian or email me at brian@kcur.org.
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