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‘Begging for civility’: GOP infighting in Missouri Senate boils over yet again

State Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder, surrounded by Republican and Democratic senators, speaks at a March 9, 2022, press conference. She accused the seven-member Senate conservative caucus of “self-interested bullying” to get its way on legislation.
Rudi Keller
Missouri Independent
State Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder, surrounded by Republican and Democratic senators, speaks at a March 9, 2022, press conference. She accused the seven-member Senate conservative caucus of “self-interested bullying” to get its way on legislation.

Missouri Senators on Wednesday condemned the actions of the conservative caucus, accusing them of obstructing legislation. Tensions flared this week over an amendment that was considered a “poison pill” to a bill that modified provisions for sexual assault survivors.

If there were any doubts that the Missouri Senate was broken, they were put to rest on Wednesday.

After yet another night of GOP infighting — this time over a bill pertaining to sexual assault survivors and an amendment banning “obscene material” in schools — Senators returned to the Capitol Wednesday to take turns blaming each other for the gridlock and bad blood.

First came a press conference, convened by GOP Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder of Sikeston and attended by eight Democrats and 14 Republicans, taking aim at what they called “a small group of self-serving politicians” in the Senate conservative caucus.

“It’s time for us to end the empty negotiations and begging for civility with these guys behind closed doors,” Rehder said. “It’s time for the Missouri Senate to do its work.”

In response, members of the seven-member conservative caucus used procedural maneuvers to once again block action in the Senate and fire back at their GOP colleagues.

“If we continue to allow this chamber to be run by individuals that are saying one thing, that they want peace, but then show up at press conferences like we saw this morning, it’s difficult to see how the chamber is going to function like anything but a square wheel for the next eight weeks,” said Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring.

And the drama played out just days before the General Assembly leaves town for spring break — the midpoint of the legislative session.

The Senate has been fractured for more than a year, with the conservative caucus warring with Republicans aligned with GOP leadership over a litany of issues.

The infighting has gotten particularly personal in recent months.

Rehder said the conservative caucus crossed “the red line for me” during a Tuesday night debate.

A bill she had worked on for months laying out a sexual assault survivors bill of rights became a vehicle for an amendment by Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, that would criminalize “obscene” material in schools.

Rehder asked him not to offer the amendment out of fear it would be a poison pill that would doom the chances of the underlying legislation.

“Your amendment is gonna kill this bill. So yes or no?” Rehder asked. “Will you withdraw it or not?”

“No, senator,” Brattin replied.

And with that, the bill was set aside without a vote being taken.

It was only the most recent example of the two factions within the Missouri Senate Republican caucus going to war with each other.

An effort to redraw the state’s congressional maps was derailed by a conservative caucus filibuster. The caucus demands the map be drawn to do away with a safe Democratic seat in Kansas City.

And last week, a bipartisan bill to extend Medicaid coverage to new moms from 60 days to a year was set aside when an amendment was offered banning funds from going to Planned Parenthood.

“A few senators who can’t, or won’t, put in the work to get their own legislation through the process want to attach their hot-button, partisan issues to other’s bills that have in some cases been worked on for months,” Rehder said during the press conference.

She said the conservative caucus has engaged in “constant adversarial and classless actions.”

Soon after her press conference concluded, members of the conservative caucus blocked the Senate from procedural votes in order to defend themselves.

Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, said conservative caucus members are trying to serve their constituents by advancing their legislative priorities, “and yet somehow we end up being cast as the villains.”

Eigel said it’s ridiculous to accuse Brattin of trying to derail the sexual assault survivors bill.

“You say that an effort to get pornography out of schools was actually just some sort of hijack attempt. That it has nothing to do with the underlying bill,” Eigel said. “What’s more sensational and untrue than that?”

This story was first published in the Missouri Independent.

Jason Hancock has been writing about Missouri since 2011, most recently as lead political reporter for The Kansas City Star. He has spent nearly two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, and has a track record of exposing government wrongdoing and holding elected officials accountable.
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