U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill is experienced in tough re-election races, though likely Republican challenger (and Missouri attorney general) Josh Hawley might be her strongest competition yet.
And with Eric Greitens out of the Missouri governor's office, Republicans in the state now say unseating the Democrat is their No. 1 priority.
McCaskill was on KCUR’s Up To Date on Friday to discuss the race, Hawley's role in prosecuting Greitens and her voting record in Congress. The following interview highlights have been edited for length and clarity. (The entire interview aired on the June 1 edition of Up To Date. Hawley also appeared on the same program.)
On the Greitens resignation:
“There was so much scandal piling up. I think even for someone who was obviously as flawed as this man was, and is, I think it became overwhelming. I said from the beginning, I couldn't imagine him putting his family to this, so I wasn't surprised there was more coming, and, frankly, it's still not over.”
On the new Missouri governor, Mike Parson:
“The thing about Governor Parson also that I think people need to remember is that he is a living example of how you vet through public service. This will be his fifth job in government: He's worked as a county elected official and as state representative and as state senator, as lieutenant governor and now as governor — five different offices. And there has been this thing going around that if you've worked your way up and learned a lot along the way, that somehow you're a hack. Well, this man’s not a hack. He's ready for the job, and I think he will do a good job.”
On the lessons learned from the Greitens saga:
“We have kind of gotten to the point that the idea ... that somehow an outsider is going to make it all better, if they can come in and dramatically change the sometimes very difficult democracy that we have in this country in terms of getting things to happen. You know, you gotta compromise. And so I really think that this is a good example of where that shiny object that was a big outsider with no previous experience in government, this is a good indication that sometimes those people have not been vetted as thoroughly as they should be.”
On critiques of Hawley’s performance investigating Greitens' alleged improper use of donor lists from The Mission Continues, a charity organization he founded:
“To my knowledge, the attorney general has never directly addressed these questions. He just pivots and attacks me. So here is the problem: As somebody who's actually been a prosecutor, once the governor pled guilty to wrongdoing in connection with the charity, the attorney general has jurisdiction over charities. That occurred in 2017, and Josh Hawley did nothing to look at that until it began printed in the newspaper that someone else was asking questions about it. The governor pled guilty to not ... reporting correctly activities around that charity in April of 2017, and the attorney general did nothing for a year. Those are the facts.”
On Hawley’s investigation into Greitens' alleged use of the message-erasing Confide app:
“The Attorney General has specific jurisdiction to look at violations of our public records law and his investigation consisted of sending somebody over to the governor's office. They said, ‘We did nothing wrong,’ and he cleared them. The statute 610.027 specifically gives the attorney general the right to sue.
“At this moment there is a lawsuit brought by a private citizen. That statute gives a private citizen the same power as the attorney general. A private citizen got a judge yesterday to enter the order forcing governor Greitens to give up information. There is absolutely no reason that Josh Hawley couldn't have brought that same lawsuit. … I think he didn't want to begin going after his colleague until he had no other choice.”
On Hawley critiquing her Senate record, saying she has only passed five bills during her tenure, and that he would ‘stack his record’ up against hers:
“That's just not correct. I mean, President Trump has signed a number of my bills into law, just in the last 18 months. I mean, I've done the Senior Safe Act. We've been able to change the law and do away with some regulations that are really harmful both to small banks and for the hearing aid industry. I certainly was on the front lines of the sex trafficking legislation. I think Sen. (Rob) Portman (R-Ohio) has said over and over again that it was the two of us together that were able to get to the bottom of the Backpage problem and get that legislation across the finish line and to the president's desk. And that's just with President Trump.
“It's silly for (Hawley). I think Missourians frankly know better. He's been in office a very short period of time, and I'm not aware that he's ever even questioned a witness in a case ever in his life. And he is very quickly trying to move up the ladder without really mastering the job he had.”
On campaigning for a third term:
“I think we need a check and I think we need a balance. You know, I see what's going on in Washington and while I am not there to fight Donald Trump, I certainly think the check and the balance is important to my state and to the country. When I agree with the president, and I have on a number of occasions, I have no problem saying that. And, frankly, I think I've got a pretty good reputation for working across the aisle and working with my Republican colleagues. … After the election of 2016, when the Republicans swept everything, I felt a certain obligation to step up again. And I'm honored to have this job. I try to work as hard as I know how at it, and I'm hoping that the people of Missouri will agree with me that check and balance is important.”
On what area of work she’s proudest of:
“The area where I think I probably made the most difference is probably one that doesn't get much attention, and that’s wasteful contracting practices at the Pentagon. When I came into office, I began working at unbelievable waste and fraud and abuse in contracting processes, especially in contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we were able to uncover all kinds of wrongdoing and we were able to change the laws so that we no longer have some of these most egregious contracts that wasted billions of taxpayer dollars.”
On Hawley’s critique that she is beholden to special interests:
“That's just dumb. I think that's a script he's getting from his political consultants. Tell you the truth, you know, you can look at my record. I've gone after the cable TV industry. Comcast is one of the biggest lobbying entities on the Hill. I went after him tooth and nail. I've gone after the pharmaceutical industry repeatedly.
"You know, listen, the fact that people give me money, I think people can tell by my record has not impacted my willingness to take on any wrongdoing if it affects Missouri families and I'm comfortable with my record in that regard. I think Missourians know that about me. I frankly don't think I even need to spend that much time defending it.”
On Hawley’s critique that she has lost touch with Missourians:
“Well, I think that's probably coming from somebody who's never done a 50 town halls in one year. That's somebody who's probably not traveled around the state and talked to as many people as I have over the years. Your job as a United States senator is not to listen to the people in Washington. Your job as a United States senator is to listen to the people at home. ... I mean, I worked my way through law school at Mizzou as a waitress. I worked my way through undergrad school as a waitress. And you know, Josh Hawley likes to talk about flyover country. I mean, the only flyover country I know about is when Josh Hawley flew from Stanford to Yale from undergraduate to law school.”
On Hawley’s rebuke of higher education:
“I don't think my degree is worthless and I don't think most of the graduates that I spoke to at Missouri State University graduation a few weeks ago, I think they were very proud of their degrees and their families are very proud of their degrees. I think public universities in this state do a great service to our economy. They create an awful lot of economic activity that is positive and they create a middle class that is important to our country. Do I think we should have more apprentice programs? Absolutely. Do I think we should make sure that people understand that some kind of education and training beyond high school is essential in getting to the middle class, but it doesn't have to be a four-year school, absolutely.”