At first St. Louis town hall, McCaskill opines on government shutdown — and Missouri legislature | St. Louis Public Radio

At first St. Louis town hall, McCaskill opines on government shutdown — and Missouri legislature

Jan 27, 2018

After holding dozens of town halls in rural and suburban parts of the state, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill’s first one in St. Louis was a largely cordial affair — with the Democratic senator answering numerous questions on the recent government shutdown.

But she saved her harshest criticism for the GOP governor and legislators that control Missouri’s government.

Many of the questions at Harris-Stowe State University’s auditorium focused on a way to keep undocumented immigrants brought to America as children in the country. McCaskill was one of the few Democrats to vote for a stopgap bill that would have averted a brief government shutdown. Many in her party voted against the measure, which ultimately failed, because they wanted assurances on DACA.

In the end, that standoff was resolved when Republicans who control the Senate promised a vote on that issue in February. President Donald Trump, though, wants to pair any action on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programwith funding a multi-billion dollar border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I think we’re going to get DACA done,” McCaskill told reporters after the town hall. “I don’t know what the final version will be. I hope to be in a room that tries to push it toward a version that provides protection for these young people and doesn’t tear apart families.”

McCaskill went onto say that “I don’t think there’s anybody in Washington that believes there will ever be a wall built from sea to shining sea.”

“Now the president can say it, and sometimes he thinks if he says it often enough, people will believe it,” she said. “Should there be some barriers along the border? Yes, there should. We have some barriers now. They can modernized and augmented. But to get at the tunnel problem you need technology. That’s why when you talk to border patrol agents, the ones that are actually doing the work, they put technology as the No. 1 item they need. Not more barriers.”

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill speaks to the audience at the Harris-Stowe State University Emerson Performance Center.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

McCaskill rips General Assembly on Medicaid

During the meeting, McCaskill slammed the Missouri General Assembly for not expanding Medicaid. Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government would have paid for a state to expand the health care program for the poor.

“The notion that the Missouri legislature, because of politics, has turned down billions and billions and billions of dollars for health care in this state is disgusting,” McCaskill told the crowd, adding that move was especially harmful to rural Missourians.

She also criticized Gov. Eric Greitens’ proposed cuts to colleges and universities, alluding to how much of Harris-Stowe State University’s funding comes from state general revenue dollars.

“Job creation depends on an educated workforce,” McCaskill said. “He thinks we’re going to get jobs in this state? It’s not going to happen if we keep kicking higher education in the teeth.”

(McCaskill did not make any remarks regarding Greitens' admission that he had an extramarital affair before he was governor. She did, however, make a quip about that controversy at a political dinner on Friday in Columbia.)

Whether Republican lawmakers listen to McCaskill remains to be seen, both Greitens and his GOP colleagues have shown no interest in expanding Medicaid. Some Republicans have spoken out against the governor’s higher education cuts, especially because colleges and universities took a funding hit last year.

Republicans hold commanding majorities in both the House and Senate, meaning Democrats would have to gain scores of seats this year to make significant headway in affecting policy.

“There really is a moment when people need to wake up and realize that who they elect to the state legislature matters to their lives. And I’m hoping this year might be a turning point where we go back to the middle in Jefferson City. So that we’re not careening down a path where we’re focusing more on who goes to what bathroom than we are on whether our kids can get a higher education.”

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill answers a question from Missouri state Rep. Michael Butler.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Spotlight on urban Missouri

McCaskill’s appearance at Harris-Stowe comes after some Democratic activists and elected officials contended that the senator was too focused on rural and suburban areas at the expense of urban Missouri.

Last year, McCaskill emphasized that she does spend time in St. Louis and Kansas City quite often — and promised to hold urban town hall meetings. But she also stressed that she couldn’t ignore rural Missouri, a place where she must at least compete to get re-elected in November.

St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green, who is well-respected in local and statewide Democratic politics, said it “speaks volumes” that McCaskill came to St. Louis.

“It shows that she understands the importance of the urban agenda, as well as the rural agenda,” Green said.

During the meeting, McCaskill praised a new law, which was partially struck down in court, that limited the percentage of revenue that cities could keep from fines. She also reiterated her support for aspects of the Ferguson Commission, a slate of policy recommendations that came about after Michael Brown’s shooting death in 2014. 

“I believe what I can do is be a more aggressive advocate to get more federal funds to help communities that are so stressed financially because of all the other cuts that are going on that they don’t have the resources they need for policing,” she said.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum