U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., says she’s “absolutely’’ seeking re-election in two years, despite her party’s shellacking at the polls less than two weeks ago.
In the meantime, McCaskill plans to play an aggressive role in fighting Republican proposals – already being publicly discussed -- to revamp the nation’s Medicare program, which provides health care for 55 million Americans age 65 and over.
“I’ll fight as hard as I know how, to stop them from phasing out Medicare as we know it,’’ McCaskill said in an interview Friday.
Just days after GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s victory, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan brought up his longstanding proposal to privatize Medicare by giving the elderly vouchers to help purchase private insurance.
McCaskill opposes that idea and says she was surprised that Republicans brought up their Medicare plans so soon after the Nov. 8 election. She believes most Missourians, especially the elderly, oppose the voucher idea.
Her defense of Medicare and Social Security will be part of her re-election effort.
“I know I’m the underdog. I know I’ve got a lot of work to do,’’ McCaskill said. “I know I need to show up and listen and get chewed on, frankly, by a lot of folks in rural Missouri.
“But at the end of the day, they’re going to have to decide who’s a hard worker, who’s a straight shooter, who is independent and who has actually tried to accomplish things in terms of protecting their tax dollars and holding people accountable.”
McCaskill said she’s ready to work with president-elect Trump on matters of common interest, such as his infrastructure proposal to spend federal money to rebuild roads and bridges. The senator noted that outgoing President Barack Obama had regularly broached similar plans, but had been blocked by congressional Republicans.
McCaskill added, however, that she will oppose any proposals to convert Missouri's stretches of interstate into toll roads.
Democrats face rough road in 2018
McCaskill’s list of potential GOP rivals in two years include at least three Missouri members of Congress: U.S. Reps. Ann Wagner of Ballwin, Vicky Hartzler of Harrisonville and Sam Graves of Tarkio.
McCaskill is among roughly a half-dozen Senate Democrats who are expected to be Republican targets in 2018. Perhaps with helping her in mind, Senate minority leaders named McCaskill this week to a plum post as the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. Before the election, she had been rumored to be in line to chair that high-profile panel if the Democrats had won control of the Senate.
Democrats failed to do so, although their party did gain two Senate seats. Those victories were about the only bright spots for Democrats on Nov. 8, when presidential nominee Hillary Clinton narrowly – and unexpectedly – lost to Trump.
Trump carried Missouri by 20 points, one of the largest margins in state history. McCaskill said the results left no doubt that Missouri voters “didn’t want Hillary Clinton as president.”
The senator acknowledged that rural voters seem to be wary of Democrats, even though her party champions some of the issues that are of rural concern – such as equal pay and stronger agricultural policies.
McCaskill said Democrats need to do a better job of communicating their mutual interests with rural voters. She noted that after her 2004 loss for Missouri governor, she spent two years traveling the state’s rural areas in an RV to talk to and listen to Missourians.
She is convinced those travels helped her capture her Senate seat in 2006 and handily win re-election in 2012, even though GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried the state by about 10 percentage points.
As she looks ahead, McCaskill observed, “The same people who are writing my political obituary right now are the same people who wrote it in 2005 and 2011.”