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McCaskill and Greitens discuss common ground, amid election aftermath

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, left, presents Congressional Gold Medal to the widow of blues legend Johnnie Johnson, to mark his service in World War II.
Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is praising Missouri’s new governor-elect – Republican Eric Greitens – for reaching out to her in what she sees as a signal of possible cooperation, at least in some areas.

In an interview, McCaskill said the two talked right before Thanksgiving. “Governor Greitens called me and we had a great conversation,” she said.

McCaskill added that much of their discussion focused on  logistics. “He just wanted to say hello and we wanted to make sure that our staffs know each other and are working together and that there’s a good line of communication,” she said. “I thought it was terrific that he called.”

McCaskill seeks bipartisan focus on transportation

McCaskill has long portrayed herself as “a moderate” eager to work with Republicans, when possible. Expect to hear such phrases a lot as she gears up for a re-election bid in 2018.

As of January, she’ll be one of only two statewide Democrats in Missouri, thanks to the GOP blowout on Nov. 8, due in part to the huge voter turnout for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. He carried Missouri by almost 20 percentage points, launching a wave that swept in all statewide Republicans on the ballot.

McCaskill chuckled in Monday’s interview about the horde of potential GOP rivals now vying for a chance to knock her off in two years. She quipped, “Who isn’t running for the Senate on the Republican side of the equation?”

As she heads into the final two years of this term, McCaskill says she’ll stick with her 10-year bipartisan approach. “It is not a difficult thing for me to work with Republicans,” she said. “I want to find the middle, and that’s where you have to work in a bipartisan way.”

Regarding Greitens, the senator said they appear to share an interest in addressing Missouri’s transportation needs. McCaskill said she told Greitens that the state is in danger of losing its federal highway aid because Missouri is having problems coming up with the required state match.

Reaffirms opposition to 'right-to-work'

McCaskill disagrees with Greitens on other issues, notably his support for legislation – long advocated by state GOP legislative leaders -- that would curb union rights and make Missouri a “right-to-work” state.

Such a law would bar unions and employers from requiring all workers in a bargaining unit to pay dues or fees. Backers say a right-to-work law would attract more jobs to Missouri, and help businesses expand.  McCaskill and other opponents say the result will drive down wages, and is really aimed at punishing unions because they often back Democrats.

Eric Greitens on the trail and in victory said "If you want different, do different."
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Eric Greitens after declaring victory in the Nov. 8 election

Republicans leading the Missouri General Assembly hope to get a right-to-bill measure on Greitens' desk within weeks.

“It’s going to make it more difficult for families who work in hourly jobs to ever become a member of the middle class,” McCaskill  said. “And I am very sad about it and I think people should watch really carefully what happens to median incomes in this state.”

She also reaffirmed her support for Medicare, the government health insurance program for people age 65 and over. House Speaker Paul Ryan is among the Republicans who already plan to press to transform Medicare in an insurance voucher program that McCaskill drily noted would operate similar to the Affordable Care Act, when Republicans hope to repeal.

She then asserted that some Missouri voters who sided with Republicans this election, especially Trump and the GOP statewide ticket, may soon be disappointed.

“I find it ironic that the same voters who voted for a president because they thought he was going to be a populist and bring back jobs, that he is going to really kick working wages in the shins by bringing right-to-work to Missouri,” McCaskill said.

She had strongly supported the Democratic nominee for governor, Chris Koster, and had assisted Jason Kander, who narrowly lost his bid to oust U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

McCaskill said she has spoken to both men, and have encouraged them to remain politically active. She noted that, overall on Nov. 8, Democrats gained seats in the U.S. Senate and in the U.S. House. Even though Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton lost the electoral college, she captured at least 2 million more votes than Trump.

McCaskill contended that Republicans might want to keep such facts in mind: “There were mixed messages in this election.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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