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As she wraps up life as senator, McCaskill forecasts deadlock over health care, border wall

Longtime Democratic force in Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., leaves office in early January after her defeat in November 2018.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill predicts there won’t be any congressional action – beyond symbolic votes – to protect or replace the Affordable Care Act before she leaves office.

And she’s not sure whether a government shutdown can be avoided, if President Donald Trump wants it.

McCaskill, a Democrat, said in an interview for St. Louis on the Air that she isn’t surprised by Friday’s ruling by a Texas judge to toss out the entire Affordable Care Act, although she disagrees with his decision.

The judge said that Congress’ 2017 action to get rid of the act’s requirement that all Americans purchase health insurance kills off all other provisions. That includes the act’s mandate that insurers must cover people with pre-existing conditions.

McCaskill believes that ruling puts Republicans, including Missouri Senator-elect Josh Hawley, in a difficult spot.

“Some of them say they want to protect pre-existing conditions. Well, good luck with doing that in isolation,” she said. “Because once you do that, if nobody has to buy insurance, then those with pre-existing conditions will be priced out of the market.”

She contends that many congressional Republicans privately hope that an appeals court will toss out the judge’s ruling.

McCaskill lost in November to Hawley, who said for months that he also was committed to protecting people with pre-existing conditions. Hawley has praised the judge’s ruling.

McCaskill had made health insurance, and protecting people with pre-existing conditions, two of her key campaign issues. She says it soon will be up to Hawley and fellow Senate Republicans to decide whether to tackle the health-insurance issue. Democrats take over the U.S. House in a few weeks and plan to hold votes underscoring their support for the ACA and possibly an alternate plan known as Medicare for All.

Wall fight related to rural economic troubles

The outgoing senator said about half of the federal government would be affected by a shutdown, should Trump and Congress not agree on a spending plan. The president says he won’t sign anything that does not have a $5 billion allocation for his proposed completion of a wall across the United States’ southern border with Mexico.

McCaskill emphasized that Congress already has agreed to the White House’s original border-wall request for $1.6 billion.

She added that the optics for the president won’t look good if he heads to his Mar-a–Lago resort in Florida for two weeks while a government shutdown is underway.

The battle over the wall is part of the immigration fight that McCaskill says has helped Republicans build a huge edge among many rural voters who have been frustrated for decades over their economic decline.

“Without question, the largest public-policy problem facing this country for the next 10-20 years is what do we do with the workers who have been displaced by technology,’’ McCaskill said, referring to the wave of rural factories that have closed over the last 30 years.

Trump, she said, “convinced (rural voters) that it wasn’t the microchip that was the problem. It was Mexicans.”

Predicts public will press for campaign-finance changes

McCaskill contends that the public will demand changes in federal election laws to end the rise in campaign spending by secret donors. Nationally, and in Missouri, a record amount of outside money was spent this year.

Outside groups spent more money in Missouri than the combined spending by McCaskill and her Republican rival, Josh Hawley. Many of those groups got their money from unidentified donors, known as “dark money.”

McCaskill, who lost, faced more attack ads from outside groups than any other U.S. Senate candidate in the country. She contends that Congress or voters will soon take action.

“I’m confident it will happen. The question is how long it will take,” McCaskill said. “This is really the first cycle where it was so dominant, the outside money.”

Outside groups spent about $77 million in Missouri. Only Florida’s Senate race saw more outside money.

McCaskill raised almost $40 million for her campaign, setting a state record. In fact, she said she raised more money nationally than all but one other Democrat running for the Senate:  Democrat Beto O'Rourke of Texas, who narrowly lost.

McCaskill reaffirmed her election-night speech in which she said she plans to remain involved in politics, although she won't run for another elective office. The senator said months ago that she would not run for governor in 2020.

McCaskill said she is looking at various options, but added that it was too early to discuss specifics. She has scheduled a few family trips.

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies

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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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