MONETT, Mo. — When U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill said someone had accused her of hosting town hall sessions only in places where people liked her, the crowd in Monett laughed.
Those from the area knew that McCaskill had a tough climb ahead if she wanted to win many votes in Southwest Missouri in her 2018 re-election bid.
However, Democrat McCaskill barely mentioned the road ahead Tuesday and focused on answering questions submitted by some of the more than 110 attendees at the gathering at the Monett City Park Casino. It was one of the three she held Tuesday in Southwest Missouri and one of more than 40 she has put on this year.
In answering questions, McCaskill noted that she had almost as many areas of agreement as disagreement with Republican senators as she discussed immigration, health care, infrastructure, government spending and Afghanistan.
All of the attendees’ questions were thrown into a basket before the meeting started. In order to ensure that the questions weren’t prescreened, people who said they would never vote for McCaskill were allowed to hold the basket. At one point, state Rep. Mike Moon, a conservative Republican state representative from Ash Grove, became the keeper of the basket.
Before she answered questions, she took a moment to stress bipartisan achievements she said did not receive much news coverage: the passage of the Arla Harrell Act, which gives benefits to World War II veterans on which mustard gas was tested, and a bill that McCaskill said will reduce the price of hearing aids by cutting back on regulations.
With President Donald Trump expected to address immigration during a Phoenix rally Tuesday night, McCaskill told reporters that she wasn’t supportive of building a wall from “sea to shining sea.” McCaskill said that when she went to visit border patrol near the Rio Grande Valley, she was told by officers that they needed more technology, lateral access roads and “some wall.”
McCaskill said she wanted to invest more in border patrol agents, who monitor the border for heroin and its even deadlier cousin, fentanyl.
“I’m not opposed to some wall where it makes sense geographically,” McCaskill said.
Of about 9,000 people in Monett, about 20 percent is Hispanic. In February, a local Hispanic group, along with the police, held a meeting to assuage the community, especially Hispanic residents who were skipping work and school because fear of deportation.
An audience member asked McCaskill for her thoughts about sanctuary cities, which have police departments that don’t detain illegal immigrants for deportation. McCaskill said she voted against cutting off federal funding for sanctuary cities, especially because as a former prosecutor, she knows the police rely on immigrants to testify about crimes within their community.
“We've got to be careful that we don’t let MS-13 get away with more crimes,” McCaskill said, referring to the gang connected to drug cartels that Trump often mentions in speeches.
Throughout the town hall, questions kept coming back to health care. One attendee said his premiums jumped by 30 percent and condemned the Affordable Care Act. Another attendee, citing his $100 Social Security Medicare payments, said he was a fan of single-payer health care.
McCaskill said health care prices were too high right now to take on single-payer health care and would “explode” the country’s debt. She said she voted for the Affordable Care Act because she heard from several constituents who didn’t have a viable options to purchase health care outside of an employer-provided insurance.
According to numbers cited by McCaskill, premiums in Barry County would have gone up for a 60-year-old making $20,000 a year under the House or Senate plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.
Instead of repealing the act, McCaskill hoped it would be put aside as a “political weapon.” She sought to fix the already established system, especially cutting back on small-business regulations.
“I don’t care what we call it,” McCaskill said. “I want to call it, ‘We are trying as hard as we can.’”
Though McCaskill did not mention her upcoming election directly, one attendee asked her if she supported term limits and about “when money was going to get out of politics.”
McCaskill said Citizens United was one of the worst Supreme Court decisions of her time because it allowed the origin of a donation to be obscured. She said that in her upcoming Senate race, she is expecting an “unbelievable” amount of dark money to be spent.
She said those making donations have the right to do so, but "I just think you should know about it. That’s all I’m saying. Disclose it.”
McCaskill said she viewed elections as sufficient term limits.
“How can we get rid of President Trump?” McCaskill read from one of the submitted questions.
“Win an election!” an audience member called out, and McCaskill concurred.
“He’s our president, and I’m going to try to work with him when I can,” McCaskill said. “I’m going to speak up when I disagree with him.”
At the end of the town hall, a woman stood up and told McCaskill that as a woman from rural Barry County, she saw families, including kids, having a hard time with the barrage of bad news every day because of the president.
“I feel the hatred and fear people are feeling day to day,” the woman said.
She tasked McCaskill to name one thing the president has done to unite the country.
McCaskill named Trump’s choices in H.R. McMaster, Gen. James Mattis and John Kelly in advising the president on matters of national security.
She said Trump’s speech Monday night was a “good one” that showed the influence of the three men on him.