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MyDD - MyDD Conversation With MO-Sen Candidate Claire McCaskill

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MyDD Conversation With MO-Sen Candidate Claire McCaskill

by Jonathan Singer, Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 12:09:44 PM EST

On Thursday afternoon I had the chance to speak with Claire McCaskill, Auditor of the state of Missouri and Democratic candidate for Senate.

Over the course of our conversation, which you can read below or listen to here (warning: a large .mp3), McCaskill and I discussed a number of topics including stem cell research, Social Security, net neutrality, Iraq, domestic surveillance and McCaskill's message to the progressive blogosphere.

Jonathan Singer: We learned this week that the Senate will soon bring up a vote for funding for stem cell research. Even if the bill passes - and it seems that it has enough votes to do so - President Bush has pledged to veto the bill. As Senator, how would you differ from Jim Talent on this issue?

Claire McCaskill: Obviously, Jim Talent and I have a much different view of stem cell research. Jim Talent has always seen stem cell research as an issue that involves criminalizing scientists and patients and doctors and even families of patients.

I have been a big supporter of stem cell research. It's very important in my state. Christopher Reeve's doctor was actually located at Washington University in St. Louis. We have a very big life sciences research component in St. Louis affiliated with that university. And then we have the Stowers Institute in Kansas City where a Kansas City couple has endowed a research institute with several billion dollars of their personal wealth and attracted some of the finest stem cell researchers from all over the world.

So we really are about hope for cures in Missouri and I frankly am puzzled that this President would use his veto power on this particular legislation, especially when you realize it will be the first and only time that he has used his veto power in his entire presidency. It is hard to understand why he would dash the hopes on thousands of Americans with debilitating diseases and debilitating injuries with a veto.

If I were there, not only would I be voting different than Senator Talent, I would be working hard to help my colleagues on both sides of the aisle that agree with me to try to find the 60 votes* to override the veto.

Singer: Looking more broadly at the issue of healthcare, tens of millions - I think the number is listed at 45 to 48 million Americans - do not have healthcare. What would you do as Senator to try to get coverage for these people?

McCaskill: Our current healthcare policies are primarily interested in protecting the silos of profit that current exist in healthcare. I don't know how we can look ourselves in the eye morally in this country with that many uninsured when we have CEOs of managed care companies going home with a $1.6 billion paycheck.

Clearly there needs to be a reorganization of the delivery of healthcare in this country. We need to begin by utilizing the talent of young people coming out of medical school and nursing school with debt that could choke an elephant. Huge debt. We need to alleviate some of their debt by waving some of that debt in return for them working in proactive, preventative community-based healthcare centers for the uninsured and the underinsured.

We are now creating larger and larger numbers of uninsured by the way we are delivering healthcare, that is non-traumatic uninsured healthcare is occurring in emergency rooms, the most expensive place that it could occur. So we need to be moving the preventative and non-traumatic care out of the emergency rooms back into community-based... You know we can do this with using wavers in the Medicaid system and revising the Medicaid system, using more sliding-scale ability to pay if we can get away from making the first priority protecting the profits of those people that are currently feasting at the healthcare trough.

Singer: Talking about a different social program, let's talk about Social Security. President Bush is once again making noise about partially privatizing the program. Will you oppose his plan? And will you be talking about this issue during the campaign?

Claire McCaskill: I have and will continue to talk about it.

My opponent was one of the original sponsors of privatization of the Social Security system back when he was a member of the House. He was in Congress, then he was a lobbyist and now he's a Senator. And when he was in Congress, in the House, he actually sponsored one of the first pieces of legislation to privatize Social Security.

I think all America has to do is look and see what happened with Medicare Part D. That was a privatization of a Medicare benefit in a way that not only has cost the American taxpayer more money than it should, it has also been very confusing, bewildering and frankly frightening to thousands of seniors in this country that didn't have enough information, and the information that they got was confusing and very, very difficult for them to sort out.

I think that experience should reemphasize in people's minds the dangers of privatization of a program like this. And I think that we've got to look at other strategies to secure the viability of Social Security. And I would start with a novel concept: how about we quit raiding the Social Security trust fund for earmarks and for pet projects and for other kinds of overspending that this Congress has frankly specialized in?

Singer: The issue of immigration appears to be one that isn't going to be solved during this Congress. So likely it will still be around for the next Congress. If elected, what type of approach would you take on the issue?

McCaskill: I think that they've really, in an effort to divide the nation and galvanize their base with another kind of wedge issue, the right wing of the Republican Party has tried to use the immigrants as the whipping boy of this cycle. I think what we really need to do are, yes, we need to increase border security for a lot of reasons and yes, we need to enforce the law. I'm a former prosecutor.

But what they're not talking about is the reason why this immigration is occurring. This immigration is occurring, these people are not coming across the border for a vacation, they're coming to get a job. And the reason they're coming to get a job is because there's plenty of jobs available here for illegal immigrants. And that is because employers know there will be absolutely no consequences for hiring illegal immigrants. And that has been a conscious decision on the part of this administration and Congress that supports everything they do.

So if we're going to get to the root of the problem, we've got to start with enforcing the law against employers. And once we enforce the law against employers, those jobs will dry up. Then that would be the opportunity we'd have to deal with what are the workforce needs in this country and let's deal with it on the table as opposed to the way they're doing it, which is basically with one hand saying, "Come on over the border" and with the other hand saying, "Stop, we don't want you." It's unfair, and frankly I don't like the idea that there's all this talk about criminalizing the immigrants and absolutely no talk about criminalizing the employers who are actually causing the problem.

Singer: One of the most important issues for the progressive blogosphere is so-called "net neutrality." Where do you come down on that issue?

McCaskill: I'm looking forward to getting out there and giving Wyden a hand. I think that Senator Wyden has the right idea. I know that he has been one of many Democrats that have tried to fight in many ways to hold on to net neutrality.

I think it is going to continue to be a struggle. If you look around this country, there have been mergers and mergers and mergers, and we have concentration of power in very large multinational corporations.

There's nothing wrong with big. But what is really a problem is when big also means a lack of access to market. And that's true in corporate agriculture. It is also true on the net. Access to market means on the internet that you shouldn't have to pay a toll because you want to go in the fast lane. This should be an open and free exchange of information. It is a marvelous thing, and frankly I think it holds great hope for leveling the playing field in many areas, whether it's campaign finance or whether it's the exchange of information, whether it's the opportunity to be an entrepreneur without having to take out great big loans. There's so many possibilities. And the idea that any of the giants would try to stifle that right now is an anathema to me.

And I look forward to joining the Senate so that I can fight along with Senator Dorgan and Senator Snowe and Senator Wyden and the others. And hopefully we can attract more Republicans across the aisle. I want to try to work with the other side of the aisle because I think it's important on a lot of these problems. But I know this: this is going to be a fight, and I'm happy to wage it.

Singer: Let's talk about another market, oil. Oil prices - I don't know if you say - they hit an all-time high today. What would you do in the Senate to lessen America's dependence on foreign oil and also ease the burden of high gas prices for consumers?

McCaskill: There's a variety of things that need to be done. I need to start by pointing out that my opponent was named one of the dirty dozen by the League of Conservation Voters. And when you look into the materials that they distribute about their decision, a lot of their decision had to do with his close alliance with big oil.

He supports the drilling in ANWR, I do not. Back when we were in the Legislature, the state Legislature together, I was voting to reduce taxes on gasoline that contained ethanol, he was voting no. I was helping trying to get incentive funds in Missouri for ethanol production back in the late 80s and early 90s and he fought that effort along with then-Governor Ashcroft.

So it really is a matter about having vision towards the future. And our future is not in ANWR. Our future is in renewable fuels, our future is in more energy efficiency, our future is in biomass and solar and wind, it's in renewable fuels. And I think we have got to quit trying to make oil work for us and make the investments and do what we need to do to get production up and costs down on the renewable fuels, work with the auto industry for more efficient fuels and, more importantly, consumer choices as to flex fuel vehicles and the availability of flex fuel gas stations around the country.

Singer: Let's talk about Iraq for a couple of minutes. American troops and countless Iraqi civilians continue to die in Iraq in a situation that some call a low-grade civil war. Senators Feingold and Kerry put forward a measure that would set a timeline for withdrawal; Senators Levin and Reed put forward a measure that would call for the beginning of troop redeployment; while Republicans and President Bush largely favor the stay-the-course strategy. What do you believe America should be doing in Iraq?

McCaskill: My opponent is a stay-the-course, a mindless stay-the-course Senator. Back in May, I gave a very lengthy national security speech where I called for the redeployment of troops within a two-year framework. When given the choice, I would have voted for the Levin-Reed amendment, but I do believe we need to set a framework of 24 months, give or take six months, to completely redeploy.

I think what's happening today right now is affirmation of what happens when you have a foreign policy that's objectives are more political than anything else. What happens is you have a nation focused on one conflict to the exclusion of the rest of the world. And meanwhile we have destabilization in Afghanistan, you have the issue of nuclear weapons in Iran and North Korea, and now we see some instability in Israel and Lebanon, and the conflict in Israel with Hamas and with Hizbullah that I think really should have Americans on the edge of their seats.

And I fault this administration for having a lone ranger foreign policy, for forgetting about the word "diplomacy" until six years in today. And I think we've got to get busy reestablishing ourselves as good neighbors in the world that want to work with our allies to stabilize the entire planet, and not just one conflict that was entered into without careful planning and thought as to we leave that country better than we found it.

Singer: Much news has come out about the Bush administration's domestic spying programs, and Congressman Hoekstra, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has indicated there may be more secret plans that Congress doesn't even know about. Is the President striking the right balance between national security and preserving the rights and liberties of Americans?

McCaskill: I think that there have been several developments that have been very interesting concerning President Bush's view of his executive powers.

I think the recent Supreme Court decision was very interesting, a slap on the wrist to this administration on how they view the Geneva Convention and how we should be conducting ourselves as it relates to people held in Guantanamo. I think the fact that the Republican Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee has publicly indicated displeasure with being kept in the dark...

One of the most elegant things about our democracy is accountability and oversight. It is the essence of a checks and balances system. Congress has an important obligation under our Constitution for oversight and accountability. I'm not talking about finger pointing or gotcha or trying to keep team score for purposes of election. I'm talking about he fundamental business of making sure that we have a check and we have a balance and that we have the ability to make things better, to improve on mistakes.

I have said that I believe that the President has operated outside of the law. I have said that I think we need to make sure that we have the tools in the law that allow the president to pursue terrorists. It is a challenge as somebody who spent a lot of time in law enforcement. I understand the challenge that is presents, because terrorists are much like criminals in terms of their tactics and the way they go about their, in fact, criminal activity. But we've only been successful, and frankly the most successful in the world at going after criminals in our country, because we've had a framework of laws. And I think it's very important. All of us want to be safe. All of us want to get the bad guys. But all of us have to remember that we're the United States of America founded within the constitutional framework we are all very proud of. It's time to respect that constitutional framework.

Singer: At the same time that these domestic spying programs have been ramping up, word has come out that the CIA unit directly responsible for tracking Osama Bin Laden, bringing him to justice, has been shut down, decommissioned. What do you think of that move?

McCaskill: I'm not sure that we actually understand what is going on. I think with this presidency and this administration, I think, clearly they leak what they want us to know and what they don't want us to know they obfuscate and try to actually keep a secret. So I'm not sure what the CIA is actually doing.

I do know this: that America... It was almost a bait-and-switch in terms of going after Osama Bin Laden. I think that many Americans lost sight that it was Osama Bin Laden that we needed to go after for 9/11 and not Saddam Hussein. My own children were confused about it, and we talk about this all the time at my house. They're all teenagers. I think that many Americans did what I think Karl Rove hopes they'd do and kind of forget that they had dramatically failed to get Osama Bin Laden.

All the false bravado about getting him has so far been just empty rhetoric. And I think we need to stay focused on it. I think it's important foe our country. He did a terrible thing. He's still out there. And whether or not it's still a top-down organization as they are indicating it was, it doesn't change the fact that we need to get him.

Singer: A couple more quick questions. What is the most important thing you learned from your 2000 race for governor that you are applying to your campaign for Senate this fall?

McCaskill: It was actually in 2004.

I learned an awful lot. I had never lost a campaign before. And it wasn't any fun and I didn't enjoy it. But I did learn a lot.

One is, I've got to speak with my own voice. I've got to be authentic. I cannot allow any consultant, no matter how well meaning they are, to speak for me. And when it becomes time in the campaign that I am fighting in order to hear my own voice, I've got to be assertive and I've got to tell the consultants to stand down and I've got to stand up. And so it is about, for me, remaining genuine and authentic, saying what I think and not trying to mince words. You know they have a habit in Washington of learning how to talk and say nothing. I don't ever want to get that habit.

The other thing I learned is that we have got to, as a party, quit allowing ourselves to be on defense in rural America. People in rural Missouri are just as worried about whether or not they can find a specialist that will see their child, whether or not they have health insurance, whether or not they can afford to send their child to college, whether or not the middle class is going to be here for their kids, whether or not they can afford to fill their gas tank.

And what we have done, unfortunately, I think, because of the nature of campaigning, is we have spent so much time focusing on our areas where we are strong, we have allowed the Republican Party and some of the strategists in the right wing of the Republican Party to put us on defense in rural America and here, for me, in rural Missouri.

So we are spending much more time in rural Missouri. We are making much more of an effort to listen to rural Missouri. I'm spending more time on Ag. policy in this campaign than I ever spent on Ag. policy in the governor's campaign.

I've realized how important it is, not just to rural America, but to our whole country. Our food supply and where it comes from, whether or not it's safe, whether or not it's healthy, whether or not we can compete in the world in terms of our agricultural products.

And I'm just talking and spending more time out there. I think it is a little bit like the Democratic Party needing to campaign in more than 16 or 17 states. And that is that Democrats that live in states like Missouri, we've got to campaign in every single county. We've got to try to win the hearts and minds of everyone that we're trying to represent, and not just those people who live in areas we consider strongholds.

Singer: Final question. If there's one message you'd like to send out to the progressive blogosphere, to the Netroots, what would that be?

McCaskill: I think you're doing a great thing for our country. What I fear more than anything in the United States of America is an electorate that is not passionate. I may not agree with some of the views held by some of those who spend a lot of time on the progressive blogosphere. There may be times we disagree. But I love the passion, I love the commitment, I love the enthusiasm. It is probably what will save us in this country. And so I say type away and keep working at it. You'll keep us all honest.

Singer: Terrific. Thank you so much for your time and good luck in your campaign.

McCaskill: Thank you so much.

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