Claire McCaskill is one of the most notable Democratic politicians in the state of Missouri. A former State Auditor, gubernatorial candidate, and U.S. Senator for 12 years, she has crafted a strong reputation for bipartisanship, moderate-style politics, and a willingness to compromise on tough issues. After losing her re-election bid against Josh Hawley, she became a political analyst for MSNBC and visiting fellow at the UChicago Institute of Politics. An accomplished legislator, McCaskill sat down with the Gate to reflect on her tenure and the state of national politics. The conversation has been edited for clarity.
The Gate: You are the first female senator elected in her own right in the state of Missouri. Research studies have strongly argued that female senators tend to be more adept at getting bills passed through Congress than their male counterparts. What can aspiring legislators learn from the example of women like yourself in Congress?
Senator Claire McCaskill: Legislating is a group activity. Flying solo is not as effective. I focused on getting practical stuff done and therefore was constantly taking opportunities to collaborate within my own party and across the aisle.
Gate: What piece of legislation did you introduce that you are most proud to have had signed into law by President Trump? Which of his agenda bills are you most proud to have opposed?
CM: [I am] most proud of the bill that changed the law in regard to the accountability of online child sex traffickers. This legislation was the result of a years long investigation and it will make a huge difference.
Most proud to oppose – that’s a hard one because there are many of his policies I opposed. I was proud to oppose his efforts to ban Muslims from traveling into the United States and his misguided attempts to erect a wall from sea to shining sea on our Southern border.
Gate: Historically, there have been various complaints of the lack of input from younger Democratic legislators in policy making, but now freshman members Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been selected for very exclusive posts on the House Financial Services Committee. Do these appointments allow for more fresh and bold perspectives in Congress, or do they unfairly discount Party members with longer tenures?
CM: The Democratic Party will only be successful in the coming years if we remain vigilant about expanding rather than contracting our party. That expansion must include younger and diverse voices everywhere – including [within] the most powerful committees. The service of long-term legislators and the wisdom that goes with that service should also be respected but not in a way that excludes new voices.
Gate: In your farewell speech on the Senate floor, you discussed how legislative output has slowed down in recent years as more and more bills are made behind closed doors. In light of these institutional failings, how did you get things done for the people of Missouri?
CM: My accomplishments were [made] in spite of the changes in Senate culture, and [they weren’t] easy. I [was] hyper-focused on bipartisanship in drafting legislation and pushing it through the process. The Senate has become more polarized as the right and the left strive for purity and political advantage. Purity and partisanship don’t create much legislation – and frankly increases [the American people’s] cynicism of all things Washington.
Gate: Former Congressman Tom Perriello discussed in a prior interview with the Gate that modern voters want “bold” policy ideas. How should the Democratic Party respond to the popularity of proposals like The Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and a 70% income tax on extremely wealthy citizens?
CM: I think bold new ideas are important for debate and inspire people but can also lead to frustration when nothing gets done. Remember [that] to enact laws, there [have] be 60 votes in the Senate and a signature from a president. I hope that going into 2020, our Democratic Presidential nominees also discuss practical proposals that can improve people’s lives in the more immediate future.
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Richard Omoniyi-Shoyoola is a rising fourth year in the University of Chicago studying Political Science. He has served as an Intern in the Office of U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, as a Complaint Counselor for the ACLU of Missouri, and as an Investigations Intern for the Law Office of The Cook County Public Defender. All of these experiences have taught him that everybody deserves an advocate, and that being cynical is overrated.