Topics ranged from education to Syria, health care to the EPA

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill didn't hesitate to criticize President Donald Trump at a town hall meeting in Hannibal on Thursday, April 13 at the Hannibal Nutrition Center.

Nor did Missouri's Democratic Senator spare words when describing how, in her view, certain policies of the administration will negatively affect people in Northeast Missouri.

McCaskill, who is up for re-election in 2018, held the town hall as part of an eight-stop tour of the state to hear from her constituents. She is the only one of Missouri's federal representatives to hold town hall style meetings during Congress' two-week recess.

While taking opportunities to decry some of Trump's — and his party's — decisions, she also answered questions about her own actions, particularly on her recent vote to oppose the confirmation of now-Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and her position on the EPA and environmental issues.

McCaskill touted her ability to work across the aisle on several occasions, citing an example of collaboration with Republican Senators to shut down a website used by sex traffickers.

She also highlighted the importance of oversight, rather than lawmaking.

“Sometimes oversight is better than legislation. If you do aggressive oversight, it can really make a difference,” McCaskill said.

McCaskill said she supported Trump's choice to launch an airstrike in Syria on April 7, but would be hesitant to approve a full military intervention in the war-torn country.

“I'm worried it (April 7 airstrike) was an impulsive reaction and not part of a larger strategy or plan,” she said.

While supporting the airstrike, McCaskill slammed budget cuts that would eliminate programs like Meals on Wheels and significantly cut funding for services to seniors, including the Hannibal Nutrition Center, which hosted the event. She implored the president to refrain from a trip to Mar-a-Lago, a Trump-owned destination in Florida to which the president has frequently traveled. McCaskill alleged one trip to the private club could fund Meals on Wheels in Missouri for two years. She criticized the president for taking too many personal trips while in office at a cost so far of $21 million.

She also explained her position on Planned Parenthood and education, saying no federal funds are used for abortions and supporting Planned Parenthood's efforts to provide birth control, which leads to lower abortion rates.

McCaskill also said she wanted to protect public schools from the push for “school choice” — which provides funding for vouchers and funnels more tax dollars to private schools. Rural school districts, where there are few to no options for private schools, would suffer, according to the senator.

Hannibal Public School District #60 Superintendent Susan Johnson attended the town hall as a representative for public schools.

“I appreciated what Sen. McCaskill shared in that we are rural Missouri. When you get into school choice and tax credit initiatives, I want our legislators to understand the detrimental impact that will happen on all public education,” Johnson said. “If funding for public schools somehow gets redirected somewhere else, that's going to hurt a lot of kids.”

McCaskill faced a friendly crowd, which often applauded following responses to questions — unlike other town hall meetings throughout the country which featured angry constituents shouting at or heckling elected officials.

One area in which McCaskill did not receive quite as warm of a response was when she was asked about the Environmental Protection Agency. McCaskill, who considers herself a moderate, said she agrees with many of Republican counterparts that the agency often oversteps its bounds, causing life for rural Missourians to become too burdensome.

The senator also took on healthcare, lamenting that the current administration hasn't, as she said, reached out to moderate Democrats to address problems with the Affordable Care Act, known by many as Obamacare. She did not support Republicans' replacement, saying, “it was a tax cut bill, not a health care bill.”

She again pointed out that rural Missourians between the ages of 55 and 65 would have suffered the most under the now-retracted Republican replacement to Obamacare.

Larry Craig, chairman of the Marion County Republican Central Committee, pressed McCaskill on her vote to confirm Gorsuch.

McCaskill explained she felt uncomfortable that an outside party, not the president, developed the list of finalists for the position left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

“I accept her explanation,” Craig said. “I don't necessarily agree with it but I do accept the rationale. I'm not in a position to challenge her rationale.”

Most people seemed to appreciate McCaskill's effort to come to Hannibal for the town hall.

“I'm happy she was here, especially because (Senator) Roy Blunt and (Congressman) Sam Graves have been totally missing in action,” Stephan Franke said. “She answered questions and talked to people who ideologically, and will forever, disagree with her. How are you supposed to know what's you're supposed to do if you don't talk to your employers? And I think her constituents are her employers.”

Craig, who thanked McCaskill for her appearance, said he's always looking for elected officials to represent the interests of Missouri voters.

“What we don't have in Congress, in both houses, is any degree of harmony. We have no statesmen in our Congress. There is nobody serving as a statesman,” he said, noting discord between the two main political parties.

Craig said he at time agrees with the senator, but often wish she wouldn't toe the Democrat party line as much.

For her part, McCaskill said town hall meetings are a key part of her job.

“I've got to go out and show respect in every corner of the state, whether they like me or don't. I've got to show up,” she said.

McCaskill readily admits she'll be in for a tough re-election campaign in a state that favored Trump by 19 points over Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Possible opponents in her bid for the senate seat include St. Louis-area Republican Rep. Ann Wagner, who has already amassed a $3 million war chest, and newly-sworn in Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley.

Reach editor Eric Dundon at eric.dundon@courierpost.com