Democrat Claire McCaskill had stern words for her soon-to-be former colleagues in the Senate in a farewell speech on Thursday, saying that polarization and fear of political consequences have rendered the body ineffective and unwilling to take on difficult issues.
The two-term senator lost to Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley in her re-election bid in November. In an emotional speech from the Senate floor, McCaskill said she was proud of her 34-year public service career that included stints as Jackson County prosecutor, state representative, state auditor and senator.
She called her fellow senators “family,” but expressed concern about what the Senate has become since she first took office in 2007.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was worried about this place,” McCaskill said. “It just doesn’t work as well as it used to.”
McCaskill, 65, didn’t single out any individual senators, but she said the Senate has “too many embarrassing uncles.”
“The United States Senate is no longer the world’s greatest deliberative body,” McCaskill said. “And everybody needs to quit saying it until we recover from this period of polarization, and the fear of the political consequences of tough votes.”
She cited a litany of concerns: Legislation written behind closed doors, omnibus bills so large that senators don’t know what is in them and lobbyists learning details of tax bills before senators do.
“Something is broken and if we don’t have the strength to look in the mirror and fix it, the American people are going to grow more and more cynical and they might do something crazy like elect a reality TV star president,” McCaskill said, a reference to President Donald Trump, who was the host of TV’s “The Apprentice” prior to his election in 2106.
McCaskill was subdued in her criticism of Trump during the campaign — perhaps understandable, considering that Trump won Missouri by 19 percentage points in 2016. But her floor speech and comments earlier Thursday during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” indicate she may be far more outspoken now that she’s leaving elected office.
On the TV program, McCaskill was asked what Republican senators say about Trump behind his back.
“Nuts,” McCaskill said. “Weak. Doesn’t really understand government. Doesn’t care to understand anything complicated. Asks and says the most unbelievable things in meetings that clearly show he doesn’t understand the subject matter. No intellectual curiosity.”
In her farewell speech, she urged senators to “throw off the shackles of careful. Open the doors of debate. Reclaim the power of members and committees, and most of all, realize that looking the other way and hoping that everything will work out later is a foolish idea.”
Other senators took to the floor to honor McCaskill.
Her Missouri colleague, Republican Roy Blunt, lauded the work they were able to do together on their home state’s behalf despite their political differences.
“Our state has benefited from your service in incredible ways at all levels,” Blunt said.
Another Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, said McCaskill, like one of her political heroes, fellow Missourian Harry Truman, is “feisty.”
“She was always well prepared,” Collins said. “She was always insightful. And she was always tough.”
Salter reported from St. Louis.