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McCaskill begins agriculture tour in St. Louis

(UPI/Bill Greenblatt)

Sen. Claire McCaskill is embarking this week on an agricultural tour of the state.

The Missouri Democrat began Monday with a stop at the Danforth Plant Science Center, a non-profit research institute, in suburban St. Louis. The center’s campus also includes the Bio Research & Development Growth Park (BRDG Park), an incubator that houses and helps develop life science startups.

After touring the facility, McCaskill said such research is key to the future of agriculture.

"It’s been really exciting to see these companies that are growing here and realizing what this facility could mean for job creation in this state and ultimately in helping feed the world," she said.

The Danforth Plant Science Center is internationally-known as a hub for plant research and biotech. The facility is nearing completion of a $45 million expansion that will allow it to add 100 more researchers. The three-story wing is expected to open in November.

"I think it’s important to remind people that agriculture is not just in the fields, but it is research," McCaskill said, "and it’s the commercialization of research that allows for food and security and better yields and better nutrition, and that’s what’s going on here."

McCaskill will hear from farmers, ranchers and business owners as she visits 12 other sites around the state in coming days. She said she expects the emerging markets in Cuba and EPA water regulations will be among the topics discussed.

On the Iran deal

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote next month on a resolution in opposition of a deal with Iran. During the stop in St. Louis on Monday, McCaskill said while the deal is not perfect, it’s much better than the alternative.  

The U.S., along with Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany have agreed to lift sanctions against Iran, in exchange for Iran scaling back its nuclear activities.

Republicans have criticized the deal because it does not allow for unlimited inspection of nuclear sites and several provisions sunset in 10 to 20 years.

McCaskill said if the U.S. passes on the deal, there is no guarantee that sanctions against Iran will continue.

"Can you imagine a worse scenario than us walking away from this deal, them being less than a year away from a nuclear weapon and them getting their money?" she asked.

While both the Senate and House are expected to vote on the resolution, it’s unlikely either chamber would get the two-thirds needed to override a presidential veto.

President Obama also is working to get more Democratic support in the Senate, where 41 votes could keep the resolution from being heard.

Effort to fill VA St. Louis director position

The Veterans Affairs Health Care System in St. Louis has posted a position for a new director at least seven times.

The job pays between $120,000 to $181,000, but the senator said that isn’t enough.

"We are asking someone to run a large medical facility and paying them pennies on the dollar compared with the private sector," she said. "And they’re open to much more scrutiny than private hospitals."

McCaskill said she would like to see the salary increased in order to attract good candidates.

On Donald Trump

McCaskill didn’t hold back when asked her thoughts on the Republican presidential candidates, especially Donald Trump.

"It reminds me a little of a demolition derby," she said. "You know, the people who go are a little embarrassed about it, but they can’t look away."

The Democrat said it’s important to remember Trump’s unfavorable ratings are high, while only about 25 percent of Republicans have said they would vote for him.

As for McCaskill, she said she remains a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency. 

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.