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McCaskill zeroes in on drugs, guns and Greitens

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill answers questions during a town hall at Harris-Stowe State University. Jan. 27, 2018
File photo / Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill took aim at a variety of targets Thursday, as she reinforced her views on guns and drug companies – and offered up advice to some of the players involved in Gov. Eric Greitens’ legal fight.

McCaskill, a Democrat who is seeking re-election this fall, announced that she is sponsoring a bill to end tax write-offs for prescription drug advertising. McCaskill noted that only the United States and New Zealand offer such tax incentives.

“We are not only allowing these companies to have year after year of double-digit price increases, we are also subsidizing their advertising for prescription drugs. Which makes absolutely no sense.”

McCaskill pointed to federal figures from 2015, which show that drug companies got tax breaks for $6 billion dollars in advertising. Drug companies say they are being attacked unfairly because they are profitable.

McCaskill acknowledged that the tax break for drug advertising has been a congressional target for years, but without success.

She contended that the prescription-drug advertising has contributed to opioid abuse, because TV viewers learn of drugs that they did not know existed. She said she often hears from physicians who complain that some patients seek prescriptions that they have seen on TV, because they believe they are suffering from illnesses that the drugs can treat.

Warily hopeful about Trump’s gun comments

The senator praised President Donald Trump for his call for some gun restrictions, but added she and her allies are concerned about his commitment to follow through.

“We are crossing our fingers that he means it,’’ McCaskill said. “If he’s willing to stand up to the NRA, we’re right there with him…If he wants a 'big beautiful' gun safety bill, he will have a lot of willing partners.”

But she noted that Trump has changed his mind, such as in the case of immigration and what do with people – known as “Dreamers” – who had been brought into the United States illegally as children.

Trump and top Democrats initially appeared to have a deal,  but then he backed off.

As for herself, McCaskill said she supports universal background checks, banning “bump stocks’’ which convert semi-automatic guns into automatic weapons, and imposing some age restrictions.

“If you’re not old enough to buy a bottle of whiskey, you’re not old enough to buy an AK-15,’’ she said.

McCaskill added that the stakes couldn’t be higher for Americans. “No other country in the world is allowing their children to be slaughtered in schools like we are,” she said.

Suggests less talk in Greitens’ inquiries

Meanwhile, McCaskill said it’s time for the lawyers on both sides of the legal fight involving Gov. Eric Greitens to quit debating the issue in public.

Greitens has been indicted for allegedly taking a partially nude photo of his then-mistress without her consent. McCaskill has said little since the grand jury indictment, and says her silence is tied to her past as a prosecutor.

“When a criminal case is pending, you have to keep your mouth shut,’’ said McCaskill, who spent six years as Jackson County prosecutor.

In the case of Greitens, she said, “I think the evidence should speak and everybody else should keep quiet.”

McCaskill accused the governor’s team of failing to follow that approach.

“The court of public opinion is trying to be manipulated in this case by some of the people working for the governor. I think everybody should be quiet until this case has been heard.”

McCaskill praised the conduct so far by the House panel set up by Speaker Todd Richardson to investigate the case. She noted that the panel’s members have said little publicly.

Ed Dowd, one of the governor’s lawyers, says their only comment is that Greitens is innocent.

Greitens’ trial on the privacy charge has been set for May 14.

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.