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McCaskill and Hawley talk tariffs, taxes and Trump

Green Party candidate Jo Crain, Republican candidate Attorney General Josh Hawley, independent candidate Craig O'Dear and Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill participate in a candidate forum in Maryland Heights on Sept. 14, 2018.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
From left, Green Party candidate Jo Crain, Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley, independent Craig O'Dear and Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill participate in a candidate forum in Maryland Heights on Sept. 14, 2018.

U.S. Sen Claire McCaskill and state Attorney General Josh Hawley went toe-to-toe on health care, the Supreme Court, immigration and tariffs in their first forum of the campaign Friday.

Hawley, a Republican, said the public will choose between a “heartland way of life’’ and a “radical left-wing agenda.”

McCaskill, a Democrat, said the public should focus on “the ones who actually have a track record of working in a bipartisan way and actually getting things done.”


The Missouri Press Association forum in St. Louis County also featured independent candidate Craig O’Dear and Green Party nominee Jo Crain. But for the most part, Hawley and McCaskill only focused on each other.

The two spent most of the hour reaffirming the views each has emphasized for weeks.

Health care

McCaskill attacked Hawley over his involvement in a lawsuit that would do away with the federal Affordable Care Act, including its requirement that insurance companies provide coverage for pre-existing conditions.

She said if Hawley supported such coverage, he could ask the court to separate the pre-existing conditions issue from other ACA provisions.

Hawley said he supports protections for pre-existing conditions and asserted the Senate could pass a bill doing so. McCaskill retorted that the Senate bill Hawley supports would allow insurance companies to avoid covering pre-existing conditions while insuring people for other medical issues.


Hawley accused her of failing to support the conservative nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court. McCaskill said that, overall, she has backed two-thirds of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees at all levels.

Hawley touted his support for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and blasted McCaskill for so far declining to take a stand. She said she is still studying Kavanaugh’s records and will announce her decision shortly.


McCaskill blasted Trump’s tariffs as “a two-by-four; we need a scalpel.” She said Missouri farmers, especially those growing soybeans, are facing devastating financial losses because their markets with China have been cut off.

Hawley said he supports Missouri farmers. He also backs Trump’s trade policy, saying it reflects “a trade war that China started years ago.”

Hawley predicted the situation will improve if China negotiates with the Trump administration on trade issues.


Hawley reaffirmed his support for Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S. southern border with Mexico and accused McCaskill of being part of an effort to “throw open our borders.”

McCaskill said a wall cannot be built on parts of the border and said other technological procedures can be used to provide border security.

Hawley said he backs Trump’s approach on immigration as part of a broader effort to provide national security. McCaskill said she supports efforts to provide protections for young adults known as “Dreamers’’ who were brought into the country illegally as children and now have spent most of their lives in the United States.

Income Taxes

Hawley repeated his call for McCaskill to release her husband’s tax returns in order to look at the $131 million in federal subsidies that his business projects have received during her 12 years in Congress.

The senator’s husband, Joe Shepard, is a wealthy businessman who has invested in hundreds of projects, including nursing homes and low-income housing.

McCaskill pointed to various watchdog groups that have affirmed that most of the $131 million goes to the projects, not to Shepard. She called Hawley’s attack “a red herring.”

In turn, she attacked Hawley for declining to call for Trump to release his tax returns.

On Wednesday, Hawley released roughly 60 pages of his family’s 2017 tax return, while McCaskill released a two-page summary of her individual tax return. McCaskill and her husband have filed separate returns since they married in 2002.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.