Democratic U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill held five Town Hall gatherings Wednesday across the state. They were all in mid-Missouri towns that are part of safe Republican congressional districts.
265 people packed into a McCaskill event in Ashland, where topics ranged from prescription drug monitoring to health care. The crowd was spirited, but not hostile.
McCaskill has a reputation for not shying away from unfriendly groups of constituents. She is seeking another term next year in what is expected to be a hotly contested race.
All of McCaskill’s Missouri congressional colleagues in the House of Representatives, including six Republicans, are also up for reelection. During five days of what the chamber’s website refers to as “District work periods”, none of the GOP Representatives have hosted a Town Hall.
Columbia College Political Science Professor Terry Smith thinks the Republican lawmakers are playing it safe after similar gatherings in other states grew contentious over health care legislation in Congress.
“They figure that taking a chance by not stepping into the ring like this, and having You Tube videos of people going crazy in these meetings like has happened in other states, that’s a better play for them” said Smith.
Two of them, 3rd District Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer and 4th District Representative Vicky Hartzler, have adopted the practice of conducting “tele” or “virtual” Town Halls. But even that video technology was not utilized by any of the Missouri U.S. House members during the past week.
Republicans in Congress have voted scores of times to repeal the Affordable Care Act since it became law seven years ago under then Democratic President Barak Obama. Many of them, including in Missouri, have campaigned on a platform that included repeal, and more recently, replacement of the measure, which is also known as Obamacare.
But since Republican Donald Trump was elected President, efforts by GOP majorities in Congress to draw up a replacement plan have proven to be problematic. A bill passed by the House, along with legislation being considered in the Senate, have largely been rejected by the public. Both measures have received approval ratings in the teens.
Smith says Republicans are getting hammered over health care at Town Hall’s from two different sets of voters. “They’re getting it from the people who are against what the Republicans are trying to do with repeal and replace. And then they’re getting it from the other side, the people who are saying ‘We sent you to Congress to get this business done, and you’re not doing it’.”
Missouri’s Republican Senator Roy Blunt, like the six GOP House members, has not held any Town Hall’s during the break. He took part in a July 4th parade in southwest Missouri’s Marshfield, but has not been seen since.
50 people took part in a protest at his Springfield office Wednesday. In a display of opposition to his support for the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, they simulated death by lying down on the ground.
Professor Smith notes the current political climate has been toxic and divisive, especially in public. He says a recent graduate from his school is working for one of the Missouri Congress members, and has been given special instructions.
“One of the things that she does is represent the congressman at these kinds of meetings. She has been basically directed to get self defense training.” Smith declined to identify which Congress member the graduate works for.
He doesn’t think Missouri’s Republican U.S. House members, who are all safe GOP districts, will be punished by voters for declining to host town halls.
Missouri Republican Party Executive Director Austin Stukins attended Democrat MaCaskill’s Town Hall Wednesday in mid-Missouri’s Ashland. When asked by the Columbia Tribune why Republicans have not held town halls during the congressional break, he told the newspaper that he wasn’t responsible for how the lawmakers did their jobs. Stukins later told Missourinet he’s not authorized to speak on behalf of the congressional members.
Smith says McCaskill has no fear of hostile treatment at public events, pointing out that she’d bravely handled one in Columbia that he’d attended. “I think that’s one of the reasons why she’s vulnerable, but certainly competitive in the election in 2018” said Smith.
McCaskill is hosting ten public town halls next week in Audrain County, Boone County, Macon County, Miller County, Moniteau County, Monroe County, Morgan County, and Randolph County.