Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill had sharp words for her colleagues during her final prepared speech in the chamber’s floor Thursday.
The two-term office holder in the upper chamber of Congress is leaving her post in January after losing a bitter contest for reelection to Missouri’s Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley.
During her roughly 10-minute address, McCaskill spoke about what she called her three families – her actual family, her family of Missourians and her family of fellow Senators.
McCaskill was very direct in telling her colleagues that she’s worried about the Senate, calling it dysfunctional while quoting a British writer. “Peter Morgan, an author said no family is complete without an embarrassing uncle,” said McCaskill. “We have too many embarrassing uncles in the United States Senate.”
Without naming names or party affiliation, but likely referring the chamber’s operation under Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, she said the Senate had become secretive and closed off with a few Senators writing bills behind closed doors and then refusing to allow debate or amendments on the legislation. She claimed that “giant omnibus bills” of which Senators know few details are instead being presented to powerful lobbyists before being voted on.
McCaskill contended that power in the Senate had become dangerously centralized, noting that during her first year in the chamber in 2007, the Senate voted on 306 amendments compared to 36 as this year’s session is ending.
She claimed the chamber is run by a few Senators who write all the bills and make all the decisions and said the body needs to let its member engage in more debate and allow for more power to flow through committees.
McCaskill said the Senate is functioning in a similar fashion to the House and no longer stands on higher ground. “The United States Senate is 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 mentioned President Trump’s previous career while claiming his election was the result of public frustration with a dysfunctional Congress. “Something is broken, McCaskill said. “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.”
Six other Senators, including her fellow Missourian, Republican Roy Blunt, paid tribute to McCaskill on the chamber’s floor after she finished.
Blunt said his staff and McCaskill’s staff had worked closely on citizen and Missouri concerns. He noted that their families had gotten to know each other and mentioned he attended a memorial service for her mother during McCaskill’s reelection campaign and that McCaskill was at a service after his father passed away during his reelection campaign. Blunt said he and McCaskill had been friends for 30 years, but become especially good friends in the past eight years serving together in the Senate.
Fellow Democrat Diane Feinstein of California said she expects to hear political commentary from McCaskill through the media. “I expect to turn on my television set, turn on my radio and hear you many, many times, and take a lot of good advice,” said Feinstein.
Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said she admired McCaskill for working in a bipartisan way. “Senator McCaskill has demonstrated her belief that no party holds a monopoly on good ideas,” said Collins. “It has been such a pleasure to work with her across the aisle on so many issues.”
Democratic Senators John Tester of Montana, Bill Nelson of Florida and Dick Durbin of neighboring Illinois also took to the chamber floor to speak highly of McCaskill. Nelson, like the outgoing Missourian, lost his bid for reelection in November.
While speaking about her actual family, McCaskill choked up when she mentioned her siblings and remembered her mother’s motivating phrase when trying to get the kids corralled to take a trip – “last one in the car is a Republican”. She also defended her husband, Joseph Shepard, a wealthy businessman who was criticized for receiving government subsidies for his housing investments during her campaign. She said Joseph had a good heart which directed him to “do good” while “he did well.”
When focusing on her Missouri family, McCaskill stated that she loved every corner of the state, even areas that she said, “aren’t very crazy about me.”
She also paid tribute to her Senate staff and recited her office’s motto, “If you work hard you can do well, but if you’re having fun you’ll do great.” She said working with her staff was “heaven.”