Interview with Senator Claire McCaskill

Interview with Senator Claire McCaskill

By The Situation Room - November 4, 2010

BLITZER: And joining us now, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. She's joining us from Saint Louis.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: I want to play two little clips. This is what I said exactly two years ago, two years ago today, the night that President Obama was elected president, followed by what I said the other night two years later. Listen to these two clips.


BLITZER: And CNN can now project that Barack Obama, 47 years old, will become the president-elect of the United States.

CNN is now ready to make a major projection that the Republicans will take control of the House of Representatives.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Wow, what a difference two years makes, Senator McCaskill. How did that happen? What did the president and his fellow Democrats do wrong, and the single most important thing that allowed that dramatic change?

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: Well, I think a couple of things, Wolf. One is a very, very difficult economic climate. And people are very impatient and, frankly, disillusioned with the party in power whenever there are economic hard times. I think that has something to do with it.

And also, a drop in enthusiasm on our side of the equation. If you look in Missouri on Tuesday, we had a million fewer people vote this Tuesday compared to two years ago. We had less people vote in this election than we've seen in a midterm election in a decade.

BLITZER: Well, also, who's going to...

MCCASKILL: So, clearly a lot of folks have not shown up.

BLITZER: Well, why couldn't the president and your fellow Democrats get those people out and vote? Why were they so unenthusiastic about voting for the Democrats?

MCCASKILL: I think that the expectations were very high. And people were disappointed, because they expected so much. The president inherited a much bigger mess than was anticipated during the months when he was campaigning. We had to do emergency things because of the big economic crisis, and people didn't really feel the crisis until after we'd already done them. So it was like, "Hey, you may have done stuff, but it hasn't helped me." It felt like, to too many people...

BLITZER: But you know...

MCCASKILL: .... that we were helping all the big guys and not helping the little guys.

BLITZER: Some Democrats, like Evan Bayh, for example, retiring senator from Indiana, said, "You know what? The president -- sure, health-care reform is important, but jobs, jobs, jobs, that's what the American people wanted, and he spent a year on health-care reform when he could have been devoting that energy to creating jobs.

MCCASKILL: Well, I don't think there's any question that the fact that the recovery has been slow and difficult has been a huge problem for the president. And the communication should have been better, and maybe the timing of things wasn't perfect.

But at the end of the day, health-care costs is a huge factor in how competitive we are in terms of the world market. It's a huge factor on whether or not somebody can hire someone else or whether they can provide health-care benefits. So I get what Evan is saying, and I do think that we had a communication problem, but I think it was a combination of factors that led a whole lot of people to decide, you know, I don't want anything to do with any of them. I'm not going to vote this time.

BLITZER: But the president is such a great communicator. He got himself elected president of the United States in part because of his communications skills, so maybe it's beyond communications and maybe there -- there's an element there that the American people simply didn't like. And you remember some of those town-hall meetings you had in Missouri on health-care reform, and you got -- you got hammered a little bit.

MCCASKILL: Well, you know, there's no question that people are frustrated and there's a lot of negativity. And the negative message is always, and the message for, you know, like "throw the bums out" is always a message that resonates especially in difficult economic times.

So I'm not quarrelling that there is frustration and anger and cynicism out there. The president is very inspirational. At the same time, when he got to Washington, he had to roll up his sleeves and wade into some really -- a political swamp.

BLITZER: All right.

MCCASKILL: And I'm not sure that he was ready for that kind of mano a mano combat.

BLITZER: Your fellow Democrat, Robert Carnahan, lost to Roy Blunt, a conservative Republican in Missouri. She lost by a considerable number of votes. What are you going to have to do? You're going to have to pivot, I suspect, in Missouri if you want to get re-elected in 2012. Are you hoping, for example, that the Republicans nominate a Tea Party supporter to challenge you?

MCCASKILL: You know, the nice thing is that I don't have to pivot. I have been very independent from day I arrived in Washington. I think I'm the last Democrat left in the Senate after Russ Feingold was defeated that won't take earmarks. I co-sponsored the spending cap with Senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama to try to bring down spending in Washington.

I voted against my party with some frequency, because of my independence. I've just got to remind Missourians that I am independent and that I try to call them like I see them, and sometimes my party is wrong on some things.

BLITZER: But you're widely associated as one of President Obama's best supporters and best friends.

MCCASKILL: Well, you know, it's one thing, I mean -- I admire the president. I'm proud of what he has accomplished as an American. I was honored to campaign with him, but he knew -- in fact, in the conversation that we had when I decided to support him.

He said, "I know that this door swings both ways, Claire, and you'll tell me when I'm wrong," and I will do that, and I'll continue to do that when it's necessary.

BLITZER: OK. We're out of time, but give me one example where you said no to the president?

MCCASKILL: I said no to the president on the omnibus spending bill. I said no to the president on cap and trade. I said no to the president on a number of appropriations bills.

BLITZER: Claire McCaskill is the Democratic senator from Missouri. She hopes to be the Democratic senator for Missouri after 2012, as well.

We appreciate your coming in, Senator.

MCCASKILL: Thank you very much.


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