Hawley, McCaskill face off in U.S. Senate debate

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ST. LOUIS - Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill and Republican opponent Josh Hawley were sometimes heated and often derisive as they faced each other in their last debate on Thursday night in St. Louis.

Topics included tariffs and how they are affecting Missouri farmers; efforts to repeal the Affordable Care act and what that would mean for people with pre-existing conditions; and President Trump's proposed border wall.

The first question went to Hawley, and focused on the budget deficit and Republican claims that programs like Medicare and Social Security are increasing the debt and should be cut back.

Hawley said he does not support any changes.

“I think it is vital we protect those programs that Americans have paid into with their hard-earned cash,” he said.

Hawley said the U.S. needs to get its spending under control, and he would start with the Affordable Care Act, which he frequently called "Obamacare" throughout the night. 

"It's been a give away to insurance companies," he said.

McCaskill responded by saying the country needs to fix the problems with the Affordable Care Act, not throw it out.

McCaskill used the opportunity to bring up Hawley's efforts to overturn the ACA. As Attorney General, he is among 20 GOP state attorneys general who have filed a lawsuit to end the health care law.

The issue came up again a short time later when a debate panelist asked Hawley about that lawsuit and his stance on coverage of pre-existing conditions.

He said there are ways besides the ACA to require insurance companies to provide such coverage.

"Obamacare was written to hold hostage people with pre-existing conditions," Hawley said. "They shouldn't be forced to pay the prices they are paying now."

McCaskill said the problem with the lawsuit is that it would kill the requirement to cover people with pre-existing conditions before there are any other protections in place.

"He has no plan," she said.

Another question focused on trade with China.

McCaskill derided the president's tariffs, saying they have "killed commodity prices."

"There's not a bean farmer in the state of Missouri that's going to come out even this year," she said.

Hawley said Trump's actions were correct because the U.S. is in a trade war, and China started it.

"If we're going to be in a war, we need to be in it to win it," he said.

Hawley noted McCaskill has been given an "F rating" by the American Farm Bureau. He said Missouri needs somebody standing up for farmers in Washington, but she isn't that person.

One area the candidates expressed some agreement on was border security.

McCaskill pointed out border patrol agents have endorsed her, not Hawley.

"I’m not going to give up until we have comprehensive immigration reform that includes stronger border security," she said.

Hawley said it's time to get the border wall built and stop making excuses. He said while the country has been waiting, people have been bringing in gangs, drugs and violence and pushing down wages.

The debate took a turn to international relations when the candidates were asked about the disappearance of a journalist last seen at a Saudi consulate in Turkey. There are allegations the Saudi crown prince was involved in torturing and killing the man. Saudi Arabia is a key U.S. ally and the question is, how should the president proceed?

McCaskill said, if the prince of Saudi Arabia was involved in the “brutal murder,” it needs to be addressed.

She said the U.S. cannot “abandon our place on the top of the hill” and then look away because it might have financial consequences.

"I hope that we are not going to allow the Saudi government to whitewash this,” she said.

In his response, Hawley said he thinks the U.S. needs the facts first.

If indeed the Saudi government was involved in any way, he said, "everything needs to be on the table."

"For too long we had a policy of weakness and appeasement abroad and I don’t think we should go back to that," he said.

In their closing statements, Hawley and McCaskill each made a short pitch for why they should be the one representing Missouri in Washington.

McCaskill painted herself as someone who can reach across the aisle to find bipartisan solutions.

"I will work with anyone at any time. I will roll up my sleeves and be independent and work hard any way I know how," she said.

McCaskill said voters need to choose a candidate who can focus on more than criticizing their opponent.

Hawley said he respect's McCaskill's years of service, but "it's not working anymore."

“It’s time we have someone in Washington who isn’t part of the old battles,” he said.

You can watch the complete debate on KOMU 8's Facebook page.