I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, October 19, 2018. 18 days until Election Day 2018. 746 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WUTP Reports: McCaskill, Hawley square off in live Senate debate
ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill and her Republican challenger, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, faced off on Thursday in the only live televised debate of their hotly-contested race, expected to be one of the closest Senate elections in the country.
The hourlong debate touched on a number of issues that have dominated the race, especially health care. Both candidates claimed to be the one in favor of protecting pre-existing conditions. Hawley criticized McCaskill for her support of Obamacare, saying the legislation has held people with pre-existing conditions "hostage" and calling for it to be "repealed and replaced."
McCaskill pushed back, pointing to Hawley's lawsuit against Obamacare, which provides protections for pre-existing conditions. "If he believes that we should protect pre-existing conditions, he should ask tomorrow for the case to be dismissed," she said, adding that she supported fixes to Obamacare but Hawley "has no plan that will work."
Asked about the deficit, Hawley said that he did not support entitlement reform, as proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier this week. "I do not support cutting Social Security or Medicare," he said, promising to oppose "any changes to those programs." But he also didn't pin any blame on the Republican tax cuts, which he skewered McCaskill for opposing. She pointed to the legislation as a reason for the ballooning deficit. “The Republican Party loves to talk about debt and deficits until they are in charge," the incumbent said. "Then it’s crickets."
Hawley repeatedly criticized McCaskill for being a "party-line liberal," accusing her of failing to "represent the people of Missouri" and refusing to "accept what they said in 2016," when the state voted for President Donald Trump by double-digits. If elected, "I will support what the people of my state support," he promised. McCaskill responded that she had been an independent voice in the Senate who had agreed and disagreed with President Trump, while claiming that Hawley was afraid to stand up to the president.
The candidates took questions from PBS NewsHour's Judy Woodruff, the moderator, as well as two local journalists who served as panelists and Missouri voters from the 130-person studio audience. One voter asked about gun control; both candidates said that they supported enhanced background checks and protecting Second Amendment rights. They were also questioned about President Trump's tariffs and the retaliatory moves by China, which McCaskill called "brutal" for Missouri farmers. Hawley declined to distance himself from the president, saying: "We are in a trade war and I'm for winning it."
Another voter asked the candidates if they supported the president's proposed Mexican border wall. "Yes," Hawley responded, saying a "complicated" answer wasn't necessary. McCaskill said that a wall was needed "in some places" along the border but that other measures to boost border security would be more effective.
The debate was mostly polite, with both candidates praising their opponent's service and emphasizing that their disagreements weren't personal. However, there were some fireworks at times: at one point, McCaskill apologized for retweeting a blog post that Hawley said mocked his son, who has a pre-existing condition. “I’m not running my campaign on attacking somebody’s family,” she insisted. “Somebody is, but it’s not me," likely a reference to her rival's ads about federal subsidies received by her husband.
--- Inside the Spin Room: Attorney General Hawley took questions from reporters in the "spin room" following the debate. He spent much of the debate lambasting McCaskill for toeing to her party line, while she claimed that he was afraid to stand up to the president, so I asked him if he could point to any issues on which he disagreed with President Trump or the Republican Party leadership. "My sense is going to be, what is good for the people of this state, and if it is good for the people of this state, I am going to be for it," he responded. "They voted for this president by 20 points. They support his policies and so do I. I am not afraid to stand up to anybody when it's in the interest of the people of Missouri."
He said that McCaskill had been "against the president every time it matters," pointing to judicial nominations, tax reform, and health care as examples. When pressed to name any specific issues that he didn't agree with Trump on, Hawley didn't point to any. "I think right now, he's doing a great job for the people of this state," he said.
McCaskill did not make a stop in the "spin room," leaving the studio immediately after the debate.
Khashoggi: In an interview with the New York Times on Thursday, President Donald Trump seemed to shift his tone on journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying that he does believe Khashoggi has been killed and expressing confidence in intelligence reports that suggest Saudi Arabia played a role. "Unless the miracle of all miracles happens, I would acknowledge that he’s dead," he said. "That’s based on everything — intelligence coming from every side."
Although he stopped short of blaming Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, one of his closest foreign allies, he did acknowledge allegations that the prince ordered the killing. According to the Times, Trump has begun to distance himself from Prince Mohammed in talks with other foreign leaders, "saying he barely knows him" and playing down his son-in-law Jared Kusner's ties with the crown prince.
--- According to the Washington Post, a "cadre" of House Republicans and conservative commentators have sought to protect President Trump from criticism of his handling of the Khashoggi controversy in recent days by "mounting a whispering campaign" against the slain journalist.
The Trump Administration: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's use of government vehicles to travel with his wife violated department policies, the agency's inspector general said in a report on Thursday. Zinke is the latest Trump administration official to face controversy for their travel practices. The report also came after HUD Secretary Ben Carson announced earlier this week that a political appointee in his department had been hired to lead the Interior Department inspector general's office, which an Interior spokesperson labeled "100 percent false information."
--- White House chief of staff John Kelly and national security adviser John Bolton got into a profane shouting match over immigration and border crossings outside the Oval Office on Thursday, Bloomberg and other outlets reported. President Trump was reportedly aware of the argument, although he later told reporters that he was not.
Quote of the Day: "Any kind of a guy that can do a body slam, that's my kind of guy." — President Trump on Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT), who was sentenced to 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management last year after assaulting a reporter from The Guardian.
White House schedule
POTUS: President Trump is in Arizona today. At 1:20pm, he participates in a roundtable with supporters in Scottsdale. At 2pm, he speaks at a joint fundraising committee luncheon. At 2:40pm, he signs a Presidential Memorandum.
At 6:50pm, the president participates in a Defense Capability Tour at Luke Air Force Base outside of Glendale, Arizona. At 7:15pm, he participates in a Defense Roundtable at the base.
At 6:30pm, Trump speaks at a Make America Great Again rally in Mesa, Arizona, to boost Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) who is vying against Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) for the state's open Senate seat.
VP: Vice President Mike Pence travels to Kansas and Iowa. At 12:40pm, he speaks at an event for Kansas Republican congressional candidate Steve Watkins in Topeka. At 3:45pm, he speaks at an event for Rep. David Young (R-IA) in Des Moines. At 4:30pm, Pence participates in a Republican Governor's Association event with Gov. Kim Reynolds (R-IA). At 5:05pm, he speaks at a reception for Gov. Reynolds' campaign.
Both houses of Congress are on recess.
*All times Eastern*