MCCASKILL, Claire

Image courtesy of the Member
1953–

Biography

In 2006 Claire McCaskill defeated an incumbent United States Senator to start the first of her two terms in Washington. McCaskill had grown up in a political family, and public service def ined her adult life: first as a state lawmaker, then as a prosecutor, and finally as Missouri state auditor before winning election to the Senate. McCaskill’s blunt persona and sense of humor won the respect of both voters and colleagues; at other times, however, she encountered sexism on the campaign trail and in halls of government. In the Senate, McCaskill championed governmental accountability. She was a watchdog for taxpayers concerned about public spending and a keen investigator who exposed shortcomings in public institutions. “I think I am happiest when while I am both independent and trying to get people to agree on stuff,” McCaskill said in 2018.1

Claire Connor McCaskill was born on July 24, 1953, in Rolla, Missouri, to William Y. and Betty Anne Ward McCaskill. Her father was an insurance agent active in local politics, who became state insurance commissioner.2 Her mother raised their four children and was also active in local politics. In 1971 Betty McCaskill became the first woman elected to the Columbia City council, and she later lost a run for the state legislature in 1978.3 McCaskill attended Hickman High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri in Columbia in 1975, and a law degree there in in 1978.4 After clerking for the state court of appeals, she became an assistant prosecutor for Jackson County, which includes Kansas City.5 She married David Exposito in 1984, and they had three children: a son and two daughters. The marriage ended in divorce in 1995. McCaskill later married businessman Joseph Shepard in 2002.6

In 1982, at age 29, McCaskill won an open seat in the state legislature and served for six years. It was a trying experience: male lawmakers in the statehouse alternately shunned and sexually harassed her.7 After an unsuccessful bid for Jackson County prosecutor in 1988, she practiced law for two years before winning a seat in the Jackson County legislature. In 1992 McCaskill ran for Jackson County prosecutor again and won. After six years as prosecutor, Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan recruited her to run for state auditor—the state’s major public investigative office.8 She won election in 1998 and served as auditor for eight years.9 In 2004 McCaskill ran for governor of Missouri. She defeated the incumbent, Bob Holden, in the Democratic primary but lost to Republican Matt Blunt in the general election.10

A year later, McCaskill, after being recruited by party leaders, announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican James Matthes Talent. McCaskill launched her campaign in the small southern Missouri town of Houston where she had spent time growing up and promised to prioritize “good old-fashioned Missouri common sense.”11 The 2006 midterm elections saw Democrats across the country run with a tailwind: many voters had grown frustrated with how the George W. Bush administration handled the wars in the Middle East, among other policies.12 McCaskill worked to tie Talent to the Bush White House, and she campaigned in a RV throughout rural Missouri. “There’s a real sense the government has become more and more about the powerful and the wealthy,” she said in October 2006. McCaskill called on the government to help the middle class; she proposed tax breaks for homebuyers, and families paying for college and childcare.13 On Election Day, McCaskill beat Talent with 50 percent of the vote.14

In the Senate, McCaskill’s new colleagues found her direct and funny. She was quick to work across the aisle and every December she hosted a bipartisan dinner that included a secret book exchange for the Senators first elected in 2006—a group that ranged from Vermont Independent Bernard Sanders to Tennessee Republican Robert (Bob) Corker.15 “My mandate,” she said during her first term, “is to be independent.”16 “If you want to pick somebody to work in a bipartisan manner and get something done,” Senator Charles Patrick (Pat) Roberts of Kansas once said, “you ask Claire McCaskill.”17

McCaskill served on several committees during her time in the Senate. She sat on the Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs for her entire tenure. She served on two other committees for all but her last Congress: Commerce, Science, and Transportation; and the Special Committee on Aging.18 In the 110th Congress (2007–2009) she also served on Indian Affairs, and in the 115th Congress (2017–2019) she had a seat on the Finance Committee.19

In large measure, her committee assignments reflected the oversight skills she developed as state auditor. “There’s not a much better place for a policy wonk than the U.S. Senate,” McCaskill said in 2012. “I can get into the weeds on tech policy, to the Federal Aviation Administration, to land-based missile systems, and that’s all before noon.”20 In the 111th and 112th Congresses (2009–2013) she chaired the Ad Hoc Contracting Oversight Subcommittee of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which became the Financial and Contracting Oversight Subcommittee during the 113th Congress (2013–2015). She also chaired Armed Services’s Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee during the 112th Congress (2011–2013), and the Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance Subcommittee of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee in the 113th Congress.

In fact, McCaskill’s experience as an auditor led to one of her earliest legislative victories. In 2009 she offered legislation to help the Special Inspector General overseeing the Troubled Asset Relief Program—which Congress passed to help shore up the banking industry during the mortgage crisis—hire more investigators to better audit the many programs created under that sweeping bailout. Her bill became law in April 2009.21

McCaskill also used her experience as state auditor from her seat on the Armed Services Committee to investigate the Defense Department’s use of private contractors. McCaskill discovered regular cost overruns and little evidence of departmental supervision—problems that dated to the military intervention in Bosnia in the 1990s, she learned. As chair of the new Contracting Oversight Subcommittee, McCaskill brought inspectors general to testify how the Defense Department managed its nonmilitary personnel overseas. As a result, in 2012, she introduced the Comprehensive Contingency Contracting Reform Act that required contractors and subcontractors to provide more information on their operations, penalized cost overruns, and established an inspector general for each overseas combat deployment.22

Hoping to further improve government accountability, McCaskill introduced a bill to improve whistleblower protections for defense subcontractors in 2016. While direct federal contractors had whistleblower safeguards, many of the subcontractors they hired did not. McCaskill’s legislation gave subcontractors the same measure of protection against retaliation that federal employees and direct contractors enjoyed. President Barack Obama signed her bill into law in December 2016.23

McCaskill’s push for governmental transparency also extended to Arlington National Cemetery. In the summer of 2010, following reports that the cemetery had failed to properly track burial locations, McCaskill’s Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight subpoenaed cemetery officials to testify about what the Washington Post called “hundreds of unmarked and mismarked graves.”24 A few months later, in September 2010, McCaskill introduced a bill requiring officials at Arlington National Cemetery to account for each gravesite and report to various congressional committees about its findings. Her bill became law in December 2010.25

McCaskill took aim at government spending, as well, specifically the common use of earmarks—the practice in which Members of Congress used to direct appropriated funds toward favored projects. Because earmarks flourished behind the scenes, McCaskill created an online database that tracked them; it recorded which Senator sponsored the earmark, what project it funded, where the project was located, and who else stood to benefit. In 2008, McCaskill joined Republican Senator John Sidney McCain III of Arizona to sponsor an amendment that required all earmarks in the defense authorization bill to be identified. McCaskill later teamed with other Republican Senators, including Thomas Allen Coburn of Oklahoma and Patrick Joseph Toomey of Pennsylvania, to ban earmarks outright. Amid debate on the Defense Department appropriations act for the 2013 fiscal year, McCaskill added a provision that required federal agencies to demonstrate how the specific funding would be used while also enhancing the authority of inspectors general.26

In 2011 McCaskill was criticized after an investigation revealed that the U.S. Treasury had reimbursed her and her husband for travel they had taken on their private plane. McCaskill acknowledged the reimbursements and paid back taxes on the plane, but the Missouri Republican Party filed a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee. “As an auditor, I know I should have checked for myself,” she said. “I take full responsibility for the mistake.” The Ethics Committee eventually dismissed the case.27

In 2012 McCaskill defeated Republican Congressman W. Todd Akin to win a second term in the Senate. Following universally condemned comments about rape and abortion during an interview with a local news station, Akin lost support.28 On Election Day, McCaskill won with 55 percent of the vote.29

During McCaskill’s second term in the Senate, allegations of sexual misconduct and assault in the military dominated the headlines. From her seat on the Armed Services Committee, McCaskill partnered with Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York to reform the Uniform Code of Military Justice to change how sexual assault cases were handled. Their proposal provided victims with legal counsel, lifted the statute of limitation on rape, provided criminal penalties for retaliating against those reporting sexual assaults, and limited a base commander’s authority to review the military court’s verdict.30 Although McCaskill and Gillbrand disagreed on whether a base commander should have authority over prosecution decisions, McCaskill worked to build bipartisan support for the measure, earning the backing of Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan, the chairman of Armed Services, and New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte.31 The Senate approved her bill in March 2014.32

McCaskill and Gillibrand quickly expanded their investigation into the military to include colleges and universities. In 2014 they conducted a national survey into how institutions of higher learning handled sexual assault cases.33 In a report published that July, their findings showed that 20 percent of women reported being sexually assaulted on campus; more than 20 percent of sexual-assault investigations involving student athletes were overseen by the athletic department; more than 40 percent of the institutions surveyed reported that no sexual assault cases had occurred in the past five years; and that 30 percent of campus police departments had no special training on sexual-assault investigations. Armed with these statistics, McCaskill introduced the Campus Accountability and Safety Act on July 30, 2014. Her bill amended the Higher Education Act of 1965 to require schools to report cases of sexual assault and to create resources and security protocols to prevent sexual assaults on campus. A Judiciary subcommittee held hearings, but the proposal stalled. McCaskill introduced the bill again early in the next Congress.34

In mid-February 2016 McCaskill announced that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. “It’s a little scary, but my prognosis is good,” she said, “and I expect a full recovery.” She underwent three weeks of treatment in St. Louis and was discharged with a “very good” prognosis.35

Since the 1970s Missouri had been something of a swing state as Democrats and Republicans often traded the state’s highest offices. But things began to shift during McCaskill’s career. In 2016 Republican Donald J. Trump carried Missouri over Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton by 19 points in the presidential election, and many Democrats had been swept out of office at the state and local levels. McCaskill had long made it a point to reach across the aisle—she worked with Republicans to combat sex trafficking and lower the price of hearing aids and other generic drugs—but she nevertheless faced strong headwinds going into her 2018 re-election against Missouri’s Republican attorney general Joshua David Hawley.36

McCaskill campaigned on her record in the Senate, but the President remained popular in Missouri and she had voted against both of Trump’s nominees to the Supreme Court. On Election Day, she lost to Hawley with 46 percent of the vote.37 Early in 2019, McCaskill became a political analyst for a cable news network.38

Footnotes

1Chuck Raasch, “The Raging Centrist Ambitions of Claire McCaskill,” 12 August 2018, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: A1.

2Claire McCaskill with Terry Ganey, Plenty Ladylike (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015): 20, 26–27, 28–30; Almanac of American Politics, 2018 (Arlington, VA: Columbia Books & Information Services, 2017): 1084; Politics in America, 2014 (Washington, DC: CQ-Roll Call, Inc., 2013): 560.

3McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike: 19–20, 28, 31; Almanac of American Politics, 2018: 1083–1084; Politics in America, 2014: 560–561; Rudi Keller, “Sen. Claire McCaskill’s Mother, Betty Anne, Dies,” 30 October 2012, Columbia Daily Tribune (MO): n.p.

4Almanac of American Politics, 2018: 1083; Politics in America, 2014: 192, 560.

5Almanac of American Politics, 2018: 1083; Politics in America, 2014: 560.

6McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike: 49–50, 60, 71, 90.

7McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike: 34; Steve Kraske, “In Her New Book, Sen. Claire McCaskill Tells of a Woman’s Career in the Man’s World of Politics,” 6 August 2015, Kansas City Star: n.p.

8McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike: 74–75.

9McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike: 76–79.

10McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike: 93–108; Almanac of American Politics, 2018: 1084; Politics in America, 2014: 560.

11Steve Kraske, “McCaskill Touts Rural Theme,” 31 August 2005, Kansas City Star: B1.

12McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike: 113–114.

13Virginia Young, “A Campaign of Contrasts for Missouri: Challenger Is Known for Her Zest and Her Freewheeling Style,” 1 October 2006, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: B1; McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike: 115.

14Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

15Eli Yokley, “Claire McCaskill’s Book Party a Holiday Tradition for Group of Senators,” 2 December 2015, Roll Call, https://www.rollcall. com/2015/12/02/claire-mccaskills-book-party-a-holiday-tradition-for-group-of-senators/.

16Mike Hendricks, “Incumbent Sen. McCaskill ‘Makes Her Own Luck,’” 20 October 2012, Kansas City Star: n.p.

17Chuck Raasch, “Is Claire McCaskill Really The Centrist She Claims To Be?,” 25 February 2018, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: A1.

18McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike: 132.

19Various editions of the Congressional Directory, 110th–115th Congresses (Washington, DC: Government Publishing Office).

20Hendricks, “Incumbent Sen. McCaskill ‘Makes Her Own Luck.’”

21House Committee on Financial Services, Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program Act of 2009, 111th Cong., 1st sess., H. Rept. 41, part 1 (2009): 2; Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program Act of 2009, PL 111-15, 123 Stat. 1603 (2009).

22Comprehensive Contingency Contracting Reform Act, S. 2139, 112th Cong. (2012); McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike: 146, 153–154; Bill Lambrecht, “Missouri Senator Tackles Fraud,” 22 April 2009, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: A1; Politics in America, 2014: 560.

23A bill to enhance whistleblower protection for contractor and grantee employees, PL 114-261, 130 Stat. 362 (2016); Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, To Enhance Whistleblower Protection for Contractor and Grantee Employees, 114th Cong., 2nd sess., S. Rept. 270 (2016): 2.

24Aaron C. Davis, “Arlington Cemetery Officials Subpoenaed,” 27 July 2010, Washington Post, https://voices.washingtonpost.com/local-breaking-news/arlington-national-cemetery-of.html; Marian Wang, “Memo: Arlington Cemetery Plagued By Waste and Mismanagement,” 28 July 2010, ProPublica, https://www.propublica.org/article/memo-arlington-cemetery-plagued-by-waste-and-mismanagement.

25A bill to require reports on the management of Arlington National Cemetery, S. 3860, 111th Cong. (2010); A bill to require reports on the management of Arlington National Cemetery, PL 111-339, 124 Stat. 3591 (2010).

26McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike: 130, 135–137; Almanac of American Politics, 2018: 1084–1085; Politics in America, 2014: 561.

27Linda Feldmann, “Claire McCaskill: Will Flap Over Her Plane Ground Democrat’s Career?,” 24 March 2011, Christian Science Monitor: n.p.; Kim Strassel, “Airplane for Sale,” 24 March 2011, Wall Street Journal: n.p.; Almanac of American Politics, 2018: 1085; Scott Wong, “McCaskill Sells ‘Damn Plane,’” 25 October 2011, Politico, https://www.politico.com/story/2011/10/mccaskill-sells-damn-plane-066863.

28McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike: 169–171; David Catanese, “Claire McCaskill’s Last Stand,” 6 August 2012, Politico, https://www.politico.com/story/2012/08/claire-mccaskills-last-stand-079411; Christopher Ave, “For Claire McCaskill, No Apologies Necessary,” 9 August 2015, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: D1; Linda Feldmann, “Why Claire McCaskill Wants Todd Akin To Stay In Missouri Race,” 21 August 2012, Christian Science Monitor, https://www.csmonitor. com/USA/Politics/2012/0821/Why-Claire-McCaskill-wants-Todd-Akin-to-stay-in-Missouri-race; Almanac of American Politics, 2018: 1085.

29McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike: 177–194; Feldmann, “Why Claire McCaskill Wants Todd Akin To Stay In Missouri Race”; John Eligon, “McCaskill Spends Heavily to Ward Off Akin Threat,” 15 October 2012, New York Times, https://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/15/mccaskill-spends-heavily-to-ward-off-akin-threat/; Kevin McDermott, “Akin Narrows Gap,” 28 October 2012, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: A1; Gail Russell Chaddock, “Claire McCaskill: ‘Most Endangered Democrat’ Wins Missouri Senate Race,” 7 November 2012, Christian Science Monitor, https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Elections/ Senate/2012/1107/Claire-McCaskill-most-endangered-Democrat-wins-Missouri-Senate-race; Almanac of American Politics, 2018: 1084–1085; Politics in America, 2014: 560; “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

30McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike: 209–210; Nicholas Lemann, “Claire McCaskill’s Toughest Fight,” 22 October 2018, New Yorker, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/10/29/claire-mccaskills-toughest-fight.

31McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike: 210–213; Almanac of American Politics, 2018: 1085–1086.

32McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike: 214; Almanac of American Politics, 2018: 1086; Olivia Nuzzi, “The Sexual Assault Case that Haunts Claire McCaskill,” 24 May 2014, The Daily Beast, https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-sexual-assault-case-that-haunts-claire-mccaskill; Jonathan Shorman, “Claire McCaskill’s New Fight,” 19 March 2014, Springfield News Leader (MO): A8; Kristina Peterson, “Military Sexual-Assault Bill Easily Passes the Senate,” 10 March 2014, Wall Street Journal: n.p.

33Shorman, “Claire McCaskill’s New Fight.”

34Campus Accountability and Safety Act, S. 2692, 113th Cong. (2014); Campus Accountability and Safety Act, S. 590, 114th Cong. (2015); Caitlin Emma, “McCaskill: Colleges Fail on Assaults,” 9 July 2014, Politico, https://www.politico.com/story/2014/07/09/claire-mccaskill-college-sexual-assaults-108728; Dimity McDowell Davis, “2015 IMPACT25 Influencers: Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill,” 29 November 2015, ESPN, https://www.espn.com/espnw/news-commentary/impact25/2015/story/_/ id/14252947/sens-kirsten-gillibrand-claire-mccaskill; Lemann, “Claire McCaskill’s Toughest Fight.”

35Kevin McDermott, “Sen. Claire McCaskill Announces She Has Breast Cancer,” 23 February 2016, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: A1; Almanac of American Politics, 2018: 1086.

36Raasch, “Is Claire McCaskill Really the Centrist She Claims To Be?”; Raasch, “The Raging Centrist Ambitions of Claire McCaskill.”

37Chuck Raasch, “2018 Was the ‘Shock Me’ Year in Show Me Politics,” 29 December 2018, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: A4; “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

38Sam Hartle, “Former Sen. Claire McCaskill to Join NBC, MSNBC as Political Analyst,” 15 January 2019, KSHB Kansas City, https://www.kshb.com/news/local-news/former-sen-claire-mccaskill-to-join-nbc-msnbc-as-political-analyst.

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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External Research Collections

State Historical Society of Missouri
Center for Missouri Studies

Columbia, MO
Papers: Senatorial papers.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

McCaskill, Claire. Plenty Ladylike. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.

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