Senate’s homeland security panel has a new top Democrat with an investigative bent

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri will become the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Government Oversight.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri will become the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Government Oversight.

Missouri’s Sen. Claire McCaskill will be the top-ranking Democrat on a powerful Senate committee that oversees federal government operations and homeland security.

As a former state auditor, McCaskill considered the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee an important part of her work in the U.S. Senate from “day one,” she said in an interview Tuesday.

“I wanted to be on the committee that had the broadest oversight responsibility in terms of understanding why government is behaving badly,” McCaskill said in an interview.

As the committee’s most senior Democrat, McCaskill will be able to focus the panel’s Democratic staffers on investigations into guarding taxpaying dollars from government waste, fraud and abuse.

“And that’s what we’ll be doing: taking reports from whistleblowers, calling out government officials who are wasting and abusing the taxpayer’s money,” McCaskill said. “So I’m really looking forward to it.”

She pledged to give the incoming administration of Donald Trump the same scrutiny she’d applied to his predecessors, regardless of party.

“I want to make sure that no one misunderstands: I’ve been tough on every administration,” said McCaskill, who is running for her third Senate term in 2018.

“I was really tough on immigration and customs enforcement under George W. Bush,” McCaskill said. “I was tough on Barack Obama’s Department of Energy. I will be no more or no less tough on this (Trump) administration.”

Protecting America from terrorism and other national security threats will be a priority, too, she said.

“Terrorism is a worldwide danger and obviously that’s part of my responsibility I’m really looking forward to as well,” the senator said.

McCaskill also will keep her seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And she will join the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax policy, trade and health care.

McCaskill says she sought a spot on the Finance Committee because anything that spends public money goes through that panel. It’s the place where lawmakers will debate how to replace Obamacare, and how to pay for it.

“I am not interested in helping anybody replace Obamacare until they show me what they’re going to do,” McCaskill said.

Republicans, she said, “have had six years to produce an alternative that would work in terms of pre-existing conditions and making sure insurance companies can’t cut you off because you’ve had a debilitating disease for many years. And so far we’ve had bupkis, nothing, nada.”

Until she sees a plan, McCaskill said, she’s a skeptic.

“Here’s the dirty little secret: I think they’re going to repeal Obamacare but keep Obamacare,” McCaskill said. In other words, Republicans might keep popular provisions of the law “but take away all the ways to pay for it,” McCaskill said.

“I think what they’re going to do is chaos,” she said.

Lindsay Wise: 202-383-6007, @lindsaywise