Vulnerable Red State Democrat's Re-Election Fight Brings Together Those Who Oppose Her On Key Issue

Posted: May 16, 2018 3:51 PM

When you’re a vulnerable red state Democrat, I guess you really need to throw everything against the wall. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is facing multiple obstacles. She’s one of the most unpopular senators running or re-election, her state broke heavily for Trump in 2016, and she’s having trouble mobilizing black voters in her state, which will be critical if she should survive re-election. 

McCaskill is trying to walk a centrist line. She criticized Hillary Clinton for trashing Trump voters, though said supporting her in 2016 was an easy choice. She voted against the Trump tax bill, but now says she will keep the provisions that help the working and middle classes; she seems to forget that the bill already supports the working people of this country—and she voted against it last December. 

Is she an independent Democrat, or is she just like the rest of the elitist national Democratic Party club? Well, she’s surely banking on the latter for filling her war chest. McCaskill does have solid fundraising numbers, though who wouldn’t with the Hollywood Left and former President Obama giving you a hand.

Now, we have Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), a potential 2020 candidate, flying into the Show Me State to campaign with McCaskill this week. Yet, one of her top issues is fighting Big Pharma and rising drug costs. She said in April that the pharmaceutical industry has a “vise grip on Congress

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill slammed the influence of pharmaceutical companies in Congress at a Senate Finance Committee hearing, citing the tax windfalls the companies have received while continuing to raise prescription drugs prices for Missourians.

“Price increases for the twenty most-prescribed drugs in Medicare Part D have gone up 12 percent every year for the last five years—approximately 10 times higher than the average rate of inflation,” McCaskill said. “Which is really unbelievable, if you think about it, that those kinds of price increases are going on in the Medicare Part D program where this body has not even had the guts to stand up to the pharmaceutical industry and say we’re going to negotiate for volume discount. I mean, you talk about a vice grip—pharma has a vise grip on Congress.”

McCaskill has made tackling rising healthcare and prescription drug costs a top priority in the Senate. She recently released a report as part of her role leading the Senate’s top oversight committee that found that the cost of many of the most popular brand-name drugs are increasing at ten times the rate of inflation.

Oh, so is this an awkward moment, right? Sen. Booker has received over $400,000 in contributions from Big Pharma. And this has not gone unnoticed. In 2017, he voted against a measure that would have allowed the U.S. to import cheaper drugs from overseas. Publications like The Intercept, The Huffington Post and The New Republic all trashed the New Jersey Democrat.

Via HuffPo:

There was a strong correlation between states where the drug industry is concentrated ?such as New Jersey, Washington, Pennsylvania and Delaware ?and Democratic opposition to Wednesday’s vote. A cynic might conclude that industry influence had something to do with the outcome. Not at all, the Democrats told HuffPost. They were only concerned with patient safety.

Seven of the Democrats who voted against the Sanders-Klobuchar plan ?Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Chris Coons of Delaware, Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, Tom Carper of Delaware, Maria Cantwell of Washington and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota ?all defended their opposition by arguing the bill didn’t address consumer protections for imported drugs. (The others didn’t immediately comment.)

“I support the importation of prescription drugs as a key part of a strategy to help control the skyrocketing cost of medications,” Booker said in a statement provided to HuffPost. “Any plan to allow the importation of prescription medications should also include consumer protections that ensure foreign drugs meet American safety standards. I opposed an amendment put forward last night that didn’t meet this test. The rising cost of medications is a life-and-death issue for millions of Americans, which is why I also voted for amendments last night that bring drug prices down and protect Medicare’s prescription drug benefit. I’m committed to finding solutions that allow for prescription drug importation with adequate safety standards.”

In an odd coincidence, the rationale provided by Booker et al. was strikingly similar to the objections raised by the nation’s chief prescription drug lobby, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (commonly known as PhRMA). 

The New Republic not only took aim at Booker for this vote, but also went through his history of screwing over progressives, adding that he was not a friend of the active, vocal, and ascendant wing of the party that is unabashedly left wing:

…his rejection of the Sanders-Klobuchar proposal is the latest entry in a legislative record that should worry progressives.

As Newark mayor, he accepted a $100 million donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to implement a series of drastic reforms in city schools. According to investigative reporter Dale Russakoff, the people of Newark found out about it from Oprah: Zuckerberg and Booker appeared on the show to announce the grant. Most of the funds later went to charter schools. He’s long been a proponent of school vouchers, despite evidence that voucher programs don’t actually create better educational outcomes for students.

He also has close ties to Silicon Valley and Wall Street. In 2013, this magazine reported that Booker had been late to disclose the extent of his stake in Waywire, a tech startup he helped found during his tenure as mayor. There were other troubles; Waywire also employed Booker’s associates, and CNN’s Jeff Zucker’s then-14 year old child sat on its board. (Booker eventually stepped down from the startup.)

And he handed Mitt Romney an unexpected favor in 2012. On Meet the Press, he called attacks on Romney’s ties to Bain Capital and private equity “nauseating.” It apparently paid off: In 2014, WNYC reported that Booker received more Wall Street funding than any other U.S. senator that election cycle.

The Intercept also noted how Booker’s reasons for opposing the bill last year was a carbon copy of why Big Pharma was against the bill:

In a statement to the media after the vote, Booker’s office said he supports the importation of prescription drugs but that “any plan to allow the importation of prescription medications should also include consumer protections that ensure foreign drugs meet American safety standards. I opposed an amendment put forward last night that didn’t meet this test.”

This argument is the same one offered by the pharmaceutical industry. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which lobbies against importation, maintains that it opposes importation because “foreign governments will not ensure that prescription drugs entering the U.S. from abroad are safe and effective.”

The safety excuse has long been a refuge for policymakers who don’t want to assist Americans struggling with prescription drug costs. Bills to legalize importation passed in 2000 and 2007, but expired after the Clinton and Bush administrations refused to certify that it would be safe. The Obama administration also cited safety concerns when opposing an importation measure in the Affordable Care Act.


Booker and some of his Democratic colleagues who opposed the Sanders amendment are longtime friends of the drug industry. As MapLight data shows, Booker has received more pharmaceutical manufacturing cash over the past six years than any other Democratic senator: $267,338. In addition, significant numbers of pharmaceutical and biotech firms reside in Booker’s home state of New Jersey. Other Democrats receiving six-figure donations from the industry, like Casey, Patty Murray, and Michael Bennet, opposed the amendment.

McCaskill, however, voted for the drug importation bill. So, with this being a top issue for her, why is Booker there? I understand the party loyalty aspect. I know he wants to expand his appeal, head into Trump country, get roots planted, and possibly chart a 2020 run. McCaskill needs all the help she can get in return, though it’s odd. This is like a pro-gun control Democrat getting cozy with a pro-NRA Democrat (yes, a couple exist) when the mantra for 2018 is to burn said organization to the ground.

For those already disenchanted with her, she looks like any other politician who is only concerned about getting re-elected, soliciting a senator that is against her on a top issue. In 2012, her Republican opponent, former Rep. Todd Akin, gave her a huge assist.  He shot off his mouth and made a terrible remark about rape. In 2016, the drama surrounding the incumbent Republican Gov. Eric Greitens could save her as well. Alas, she appears to not be taking any chances, cobbling together enemies and out-of-touch liberals to lend her a hand while trying to come off as an independent rural Democrat. 

We’ll see what happens. It may slide under the radar, as Greitens legal matters continue—but first things first; she needs to decide how she will vote on Trump’s CIA nominee, Gina Haspel, who will be the first female director of the agency.