Hawley Dings McCaskill Over Gorsuch Vote in New Web Ad

Missouri GOP Senate hopeful says incumbent puts party ahead of state

A vote against Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation last year is becoming an issue in the Missouri Senate race. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
A vote against Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation last year is becoming an issue in the Missouri Senate race. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 30, 2018 at 5:00am

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is launching a new digital ad Friday, foreshadowing one of his arguments in his campaign for Senate against Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill: her vote against Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch last year. 

Only three Senate Democrats voted to confirm Gorsuch, who was nominated by President Donald Trump to fill the seat left open after Justice Antonin Scalia died. In a new ad, Hawley’s campaign accuses McCaskill of putting the Democratic Party base ahead of Missouri voters by her vote against Gorsuch. 

The 30-second digital ad, shared first with Roll Call, is timed to hit the web a year from the date McCaskill announced she would not vote for Gorsuch. A Hawley campaign spokeswoman declined to disclose the amount of money being spent on the ad, or where it was running online. 

The ad includes footage of a discussion about her decision on NBC’s “Meet the Press” with moderator Chuck Todd saying that McCaskill “went with her base, not the red-state Missouri feel.“  

The ad also features audio of McCaskill from a fundraiser last year saying that she understood the desire to not support Gorsuch after Senate Republicans blocked Judge Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama’s nominee for the high court seat, from even getting a hearing. The audio used in the ad does not include her full remarks, in which she also raised concerns about Gorsuch’s record.

“There is a desire in the base of our party to take a scalp for Merrick Garland,” McCaskill is heard saying. “I completely get it. So I am very comfortable voting against him.”

The ad concludes with text on screen: “Claire McCaskill. Putting party before Missouri.” 

The audio of McCaskill’s comments, made at a fundraiser last year, was obtained by the Missouri Republican Party and first reported by The Kansas City Star.

In her full remarks, McCaskill explained she was disturbed by some of Gorsuch’s decisions as a circuit court judge. She was also concerned that blocking him would prompt Republicans to effectively alter the Senate rules and lower the threshold to end debate on Supreme Court nominees from 60 to 51 votes — which is what ended up happening.  

“There is a desire in the base of our party to take a scalp for Merrick Garland. I completely get it. I get it. I think Gorsuch, some of his opinions are really disturbing and how far he would go to take the corporation over the little guy,” McCaskill said, according to the leaked audio. She went on to discuss two specific cases that came before Gorsuch and said his record gave her pause about supporting his nomination.

“So I am very comfortable voting against him,” she said after detailing the cases. “But I’m very uncomfortable being part of a strategy that’s going to open up the Supreme Court to a complete change in terms of the majority,” she added, referring to the potential change in the Senate rules. 

McCaskill said last year her decision to not support Gorsuch was a difficult one, but she cited his “rigid ideology that always puts the little guy under the boot of corporations” in explaining her ‘no’ vote. 

The three Democrats who backed Gorsuch — Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia — are all, like McCaskill, running for re-election in states Trump won by double digits. 

Trump carried Missouri by 19 points, making McCaskill one of the most vulnerable incumbents this year. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race a Toss-up

This isn’t the first time Hawley has targeted McCaskill over Gorsuch. Asked during a Fox News interview Wednesday which policy positions could hurt McCaskill, he cited her vote against the GOP tax bill and Gorsuch’s confirmation.