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McCaskill's parting shot: Too many 'embarrassing uncles' serving in the Senate

The Democrat said that the U.S. Senate is no longer the world's greatest deliberative body and lawmakers should stop claiming that.
Image: Claire McCaskill
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., speaks during the Senate Democrats news conference on tax reform in the Capitol on Nov. 28, 2017.Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

In her farewell speech on the Senate floor, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri on Thursday blasted the body's dysfunction, criticized her colleagues for being afraid to take tough votes, and said there are "too many embarrassing uncles in the United States Senate."

"Peter Morgan, an author, wrote that no family is complete without an embarrassing uncle," said McCaskill, who was seeking a third term but was defeated by Sen.-elect Josh Hawley, a Republican, last month. "We have too many embarrassing uncles in the United States Senate. Lots of embarrassing stuff."

She said that if senators "don't have the strength to look in the mirror and fix" the Senate, "the American people are going to grow more and more cynical, and they might do something crazy like elect a reality TV star president."

McCaskill added: "The United States Senate is no longer the world's greatest deliberative body. And everybody needs to quit saying it until we recover from this period of polarization and the fear of the political consequences of tough votes."

Earlier, retiring Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona used his final address on the Senate floor to warn of threats to America's democracy "from within and without."

"We of course are testing the institutions of American liberty in ways that none of us likely ever imagined we would — and in ways that we never should again," Flake said. "My colleagues, to say that our politics is not healthy is something of an understatement. I believe that we all know well that this is not a normal time, that the threats to our democracy from within and without are real, and none of us can say with confidence how the situation that we now find ourselves in will turn out."

The one-term senator added: "As the authoritarian impulse reasserts itself globally, and global commitment to democracy seems to now be on somewhat shaky ground, I have been thinking a lot recently about the American commitment to democracy — where it comes from, and how, if the circumstances were right, it might slip away."

Flake, who did not run for re-election after becoming the most prominent GOP senator to routinely criticize President Donald Trump, did not mention the president by name in his address. Instead, he recalled being in Namibia in 1990, months after the country held its first independent elections, and reading the text of former Czech President Václav Havel's speech to a joint session of Congress.

"I sat there in Africa and read Havel’s speech — an encomium to democracy, a love letter to America, literary and inspiring — and I was overcome by his words," he said. "There is nothing quite like the sensation of having someone who has been stripped of everything but his dignity reflecting the ideals of your own country back at you, in such a way that you see them more clearly than ever before, and maybe for the first time. In some ways, that man knows your country better than you do."

Flake then turned his attention to some of today's dilemmas. He pointed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who "hijacked democracy in his own country, he is determined to do so everywhere."

"Denial of this reality will not make it any less real," he said. "This is something that is staring us in the face, right now, as we are gathered here today. As we in America — during this moment of political dysfunction and upheaval — contemplate the hard-won conventions and norms of democracy, we must continually remind ourselves that none of this is permanent, and that it must be fought for constantly."

"Civilization and the victories of freedom — history itself — are not a matter of once achieved, always safe," he continued. "Vaclav Havel lived this."

He closed his speech by thanking past staffers and his colleagues, saying he was "grateful for having had the privilege of serving" in the Senate.

"It is my sincere hope that those this in this body will always remember the words of Lincoln: 'We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth," Flake said.

And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer offered up a tearful goodbye to another departing colleague, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

"Those of us on this side of the aisle, at least, I will miss her cornbread as well," Schumer said. "Her insistence on Corona beer, and her ability to even — to suffer even the worst 'Fargo' accents, or mimic 'Fargo' accents as attempted to do, directed in her way."