Casey: Gun violence uniquely American
On March 19, Sen. Bob Casey visited Moravian College to participate in a question and answer session. Son of Robert Casey Sr., former governor of Pennsylvania, Casey has the distinction of being the first Pennsylvania senator elected to a third consecutive term. Before the session began, Casey graciously thanked Dr. Bryon Grigsby, president of the college, for inviting him, and thanked attendees for their political action and for giving him their time.
Two students, Kyle Upton and Bujar Shkreli, had invited people in the audience to submit questions and took turns putting them to the Senator. In response to a question about the partisanship gripping the nation, Casey made suggestions for dealing with it. It is important, he said, to avoid demonizing people on the other side, to find areas of common ground, and to take out the personal. He cited as an example his work with Richard Burr and other North Carolina Republicans, as well as House members who were much farther right than Barr, which resulted in the Able Act, “one of the most important pieces of disability legislation in a generation.” He commented that this bipartisanship has become more difficult with the more strident right wing of the Republican Party.
In response to a question about gun violence, Casey noted that it is a “uniquely American problem.” He argued that background checks and a ban on assault weapons are needed. The 2018 election marked a “seismic shift,” in that people want to do something about gun violence. He said that the United States is “the most powerful, the most innovative country in the world. Don’t say there is nothing we can do; we are a nation that finds solutions to problems.” Casey said we should petition Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to debate the issue in the Senate and have an up or down vote.
When asked about climate change, Casey commented, “right now it is pretty much a one-party issue.” The President didn’t support the Clean Power Plan and pulled the nation out of the Climate Change Accord, he said. Nevertheless, Casey asserted, “it is a real threat to human life” and proceeded to make suggestions about addressing it. He mentioned replacing infrastructure, reducing emissions, and increasing energy derived from renewable means. We need a national debate about taking action, a goal of the people who put forth the Green New Deal, he said.
In response to a question about the 2020 election, Casey noted that the Democratic Party is strong in the urban and suburban areas of Pennsylvania, but must also be competitive in red-leaning counties. Democrats need to show concern about the lives of residents in rural areas, and there are many issues they can discuss in conservative communities, he said. Candidates for office can talk about needed infrastructure projects they will seek help funding, get behind efforts to address the opioid problem, join efforts to make the tax code beneficial to the middle class rather than the upper class, make sure that people with pre-existing conditions are covered by health insurance and protect Medicaid.
The last questioner wanted to know how, given the current level of partisanship, members of opposing parties can have conversations at the federal level as well as on a personal level. In his response, Casey noted that John McCain could be “a fierce fighter who, when he was angry, was a sight to behold,” but also someone “who could set aside his differences” with his Democratic colleagues.
At one point, when Democrats were in the majority in the Senate, they changed rules regarding cabinet members and district court judges. Many Republicans were offended, feeling that the Democrats had taken away their rights. During a break that followed that vote, Casey stepped on an elevator and found himself with McCain. Ordinarily they would have exchanged pleasantries but on this occasion McCain “unloaded” on Casey, saying, “you took away our rights.” Casey commented that he couldn’t repeat what McCain said. Later, Casey approached McCain, intending to continue the argument. On seeing Casey, McCain approached him, gave him a bear hug and apologized. The next time they were together, McCain apologized again. So much for partisanship!