“Now, I did not go along with this. I wasn’t here at the time. I was actually out getting breast cancer treatment. I don’t know that I would have objected. I like to believe I would have, but the bottom line is, once the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] kind of, the upper levels at the DEA obviously said it was okay, that’s what gave it the green light.”
— Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), interview on CNN’s “The Lead,” Oct. 16, 2017
In the wake of The Washington Post/“60 minutes” investigation detailing how 2016 legislation passed by Congress weakened the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to go after drug distributors, even as opioid-related deaths continue to rise, Sen. McCaskill has led the charge for repealing the law.
Already, President Trump’s choice for drug czar, Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), withdrew his nomination after the report exposed his role in spearheading the bill’s passage through Congress.
McCaskill, in the CNN interview, stated that she was not in Congress at the time and she would “like to believe” she would have objected to it. (The bill passed the Senate under unanimous consent, meaning one senator was needed to object to it in order for a recorded vote.) In an interview on NPR on Oct. 17, in which McCaskill called on Trump to withdraw Marino’s nomination, host David Greene noted to her: “I know you were dealing with some health issues and did not take a vote on this.” McCaskill raised no objection.
Readers may recall that McCaskill once claimed she had never met with the Russian ambassador — even though she had tweeted about a meeting. What does the record show about McCaskill’s presence in Washington at the time of the DEA bill?
The bill was approved in the Senate at 6:25 p.m. on March 17, 2016.
But on March 14, USA Today reported that McCaskill “dove back into the legislative and political arena on Monday, returning to Washington after three weeks of intensive treatment for breast cancer in St. Louis.” She held a 30-minute call that day to tell reporters she was back at work.
On March 16, Senate records say, she voted against a bill to defund Planned Parenthood.
On March 17, the day the DEA bill was approved, she voted at 1:43 p.m. to approve a resolution holding the chief executive of the website backpage.com in contempt for allegedly refusing to cooperate in an investigation of sex trafficking. McCaskill even appeared on the floor to make the case for approval of the resolution.
That day, according to a news release, McCaskill participated in a Senate hearing on sudden spikes in drug prices.
So, despite her claim that she “wasn’t here at the time,” McCaskill was clearly back at the Senate, participating in votes and hearings.
McCaskill’s staff acknowledged the error, saying that they had forgotten she had come back at that time. “It was sloppy on our part, and we take responsibility,” a spokesman said.
The Pinocchio Test
McCaskill for two days has left the impression that she was away from the Senate, dealing with health issues, when the bill hobbling the DEA was passed.
On Oct. 16, she told CNN she was away that week, dealing with her breast cancer. Then, a day later, she was silent when an NPR host asserted she was absent from the Senate that day because of her health issues. She should have said she had checked her schedule and that was a mistake.
She told CNN she’d “like to believe” she would have opposed the bill and stopped it. But the reality is that she was there — and she missed the opportunity that she seeks now. She earns Four Pinocchios.
Send us facts to check by filling out this form
Keep tabs on Trump’s promises with our Trump Promise Tracker
Sign up for The Fact Checker weekly newsletter