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Sen. Claire McCaskill On Russian Hack Attempt And Trade

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The latest economic numbers show 4.1 percent growth between April and June. And President Trump and European Commission President Juncker said they'll work to dismantle trade barriers between the U.S. and EU. And the EU's agreed to buy more soybeans from U.S. farmers while the administration's earmarked $12 billion to help farmers who lose revenue in this trade war. A lot of farmers growing a lot of soy in Missouri, where Claire McCaskill is a U.S. senator. She joins us now. Senator McCaskill, thanks so much for being with us.

CLAIRE MCCASKILL: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Do you prefer Missouri or Missourah (ph)?

MCCASKILL: I do both.

SIMON: OK. Well, then, I will, too. Listen; I promise we'll get to trade, but I have to ask you about Russia. Daily Beast reports your re-election campaign's been a target for Russian hackers with at least one unsuccessful attempt this past August. Do you feel your communications and campaign are safe?

MCCASKILL: I do. And this actually was an attack on the official Senate office. And it was Microsoft detected - the hack. And I believe the sergeant of arms at the Senate, which is the office in the Senate that is designed to protect us under these circumstances - I think they've taken the necessary steps to not only protect our accounts in the Senate but also other senators. It doesn't change the fact that this is bold and outrageous that Russia continues to break the backbone of - tries to break the backbone of every democracy they possibly can and including a model of democracy here in the United States. So I remain disappointed that our government has not been more aggressive in going after this cyberwarfare.

SIMON: I think the nicest thing you've said about Vladimir Putin is that he's a thug, and it goes down from there. What should the U.S. government also do, do you believe?

MCCASKILL: I believe that it's time that we empower our assets, and we have significant assets that could conduct cyberwarfare in retaliation. I think we should turn up the heat on the sanctions. It took the Senate voting 98, I think, to 2 to force the president into a role of putting sanctions on Russia. Instead of inviting him for a meeting, we should be calling him out and supporting our intelligence community that has - frankly, are mostly veterans and active military - that have told the president that this is a flashing red light, and we should no longer treat Russia in any way as if they're our diplomatic friend.

SIMON: I want to get to trade and the $12 billion. Won't the $12 billion the president has earmarked help Missouri farmers who might get caught in the crossfire of a trade war?

MCCASKILL: I'm certainly glad the president is doing it. It will certainly help farmers. It remains to be seen when and how this money will be deployed, and that, of course, is key. Ironically, part of the money is supposed to be used to develop markets. Well, it's very hard to develop markets with the turn of a switch. It takes years to develop markets. And while it may be good news that EU might buy some more soybeans, we're talking a very small amount compared to the amount of beans that China buys. In Missouri, almost 1 out of every 3 rows of beans go to China. And it has taken years to develop that Chinese market. I met with soybean producers yesterday. I can assure you, no one was celebrating the $12 billion. But rather, they were really upset and disappointed that the president has engaged in this kind of reckless trade war with no end in sight.

SIMON: The president says in so many words, there might be short-term losses, but there are going to be long-term gains because the - his idea is to get better trade deals. Do you agree?

MCCASKILL: Well, we can go after the people who cheat - the Chinese cheaters. We can up our resources to go after those cheaters. There are mechanisms in place. But what is happening here - he says there's going to be short-term pain. If you're a farmer and your farm begins to be undervalued, your collateral is at risk, you are losing money on every crop, and it looks like you're going to lose money on a crop next year - these are sleepless nights. It's not long-term pain; it's life changing for these farmers. So it is, you know, a throwaway line. And it's not just the farmers in my state, Scott. We've got manufacturers that are suffering terribly because of this trade war. We've got a company that all of their customers are being chased to China for their nails because...

SIMON: This is Mid Continent Nail, I believe

MCCASKILL: Correct. They can no longer afford to offer nails at a price that's competitive to China. And so - you know, the secretary of commerce had the nerve to say, yesterday or the day before, that maybe this company, you know, wasn't doing a good job running the company. Well, I can assure you, they've done a great job running this company in Poplar Bluff, Mo. And so it's very frustrating for a number of manufacturers around my state because they also are looking at layoffs and problems. The downstream effects are acute, not just to farmers in my state but also to people who make things.

SIMON: Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri - Missourah. Thanks so much for being with us, Senator.

MCCASKILL: Thank you. Have a good Saturday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.