Sen. Claire McCaskill

Did Claire McCaskill say normal people can afford a private plane?

—U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill

Political ad for U.S. Senate candidate Josh Hawley

Private planes have been a long-running headache for Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill.

In 2011, she sold a family-owned private plane and repaid the federal government $88,000 for flights she paid for through her Senate office. Earlier this year, while running for a third term in a nip-and-tuck race, McCaskill took heat for using her current private plane to criss-cross portions of the state while she was supposedly on a three-day RV tour.

The Senate Leadership Fund — a pro-Republican super PAC with close ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — is seeking to remind voters about this history in an ad released Oct. 16.

The ad takes aim at McCaskill’s "high-flying lifestyle." An animated plane labeled "Air Claire" leads the viewer through the ad, and the narrator cites investments by her husband in the Cayman Islands and reminds viewers of the money McCaskill repaid to the treasury for flights.

At one point the narrator says, "Claire even said this about private planes." The ad then shows footage of McCaskill saying, "That normal people can afford it." The narrator returns to ask, "Normal people can afford a private plane?" The ad concludes with the narrator saying, "Multimillionaire Claire McCaskill: Way out of touch with Missouri."

Did McCaskill really say that "normal people can afford" private planes?

She did, but the ad takes her literal words out of context.

The remark occurred at an Aug. 19, 2017, town hall in Kennett, a town in the state’s southeastern "bootheel." McCaskill was taking a question from Sam Jewell, the manager of Kennett Memorial Airport, who asked whether the federal air traffic system should be privatized.

McCaskill's  answer was that, at the moment, it shouldn't be, but she added that she hoped the privatization push would nudge the Federal Aviation Administration into long-needed upgrades of its radar system.

Jewell responded, "Well, when you go to any other country, you know the cost of flying — I just had a friend who went home to Greece and was trying to fly around over there, it costs like $500 just to go from one little city to the next, and you have to have credit cards on file for them to charge your account. You know, that’s one thing the United States has that nobody else has, is the freedom to fly around and be affordable where a normal person can afford it."

McCaskill then responded, "Will you remind them when they come after me about my husband’s plane? That normal people can afford it?" The crowd laughed. "Yeah, but I understand the fear, and I understand the uncertainty, but I remain committed to trying to look at any solution we can find to get our stuff updated, but not at the expense of general aviation."

By showing her words in isolation, the Senate Leadership Fund exaggerates McCaskill’s remark.

McCaskill was wrapping up a wonky discussion of federal aviation privatization with a constituent whose business depended heavily on the resolution of that issue.

She was directly responding to Jewell’s remarks about a friend’s comparative experiences flying a private plane in the United States and Greece. She repeated Jewell’s words when she used the phrase "normal people." In context, these seem to refer to "normal" users of private planes, not to "normal" Americans more generally.

In addition to snipping out Jewell’s lead-in comment, the ad also cut what followed McCaskill’s retort: laughter from the crowd. The McCaskill campaign said she was attempting to make a joke that elaborated on what the audience member said, and it appears at least some people listening took it that way.

Our ruling

The Senate Leadership Fund says McCaskill "even said this about private planes, ‘that normal people can afford it.’"

She said those words, but the footage in the ad leaves out both the lead-in comment that prompted McCaskill’s remark and the laughter that followed it. The full footage makes it clear that McCaskill was wrapping up a policy-heavy debate with a private-aviation manager and a riff using the airport manager’s words.

In context, he was referring to "normal" users of private planes, as opposed to "normal" Americans more generally.

We rate the statement Half True.

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