Senator Bob Casey: Beyond the Senate
For Senator Bob Casey, politics have always been part of his life. But what are the moments outside of the spotlight that have shaped his beliefs?
A native of Scranton, PA, U.S. Senator Bob Casey, Jr. grew up the fourth of eight children to Ellen and Robert Casey in a home steeped in politics from day one.
When Bob, Jr. was three, his father began his long career in politics by becoming a Pennsylvania state senator. By the time the young Casey was eight, senior was PA’s Auditor General.
Although he doesn’t remember much of those early years, the senator does recall the almost 20 years his father spend trying to become PA’s governor.
“I ran for Governor once and lost. Three times! That's hard to do,” said Casey, Jr.
That experience imprinted on Senator Casey’s mind what it means to be a public official — someone who’s “honest, honorable and people-centered.”
“He would worry and stay up at night worrying if he was doing things the right way. He taught me lessons about integrity and honesty, but also about how to stand up and fight for people that don't have a voice,” he said.
But his dad wasn’t the only one shaping the man who would eventually inhabit the U.S. Senate on behalf of PA.
Casey’s mother was also a major influence. After raising eight children, Ellen Casey became PA’s First Lady and made breast cancer and illiteracy her marquee issues.
“Her husband gets elected governor. And guess what? She now had responsibilities and duties that she didn't have before,” said Casey. “Even without the background in public policy, even without running for office herself, she taught me a lot about how to be a good public servant and a good advocate.”
Senator Casey himself initially followed in the footsteps of his father, graduating from Scranton Prep before attending College of the Holy Cross in Worcester,Massachusetts. After graduating, he would go on to law school — but his most formative experience came outside the classroom.
Before entering law school, Casey Jr. took a year to volunteer coach fifth to eight-grade basketball players at a North Philadelphia school.
“There was no way that I would see that community as a lawyer, if I stayed in the practice I was in. There's probably no way I would've really experienced the community in North Philadelphia if not for that opportunity, even as a public official who has responsibility for that,” recalls the Senator.
While a student at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Casey he met his future wife, Teresa. Together they have four children: Caroline, Elyse, Julia and Marena.
After 35 years of marriage, the senator feels “ fortunate and blessed” for all the “heavy lifting” Teresa Casey has done.
“Not only she [Teresa] had the heavy lifting of raising four daughters in a difficult world [...] but also was helping me in campaigns and allowing me to do the work that I've done. I was really fortunate and blessed to have a partner who was willing to take on even more responsibility and do it so well,” said the senator.
But if there was one thing he learned from having a parent in the political scene, it is that, “When you're home, you should be at home.”
For the senator, that doesn't mean you don't take phone calls or make sure to be prepared for the next work day. But it does mean “spending as much time as possible engaging with your children.”
“Even as a public official, you can't just absolve yourself of that responsibility to be a good parent. There are some people who think you can separate the kind of person you are [from the] in the integrity you're supposed to have as a citizen, but also as a public official [...] I know it'll offend some people when I say this, but character matters. We're not robots,” said the senator.
And after a lifetime in politics, his beliefs have solidified into bills and resolutions.
As unconventional as it might sound, Senator Casey is a pro-life Democrat, who has voted to fund Planned Parenthood.
The Irish-Catholic senator has a score of 70% on Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
That’s due to the fact that his alternative to abortion isn’t abstinence and obstruction, but rather prevention, and programs that will support new mothers during and after pregnancy.
“She has a constitutionally protected right to have an abortion. But if she chooses not to, we gotta make sure we're there for her [...] A lot of politicians in Washington run around every day saying ‘I'm for families, I believe in life and I believe in moms and babies,’ and don't do a damn thing to help moms and babies,” said Casey.
For the senator, being pro-life is more than being opposed to abortion. It is about doing things for the mothers and children who have already been born.
“Democrat, Republican or Independent, if you don't support those programs, Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, among others, you can’t for real call yourself pro-family or whatever the label they give themselves. You've got to back it up with policy,” he added.
That includes immigrant kids. According to the Senator, you can not call yourself a pro-life if you “endanger” a child by “supporting an immigration policy that puts kids in cages.”
The health of children here in Philadelphia is also a top concern for the senator, who visited AL DÍA two days after two-year-old Nikolette Rivera was shot and killed,and an 11-month-old boy was critically wounded.
As of October 2019, more than 280 people have been murdered by gun violence in Philadelphia, in what authorities are calling an epidemic of gun violence.
Senator Casey said that he wants to focus on passing legislation, based on policies proven to reduce gun violence. The bills, which have been introduced to the Senate, include:
Background check bill: New background check requirements for firearm transfers between private parties, unless a licensed gun dealer, manufacturer, or importer first takes possession of the firearm to conduct a background check. However, it doesn’t apply to a “gift in good faith.”
Extreme risk protection order: Allows a citizen who is a family member or a law enforcement official to go into court and report someone they know who owns a gun and is publishing hate speech, violent messages, or exhibiting other signs of instability.
“I don't want to pretend that these two bills are going to directly impact what we saw this weekend, with children being killed and wounded. But these two bills would be a start,” he affirmed.
Another way to reduce gun violence is by giving people access to opportunities, including quality education.
“We need a strategy for children. We need something similar to what we did when we helped the people of Europe after WWII, a massive program to rescue people from poverty,” the senator explained.
In a perfect world, for Senator Bob Casey, that would involve expanding public education to cover the first two years of college.
In that scenario, people would be able to obtain at least an associate’s degree. It would also make the burden of student loans easier for those who continue on with other advanced degree programs.
In his perspective, this could even help the shortage the country has seen in professions like public health and healthcare.
“We got to make sure that those folks, doctors and nurses, have the training and the opportunities to deliver care to folks.
But even that wouldn’t be enough to help the healthcare system.
As of right now, “there are about three threats to health care,” according to the senator:
The first is the Republican Lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. If successful, it will eliminate protections for people with preexisting conditions. “It will destroy the Affordable Care Act, and I mean destroy it! It will wipe out protection for tens of millions and destroy coverage for 20 million Americans,” he added.
For Casey, the Trump administration is the second threat. The third one, he said, is the proposals to cut Medicare and Medicaid by trillions of dollars.
“I know I sound negative, but a lot of what we gotta do here [in the Senate] is fight,” he explained.
On that note, the senator, who was once accused of having an “oatmeal personality,” finished the discussion with a passionate promise to ensure that Medicaid and Medicare remain.
“I am going to fight them [Republicans] morning, noon, and night. I'm not gonna hold their hand. I'm not going to compromise with them. I'm gonna fight them and beat them. That's what I'm going to do,” Casey said.