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Sen. McConnell Comments On Vaccines, Federal Spending, Critical Race Theory In Murray

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell speaks to an audience in Murray.
Liam Niemeyer
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell speaks to an audience in Murray.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell promoted COVID-19 vaccines, criticized budget proposals from the Biden administration and attacked the critical race theory academic framework in a speech Tuesday in western Kentucky.

Talking before local elected officials and economic development leaders in Murray, McConnell said there would be a “hell of a fight” over new spending proposed by President Joe Biden, broadly opposed by Republicans on Capitol Hill. The Biden administration proposed a $6 trillion budget in May, encompassing infrastructure, climate change resiliency, child care and other priorities.

“This is not going to be done on a bipartisan basis,” McConnell said. “There's going to be a hell of a fight over what this country will look like in the future. And it's all going to unfold here in the next few weeks. I don't think we've got a bigger difference of opinion between the two parties over the best thing to do for America than we have right now.”

McConnell said there was a possibility both parties could come to an agreement on a smaller infrastructure package, referencing the deal made between Biden and a bipartisan group of senators on funding for specific forms of physical infrastructure. He said he’s collegial with Democrats, but that for a proposal of this magnitude, there would be “a big argument.”

During a question and answer session with the audience in Murray, Kentucky’s senior senator also strongly criticized the critical race theory academic framework, along with the “1619 Project,” a New York Times series documenting the history and effects of slavery. The theory is a framework that examines how systemic racism is maintained in society and legal institutions, according to professors from the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville.

McConnell said taxpayer funding shouldn’t go toward schools that teach critical race theory or the 1619 Project.

“We should be strengthening the teaching of American history and civics in our schools that focuses on the principles that unite our nation,” McConnell said. “Not divisive, radical, and utterly debunked propaganda that uses lies about our founding to divide us and teaches kids that the color of our skin defines it.”

McConnell said the 1619 Project had been “debunked” by “historians of all philosophical persuasions,” and that he supports federal legislation from fellow Republican senators that would end funding for schools that teach critical race theory.

The 1619 Project has received praise and criticism from historians since its publication in 2019, along with attacks from conservative commentators. The New York Times has stood by the Pulitzer Prize-winning project.

In a state legislative hearing on Tuesday, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Jason Glass called two recently proposed bills banning critical race theory “educator gag and student censorship bills,” and said the state is committed to providing “equity” in schools. When asked about Glass’ comments, McConnell said whatever result comes from the debate around critical race theory would have to abide by the First Amendment.

“What I told you in there is my opinion, but that will be implemented, if it is, in a way that's consistent with the First Amendment and free expression,” McConnell said. “But at the state and local and school board level.”

McConnell said Kentuckians should continue to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in an effort to end the pandemic, echoing months of remarks he’s made encouraging people to get the shots.

“I know there's some skepticism out there. But let me put it this way: It may not guarantee you don't get it, but it almost guarantees you don't die from it, if you get it,” McConnell said.

State data shows about 49% of Kentuckians are currently vaccinated. But some western Kentucky counties have less than 25% of vaccinated residents. The low vaccination rates are happening as cases of the contagious Delta COVID-19 variant begin to appear in the state.

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."
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