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McConnell Talks Coronavirus Relief Aid, Post Office And Debates During Murray Stop

Rachel Collins


Local leaders, elected officials and members of the press gathered at the Murray-Calloway County Hospital’s wellness center gymnasium on Aug. 20 where Republican U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellheld his final stop of the western Kentucky press tour of the day. He also held events at Paducah’s Mercy Health-Lourdes Hospital and Mayfield City Hall. 


During his stop at Murray, McConnell said he wanted to come personally thank the “healthcare heroes” and discuss coronavirus relief aid. He recalled the history of the CARES Act and other relief aid measures, saying the $3 trillion resulted in the country having a national debt the size of its economy for the first time since WWII. And while it wasn’t a decision made lightly, he added, it passed without opposition from either side of the aisle. 


McConnell also briefly discussed the $1 trillion HEALS Act (Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools Act) he introduced in late July. He said the package, which is currently gridlocked, would provide new funding for schools, a new round of payments for Americans and additional wage replacement for unemployed workers. But the sticking point, he said, is the lawsuit liability protection.


“I laid down a plan...liability protection for anyone dealing with the coronavirus; doctors, hospitals, nurses, universities, K-through-12. A narrowly-crafted liability protection because after all, no one knew what to do and we were all doing our very best in order to try to prevent an epidemic of lawsuits,” he said. “And by the way, over 3,000 have already been filed around the country. Trying to prevent us from having to deal with an epidemic of lawsuits on the heels of the pandemic that's not over. So any bill we put on the Senate floor, that I put on the Senate floor, which is my job as a majority leader, will have that in it.”


McConnell said discussions are ongoing, daily, trying to find solutions for reaching an agreement for a relief aid package. He said the Senate members don’t all have to be in the same room for discussions to continue. He also said he believes another relief package needs to be passed, but he also believes the Senate shouldn’t “throw caution to the wind about the size of the debt we’ve added for future generations.”


Credit Rachel Collins / WKMS
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell during his Aug. 21 stop in Murray.

Coronavirus Vaccine Timeline: “Not Too Distant Future”


McConnell referenced the Manhattan Project, the American effort during WWII to create an atomic weapon. He said the project seeking a coronavirus vaccine is similar.


“Everything was thrown into it. It was time sensitive. They were anxious to get an outcome and to stop the war and it worked. So we've got a Manhattan Project-type of focus on getting to a vaccine,” he explained.


McConnell said he’s heard projections of creating a viable vaccine could be late 2020 or early 2021, but noted even when the vaccine is available, it will have to be mass produced to cover the citizens of the world. Between now and then, he said the best way to prevent the spread is social distancing and wearing masks.


“I think a vaccine is on the horizon. I wish I could put an actual timeline on it, but I think we'll all see it in the not too distant future,” he added.


McConnell Addresses U.S. Postal Service Concerns


McConnell said he also wanted to briefly address “the confusion” about the U.S. Postal Service and “the sanctity of the ballot if you drop it in the mailbox.”


“We had a dramatic increase in ballots by mail during the primary because of the pandemic, and it worked. Votes weren’t stolen. There are some states that have been voting by mail for years,” he said. “I want to assure everybody that the post office is going to be fine and ballots are going to be delivered on time.”


McConnell Set To Debate Democratic Opponent


McConnell said he accepted a proposal from Gray Television for the debate to which he challenged his opponent earlier this week, Amy McGrath, who quickly accepted. But he was specific about the type of debate, ‘Lincoln-Douglas’ style with “no notes, no props, just a moderator and a discussion of the issues.”


“I think those are all distractions,” he explained. “I never thought, for example, with all due respect to those of you in the reporting world, that a debate with three reporters and your opponent was verified. I think what [the voters] want to see is the two candidates, how much do they know about the issues, interact with each other and with a moderator who's not trying to do anything other than pose objective questions and see how people respond. That's the kind of debate I've always insisted on and I'm going to insist on it again in this campaign.”


McGrath, in the letter accepting McConnell’s challenge for the debate, requested three debates held in different regions. Her terms also included one of the debates focusing on “the health care crisis in Kentucky.” The letter states more than 1 million Kentuckians have filed for unemployment so one of the other debates should cover “pulling our country out of this economic catastrophe.”


McGrath in her acceptance letter also extended an invitation to libertarian candidate Brad Barron to join the debates. 


Protesters Gather Outside The Press Event


Outside the press event, approximately 30 protesters held signs. Some were homemade and some were campaign signs in support of his Democrat opponent, Amy McGrath. Shaina Goodman identified herself as the organizer, saying she learned of the press event just two nights beforehand. 


Credit Rachel Collins / WKMS
Approximately 30 protesters gathered outside the press event. Organizer Shaina Goodman said she and other protesters thought it was "disrespectful" of McConnell to visit during a health pandemic while positive case numbers are still on the rise.

“We’re in a state of national crisis and [McConnell] is going around Kentucky and doing a press tour,” she said. “And I feel like we're also here, because we would like to have a politician that represents us… He's been in office longer than I've been alive. And I feel like as Kentuckians, we need to start looking at the common denominator of our state's problems. And I think that goes back to Mitch McConnell.”


Goodman held a sign which read, “Whose side are you on,” invoking the Florence Reece song sparked by a 1931 miners’ strike in Harlan County. 


“I think her message still rings true today,” Goodman said. “And I think you know, to bring it back around to Mitch McConnell, he stripped workers’ rights. He would like to take credit for bringing jobs into Kentucky while at the same time, under his reign, we're now a right-to-work state. And I think Miss Florence Reece's words, we need to sing them again.”


“I'm not gonna say Amy McGrath is going to solve all of our problems. But I will say that if she turns out to be a tyrant like him, I'll protest her too,” she added.

Rachel’s interest in journalism began early in life, reading newspapers while sitting in the laps of her grandparents. Those interactions ignited a thirst for language and stories, and she recalls getting caught more than once as a young girl hiding under the bed covers with a flashlight and book because she just couldn’t stop reading.
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