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Mitch McConnell, Amy McGrath And The Coronavirus In Kentucky

J. Tyler Franklin

  About 20 people gathered in the courtyard of the Caldwell Medical Center in Princeton for a Mitch McConnell event last week. It was raining and attendees tried their best to social distance beneath tents as McConnell talked to them about the CARES Act.

He pulled out a piece of paper and began to read what the medical center got out of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill that passed back in March.

“You got $8.8 million totally—$3.9 million came directly out of the direct hospital relief fund, but you also very skillfully and smartly accessed $1.3 million of PPP loans,” McConnell said

McConnell has made many stops like this across Kentucky this year, touting his role in putting the CARES Act together and how much his home state reaped–about $12 billion total, the biggest chunk of it from Paycheck Protection Program loans to businesses.

And he always talks about the importance of wearing masks.

“We’re not going to shut the economy down again. We have to live with this until we can kill it. And so that’s what the mask is about, and that’s what the social distancing is about,” McConnell said in Princeton.

It’s a stark difference from the man McConnell is promoting for president, Donald Trump, who has at times made fun of masks and held rallies with thousands of unmasked attendees during the pandemic.

And it’s not the only point where McConnell differs with Trump. The president has urged Republicans to “go big or go home” on a new coronavirus relief bill, calling for upwards of another $1.8 trillion package. But McConnell favors a smaller $500 billion bill focused on legal protections and loans for businesses.

“I can’t think of a good reason not to pass what we agree to and if there’s remaining desire to do something later, take a look at it,” McConnell said.

Whether to pass another coronavirus relief bill and what to include in it has been central to the debate between McConnell and his Democratic opponent, retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath.

“His one job is to help America through this crisis right now in passing legislation to keep our economy afloat so that people can make ends meet,” McGrath said during a debate on Gray Television earlier this month. “And instead of doing that, he is trying to ram through a Supreme Court nominee right now.”

McGrath says she wants an extension of extra unemployment benefits that expired in July, a federal testing and tracing plan, and assistance for state and local governments facing a dip in tax revenue during the pandemic.

The Democratic-led House passed a $3 trillion coronavirus bill back in May that included those elements, plus hazard pay for frontline workers and another round of $1,200 stimulus checks.

But McConnell hasn’t taken that up, instead focusing on limited plans that haven’t gotten enough support to pass out of the Senate.

McGrath says that McConnell is to blame for Congress’ inaction.

“All he can do right now is make excuses in the middle of a national crisis,” McGrath said during the debate. “He has built a Senate—what was once the greatest deliberative body in the world cannot function in the middle of a crisis.”

Shortly after the debate, McConnell announced he would hold another vote on his slimmed-down coronavirus bill. It didn’t get enough votes to pass the Senate in September and was blocked once again on Wednesday.

McConnell says Democrats are asking for too much and partly blames the election.

“The proximity to the election has slowed the process. And that’s unfortunate for the country, it’s unacceptable. But she wants to pass all the blame on the Senate,” McConnell said during the Gray TV debate.

McGrath has trailed McConnell in polls throughout the summer. Most recently, the Mason Dixon poll showed McConnell leading McGrath by 9 points statewide, with McGrath only leading in the Louisville metro region.

Meanwhile, Kentucky and most of the country are in a new surge of coronavirus cases. More than 90,000 people have tested positive for the virus in Kentucky and over 1,300 have died.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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