Sep 17, 2020
McGrath tries to turn McConnells seniority into liability
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Democrat Amy McGrath tried to turn Mitch McConnell’s Senate seniority into a liability Wednesday, accusing the Republican leader of helping to create an “inept mess” as Congress struggles to break an impasse on more coronavirus aid in a hyper-partisan environment.
Speaking at a virtual event hosted by two Louisville professional groups, McGrath later acknowledged that McConnell’s long Senate career looms as her biggest challenge in trying to unseat him in the November election.McConnell, who is seeking a seventh term, has been in office so long, she said, that it’s “really hard to get people to believe that he can be defeated.”
McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has played up his role as the top-ranking Republican in Congress, saying it allows Kentucky to “punch above its weight” in national policy-making. He noted at a recent event that McGrath would be “dead last” in seniority if she joined the Senate.
Looking to puncture that advantage, McGrath continued to blame McConnell for a “lack of leadership” from the federal government in combating the deadly coronavirus. She didn’t mention Republican President Donald Trump, who remains popular in much of Kentucky. It’s widely believed McGrath will have to win over some Trump supporters to have a chance of defeating McConnell.
“We have here a senator … who has created this inept mess,” she said. “We are more divided than ever. We are more partisan than ever. Congress has more dysfunction than ever before. We have more inequality than ever. And my belief is that the 36 years that he has been in Washington, where has that gotten us? Where has it gotten us in Kentucky?”
She pointed to long-running problems plaguing the Bluegrass State, including high rates of cancer, diabetes and heart disease and its struggles with poverty.
McConnell has spent much of the campaign touting his lead role in passing a massive virus relief package in the spring and how it benefited Kentucky. A trimmed-down Republican virus relief package that McConnell recently offered was blocked last week by Senate Democrats, who said it shortchanged too many pressing needs. .
McConnell’s campaign said he has wielded his influence as Senate leader to boost Kentucky on many fronts, from combating drug trafficking to supporting its universities and its military posts.
“Kentuckians know Senator McConnell works for them and trust him to deliver on issues that matter most to the commonwealth,” said Kate Cooksey, his campaign spokeswoman. “With Mitch McConnell in the Senate, Kentucky won’t be left behind.”
McGrath said Wednesday that if elected she would focus on quality-of-life issues including health care, universal access to pre-kindergarten and efforts to bolster education and child care.
“If we had more women and moms in the Senate, it would be done yesterday,” she said.
She also advocated for term limits for senators, increased investments in minority-owned businesses and a national service plan that would pay college costs for professionals like doctors, nurses and teachers who then agree to give service time to the country. She also called for more spending on infrastructure, broadband access and workforce development.
McGrath, a retired Marine combat pilot, has been a prolific fundraiser — a testament to McConnell’s status as a lightning rod for national Democrats — but she has consistently trailed the senator in polling. McConnell has been in office longer than some people participating in the virtual event have been alive, McGrath said Wednesday. To overcome his incumbency, she added, she has to show what’s achievable if he’s removed from office.
“I think the challenge that I have is to show people that that vision is not what he’s trying to put in attack ads,” she said. “The vision is better health care, lower prescription drug prices, childcare, universal pre-K, investment in ourselves.”
McConnell has been invited to speak to the same groups, and his campaign said it’s working on trying to schedule the event.
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House to vote on COVID-19 relief package as negotiations with White House ramp up
It's been 1,376 days since the House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to take up, and at midnight Wednesday, the government runs out of funding with the end of the fiscal year. The election is in 33 days. The Senate should take care of government funding Wednesday by passing the continuing resolution the House passed last week. The White House hasn't said anything about a veto, so we can breathe on that front until Dec. 11, when this bill expires. We're trying not to think about the hornet's nest that could be poking, since that's the same week the states are deciding electors (Dec. 8) and the electors vote (Dec. 14).
But that nightmare is two-and-a-half months away. We'll set it aside to consider the last-ditch preelection push for coronavirus stimulus from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The House will vote Wednesday evening on the bill they introduced Monday, while talks between Pelosi and Mnuchin, and between Mnuchin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, continue.
"We're going to be here Thursday," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said, waiting to see how Mnuchin does with McConnell. "We'll have to see. If we have an agreement, we're going to pass that agreement, then we're done until after the election. It's hard to say when we're going to leave." Mnuchin and Pelosi met for about an hour-and-a-half in person Wednesday, the first face-to-face meetings in weeks. That apparently went well enough for Mnuchin then to head over to meet with McConnell, though Pelosi was cautious in her assessment. "We found areas where we are seeking further clarification. Our conversation will continue," she said in a statement. She said that the House vote Wednesday night will "formalize" their offer to the White House and Senate.
"We made a lot of progress over the last few days," Mnuchin said after the meeting. "We still don't have an agreement, but we have more work to do. And we're gonna see where we end up." Mnuchin told reporters the White House had a $1.5 trillion proposal that includes trigger mechanisms based on the hospitalization rate from the disease and possibly vaccine development that could add another $400 billion in aid, bringing the total closer to the $2.2 trillion in the House bill. The White House offer includes expanded unemployment benefits, but it's not clear if it's as much as the $600/week the House has included, and another round of $1,200 direct payments to every adult. It also has about $500 billion allocated to state and local governments. The House bill is down to $436 billion, so that shouldn't be a point of contention with Pelosi and Mnuchin.
McConnell, however, is another matter. Mnuchin is backing McConnell up on his insistence that there be, in Mnuchin's words, "reasonable liability protection, both for schools and small businesses" against coronavirus-related lawsuits. What McConnell considers "reasonable" and what Democrats might consider "reasonable" is a potentially big problem. McConnell's first response was to douse any hope of relief to millions of struggling Americans. "It's safe to say we’re far apart," McConnell said. "The thought that Senate Republicans would go up to $2.2 trillion is outlandish."
But if it's $1.9 trillion and Trump really wants to send checks to every American before the election? That might make the calculation for McConnell—and for the handful of Republican senators who really want to still have jobs come January—different.