Barrett confirmation rises as issue in Kentucky Senate race

Politics

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to a gathering of supporters in Lawrenceburg, Ky., Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took a victory lap Wednesday for shepherding Amy Coney Barrett onto the U.S. Supreme Court, while his Democratic challenger questioned his priorities.

Amy McGrath said the Republican should have done more to deliver more coronavirus aid to hurting Kentuckians. She called it a symptom of what ails the Senate, saying that under McConnell’s leadership “everything’s been polarized, everything has been red or blue, dysfunctional.”

McConnell countered that he’s “never seen the Democrats so radical” and tried linking McGrath to her party’s progressive leaders — a tested GOP tactic in Kentucky. He also recounted his role in President Donald Trump’s impeachment acquittal in the Senate, telling a campaign audience: “I led the opposition to impeaching Donald Trump and I’m proud of it.”

McConnell and McGrath, a retired Marine combat pilot running as an political outsider, are engaged in a bruising, mega-spending campaign. Trump’s chief ally in Congress, McConnell has touted his leadership post as an asset for Kentucky as he seeks a seventh term. But McGrath has chided McConnell for his decades in the Senate and has called for term limits for senators.

With less than a week until Election Day, McConnell played up his alliance with Trump in putting conservatives on the federal bench. The GOP-led Senate has confirmed more than 200 judicial nominees of the Republican president, including three Supreme Court justices. The push to reshape the judiciary continued with Barrett’s confirmation Monday to the high court.

“It was a proud moment when we confirmed her Monday night,” McConnell said during a campaign stop in Oldham County, near Louisville. “We worked through the weekend … and we made an important difference for the country.”

McConnell referred to the confirmations of Trump’s judicial picks as “the most significant thing we could do that would last a long time.”

McConnell has led in polling. But McGrath is putting up a fight — backed by tens of millions in campaign funds bankrolling her TV advertising blitz.

McGrath said Barrett’s confirmation was done in a “hypocritical and cynical fashion” by McConnell, who blocked former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, in an election year.

“Now eight days from an election he jams one through,” McGrath said in Louisville on Tuesday. “That’s not America. That’s not what our Senate’s supposed to be doing. And he knows it.”

Instead, the focus should have been on reaching a deal to deliver more federal aid to a pandemic-stricken country, she said.

“He won’t help Kentuckians in their time of need,” McGrath said. “It’s him that’s stopping this. That’s the Congress that he built. You know what, that’s his legacy. That in a moment of national crisis, he cared about himself. He cared about his political party. He cared about his power.”

Insisting he wants another coronavirus relief bill, McConnell said he tried pushing through targeted relief for schools, small businesses and the health care sector but was stymied by Senate Democrats.

McConnell continued to tout his lead role in passing a $2 trillion economic rescue package early in the pandemic. His follow-up relief bill totaled about $500 billion, which stalled amid partisan wrangling over its size and scope.

McGrath has said McConnell waited too long and offered too little in the follow-up bill.

Continuing a campaign theme, McGrath said every American deserves affordable and accessible health care, adding “there are lots of ways to get there.” She supports adding a public health insurance option and expanding access to Medicare for people 55 and older.

The Democratic challenger warned that adding Barrett to the Supreme Court imperils the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, and said McConnell was complicit.

“Sen. McConnell tried for a decade to get rid of it,” McGrath said. “He couldn’t do it legislatively. Now he’s trying to do it in the courts.”

At their recent debate, McConnell said: “No one believes the Supreme Court is going to strike down the Affordable Care Act.”

With Kentucky being hit by another coronavirus surge, McConnell urged people to wear masks in public and practice social distancing until a vaccine is developed and distributed.

“We will get through this, and I promise you we will have one or more vaccines that work … and we’re going to kill this virus,” he said.

Kentuckians have been voting by mail-in ballots for weeks, and early in-person voting started more than two weeks ago and continues up to Election Day.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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