A Q&A with Sen. Mitch McConnell and Amy McGrath

Published 3:26 pm Thursday, September 10, 2020




With the general election approaching, it’s important to know where candidates stand on the issues. The Middlesboro News asked Sen. Mitch McConnell and opponent Amy McGrath a series of questions. McGrath gave her answers over the phone, and Sen. McConnell provided his answers in an email. Their responses have been edited for clarity and brevity. To register to vote, visit govoteky.com. The registration deadline is Oct. 5, and the deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is Oct. 9.


Amy McGrath


What are some key issues at stake in this race, and what is your stance on these issues?


AM: We have 190,000 Americans dead. We have an economy that hasn’t been this bad since the Great Depression. We have to have a plan to tackle this virus. We’ve got to have a plan to get our economy back. Part of that plan is the issue I launched my campaign on a year ago, health care. And in rural Kentucky, we need to shore up the Affordable Care Act, not throw it away.

We need to pass things like the Rural Emergency Acute Care Hospital Act. We’ve got to do common sense things like get prescription drug prices down.

We’ve got to bring good, quality jobs to Kentucky. We have some of the lowest wages in the country and some of the highest cancer rates, rates of diabetes, rates of heart disease. We’re not healthy, and we haven’t attracted the good, quality jobs that we need. And Mitch McConnell doesn’t have a plan to do that. I do, and it means investment in education, health care, infrastructure — 21st-century infrastructure — and I’m talking about broadband and cell phone coverage.


Going forward into 2021, what do you want to do to help people through this pandemic?


AM: I have an entire plan on this, the Rebuild Kentucky Plan, and the first thing we need to do is immediately address the economic pain that Kentuckians are facing. That means more money to state and local governments.

We need an extension of unemployment insurance for people who have been thrown off their work from no fault of their own. We need an actual plan for personal protective equipment, testing and tracing and to get our small businesses back and afloat. We need to get prescription drug prices down, have a public option in the Medicare buy-in plan, tackle the opioid crisis.

We have to have good-paying jobs, and that means an investment in infrastructure because no business is going to come to a county in Kentucky that cannot talk to the modern world, and the way you talk to the modern world is broadband. It’s the internet. We have to have an emphasis on education and the tools that our kids need to succeed.


What do you plan to do for the working poor and unemployed?


AM: We need an extension of unemployment insurance, and it’s unbelievable that Mitch McConnell is holding this up. The bill passed the House. He won’t even allow it to the floor of the Senate. And then going forward, let’s tackle poverty with a major investment in infrastructure and universal pre-k.

Let’s close the $23 billion gap between communities that have been disadvantaged and communities that haven’t in education. Let’s do things like a national service plan so that if you want to go to college, you can afford it and serve your country at the same time, and you don’t come out with massive debt. Let’s bring back manufacturing jobs.

You cannot change Washington until you change the people that you send there. And if you want to drain the swamp, you’ve got to get rid of the guy who built the swamp, Mitch McConnell.

And here’s the other thing — we need term limits.


What do you plan to do not only for corporations but also small, local, independently-owned businesses?


AM: I’m not against corporations. I just think that McConnell continues to put big corporations above everyday Kentuckians every single time. Let’s just talk about Eastern Kentucky as an example, the RECLAIM Act. It’s been sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk. It would bring jobs to the area, cleaning up parts of Eastern Kentucky, partnering with coal miners and families to do that. Mitch McConnell won’t do anything about it.

And then if you’re talking about businesses, especially in rural Kentucky, Mitch has given handouts to big business and hasn’t done hardly anything for entrepreneurs to encourage tourism in Eastern Kentucky. We need to make use of our forests. We have a potential multi-billion dollar industry in sustainable forestry that could supply jobs in Eastern Kentucky, that could help our environment. Small businesses have been struggling, especially in the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to invest more in main streets across rural Kentucky, and we can do that. The HEROES Act does that, the act that’s sitting on his desk right now.

One of the things that would really help entrepreneurship would be tackling health care because people are so worried about health care and not being able to afford it that they don’t want to leave their jobs, if they have good health care, to become entrepreneurs because there’s no public option. That’s one of the things that I want to do is I want to bring a public option or an Uncle Sam plan that would be available for all Americans to buy, and it wouldn’t necessarily be linked to your job.

These are common sense things. There certainly needs to be more funding for entrepreneurship: tax breaks, loan forgiveness, that sort of thing. We need to expand on apprenticeship programs and trade schools.


What do you believe can be done in Kentucky to improve policing, especially in the Black community and especially as it pertains to excessive or deadly force?


Certainly as a Marine Corps veteran combat pilot, I’m not going to do anything to make us less safe, I will not defund the police and I condemn any violence unequivocally. I’m strongly for law and order, but I also believe in justice and equality, and I also believe we need to improve policing. At the national level, the first thing I would do is make sure that we have a national database for police — you shouldn’t be dismissed from one police department and then be able to roll into another one.

We need to have independent investigations any time there is a deadly use of force that is controversial. I think we need to have more funding for mental health responders because we’ve been asking police to do more than what they are trained for. I think we should be looking at racial bias and de-escalation training.


Facing an incumbent who’s been in the U.S. Senate since 1984, especially considering he is Senate Majority Leader, what are some of your biggest advantages and disadvantages?


AM: I think my biggest advantage is that Kentuckians know how bad he is. They know after 36 years, Kentucky can do better. America can do better. Here we are in a national crisis, and does anybody think that our federal government is helping? Does anybody think we actually have a plan? The coronavirus is the first major international crisis in which no one in the world is looking to the United States for leadership.

My disadvantage is probably the fact that he’s been around so long and people know his name, and they may not know me because I’ve been wearing a uniform, serving the country for the last 24 years. I kept my name low. I just served.

I’m not an extremist. I’m for common sense. But the man that we have as a Senator right now is completely bought-off, and like many Americans and Kentuckians, I am tired of it.


Sen. Mitch McConnell:


What are some key issues at stake in this race, and what is your stance on these issues? 


This election is one of the most important elections in our history. On the left, there are Democrats who are eager to completely transform the nation we live in by instituting the Green New Deal, creating government-run, single-payer health care, establishing a 100% open-border policy, hiking taxes on hardworking Kentucky families, and legalizing taxpayer-funded abortions through the ninth month.

On the other side are Republicans like me who are proud to serve as the firewall to these radical policies. We don’t need more government and higher taxes. We need less government and low taxes to help middle-class families thrive.


Going forward into 2021, what do you want to do to help people through this pandemic? 


The CARES Act, a coronavirus rescue package written in my office in March, has been tremendously helpful all across Kentucky. Its $12 billion impact has gone to small businesses, families, farmers, hospitals and frontline heroes and teachers.

As Kentuckians and all Americans continue to grapple with both the health and economic effects of the coronavirus, Congress must keep our focus on creating jobs, getting kids back in school, health care, and ensuring businesses, schools, and hospitals have liability protections to operate safely in this new normal. Our economy can only return to normal once kids are back in school and parents are back to work, so we need legislation focused on protecting current jobs and creating new ones.

On the health care front, we are in the midst of a Manhattan Project-style effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine, and Congress stands ready to ensure there are necessary resources to research and distribute a safe vaccine. As Senate Majority Leader, I am leading efforts in the Senate to pass a bill that addresses each of those pillars.


What do you plan to do for the working poor and unemployed? 


The most important thing we can do in the Senate is passing legislation with a focus on creating new jobs and opportunities. As a member of the Appropriations Committee and as Senate Majority Leader, I am in a unique position to help create these opportunities, not just talk about them.

For example, my leadership has secured record funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission’s important work in Eastern Kentucky. ARC funding supports economic growth in Eastern Kentucky by helping create jobs, combat the spiking substance abuse epidemic, and provide employment training for former coal miners to develop new skills for new careers. ARC has been tremendously successful in its efforts, and, if needed, I will encourage programs that follow these same principles.


What do you plan to do not only for corporations but also small, local, independently-owned businesses? 


Main Street businesses are the backbone of our economy, and they have been hit hard by this pandemic. The CARES Act created the Paycheck Protection Program to help small businesses make ends meet and continue paying their employees. More than 50,000 Kentucky small businesses and nonprofits received more than $5.2 billion in 100% forgivable loans through this program, which saved those businesses and thousands of jobs.

I hope to pass another rescue package that reopens this critical program to help small businesses successfully navigate out of this pandemic. More broadly, I pledge to keep taxes low for all job creators. Unlike my opponents on the other side of the aisle, I won’t hike taxes to a point that makes the U.S. unattractive to open a new business, no matter the size.


What do you believe can be done in Kentucky to improve policing, especially in the Black community and especially as it pertains to excessive or deadly force?


The first thing we need to speak clearly about is that the need for good policing is as important as ever. Any discussion of defunding the police is a ridiculous and dangerous suggestion. In response to the legitimate concerns that peaceful protestors have, earlier this summer I called up a police reform bill authored by Senator Tim Scott, an African American Republican from South Carolina. Senate Republicans were ready to discuss smart reforms of law enforcement without steamrolling states’ and localities’ constitutional powers.

But under the Senate rules, it requires some cooperation from both sides to call up a bill, and Democrats refused to let us even call up the debate. That to me is not a way to provide a good example for the American people. What we should’ve done is negotiate an outcome on a bipartisan basis and get a result that begins to move us in the right direction. Our Democratic friends, I think, would rather have an issue than an outcome.


Being an incumbent who’s been in the U.S. Senate since 1984, especially considering you are Senate Majority Leader, what are some of your biggest advantages and disadvantages?


Of the four Congressional leaders, I am the only one not from New York or California. My position as Senate Majority Leader is Kentucky’s gain because I am able to use my influence to allow Kentucky to punch above its weight at the decision-making table. I am the only Congressional leader in the room looking out for middle America. From securing millions to fight the opioid epidemic to saving the health care and pension benefits for thousands of Kentucky miners, Kentuckians trust me to deliver on the issues that matter most. My record of working for Kentucky is indisputable, and I’m proud it is on the ballot this year.