LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made an enthusiastic pitch Monday for Republican candidates on the ballot nationally, pointing to the pre-coronavirus economy and the appointment of conservative judges while saying Joe Biden would not be able to resist Democrats’ leftward shift.
Appearing at a forum hosted by Kentucky Farm Bureau, McConnell said he looks out for middle America as the only one of the top four congressional leaders not from California or New York.
The Kentucky Republican, seeking a seventh term in the November election, was able to monopolize the time since his Democratic challenger, Amy McGrath, skipped the event. McGrath campaigned in western Kentucky on Monday to promote her health-care plan. The rivals have yet to have a socially distanced face-off, and their campaigns are at odds over a debate schedule.
During the Farm Bureau forum, McConnell defended the records of President Donald Trump and the GOP-led Senate as Republicans struggle to hold onto the White House and Senate.
“I think we’ve made an important difference for the country,” McConnell said. “In February, we had the best economy in 50 years. Two months later we looked like the Great Depression after the coronavirus. But the things we were doing were working.”
McConnell pointed to Republican successes in cutting regulations and passing a tax overhaul.
The Senate leader also stressed his role in helping reshape much of the federal judiciary. He blocked the Senate from considering President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, clearing the way for Trump to appoint conservative jurist Neil Gorsuch. In June, the Senate confirmed the 200th federal judge named by Trump.
“That’s probably the most lasting impact this administration, coupled with this Senate, has had that will last into the future,” McConnell said.
McConnell said the appointees share a similar characteristic — a belief that “the job of a judge is to actually follow the law and not act like a legislator.”
McConnell tore into his political opponents at the event, saying the Democratic Party has become “much more radical … than you have ever seen.”
As for Biden, McConnell said he likes the Democratic presidential nominee and long-time Senate colleague personally and did some deals with him during the Obama years, including an agreement that kept the country from falling off a fiscal cliff.
But McConnell said the former vice president is “not going to resist the whole thrust of the national Democratic Party.”
McConnell also ripped into McGrath for skipping the Farm Bureau event.
“I think the fact that my opponent is not here indicates the utter contempt the Democrats have for rural America these days,” McConnell said.
McGrath campaigned elsewhere Monday to promote her health plan, which includes adding a public health insurance option as part of the Obama-era Affordable Care Act and expanding access to Medicare for people 55 and older. McGrath accused McConnell of trying to repeal the health-care law without having a viable replacement.
“Our state has some of the worst health statistics,” McGrath said. “Yet as generation after generation of Kentuckians face these struggles, McConnell seems determined to dismantle our health care system and rip away coverage from hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians.”
Sticking to one of his campaign themes, McConnell said Kentucky benefits from his role in setting the Senate’s agenda. McGrath would be “dead last” in seniority if she joined the Senate, he said.
“If she were to succeed in defeating me, her first vote in the Senate would be to make Chuck Schumer from New York the majority leader of the Senate, therefore transferring the advantage Kentucky currently has to New York,” he said.
McGrath, a retired Marine combat pilot, has raised prolific amounts of campaign cash in her bid to unseat the Kentucky Republican. McConnell referred to himself Monday as a lightning rod for national Democrats, saying: “Every lefty in the country would love to see me lose.”
During policy discussions, McConnell made no mention of retaliatory tariffs imposed by some countries in fights Trump initiated, which have diminished markets for some U.S. exports, including Kentucky bourbon and some farm products. Instead he touted his support for numerous trade deals during his Senate career and his willingness to do more, saying it would benefit agriculture.
“There are a lot of people in the country who believe that it’s a loser,” he said. “The president has frequently criticized past trade deals as being inadequate. I suppose you could argue about that.
“But generally speaking, a big, powerful country like us can dominate a lot of areas of trade, and no part of our economy has done it better than agriculture,” McConnell added.