Oct 8, 2020

Mitch McConnell Kentucky Press Conference Transcript October 8

Mitch McConnell Press Conference Transcript October 8
RevBlogTranscriptsMitch McConnell Kentucky Press Conference Transcript October 8

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell held a press conference in Kentucky on October 8 with Rep. Andy Barr. McConnell said: “I haven’t been in the White House since August the sixth and I personally didn’t feel that they were approaching the protection from this illness in the same way that I thought it was appropriate for the Senate.” Read the transcript of the briefing here.

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Matt Cook: (00:38)
Good afternoon and welcome. I’m State Representative Matt Cook and chairman of the Paris-Bourbon County Economic Development Authority. I’d like to welcome everyone here. Appreciate you coming out. CMWA, we greatly appreciate you for hosting this event here today. You guys are a fantastic community partner. You’re so gracious and always willing to step up and help the community of Paris, and we appreciate so much everything that CMW does for us.

Matt Cook: (01:05)
One of the most important parts of economic development is taking care of the existing companies that you already have, and this U.S. 460 project is indeed a great example of doing that. Not only are we providing a safer, more direct route for Toyota or for direct routes to the interstate, we’re also helping our agriculture community out, guys like Mr. John Mahan, and being able to move their farm machinery up and down this road. Most importantly, we’re going to help our citizens of Paris, providing them a more safe and direct route to travel.

Matt Cook: (01:34)
So it’s greatly appreciated, and want to thank everyone that’s been involved in making this. It’s been a long process, but we appreciate everyone’s help in making this happen, especially Judge, Congressman Barr, and Leader McConnell. Thank you all for everything that you do for this community. At this time, I’d like to welcome our judge/executive, Judge Mike Williams.

Mike Williams: (02:01)
Thank you, Representative Cook. It’s a day of celebration, without question., We’ve looked forward to this announcement for a long, long time. Since I’ve been in office in 2015, we’ve been working with various officials in our community, and certainly on the national level with Congressman Barr’s office and Senator McConnell’s office, and our neighbors in Scott County, our representative, our state senator, all the folks that have some skin in the game, so to speak, regarding this announcement.

Mike Williams: (02:33)
We’re doing this for the people of Bourbon County and Scott County. We’re doing this in partnership with the folks that use this road, U.S. 460, our partners here at CMWA, our partners in Georgetown, represented by Mr. Kim Menke today at TMMK in Georgetown. We’re just so happy to have an opportunity to come to this point where we can begin the process of renovating this road.

Mike Williams: (03:01)
We’re doing this for all the families that have traveled this road for decades. This has been in the planning process for probably close to 30 years now at the state level. We’re so thankful for the folks at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, who have helped us to make this happen by their investment in money and time. Former Cabinet Secretary Greg Thomas was such an instrumental part in pushing this forward. Deputy Secretary Paul Looney, who worked with him, was a catalyst in getting us to the point where we could actually make this a reality.

Mike Williams: (03:37)
But today we’re here with two gentlemen that are friends of Bourbon County and Scott County, and certainly all of Kentucky, Congressman Barr and Leader McConnell. If it wasn’t for them, we would not be here today certainly, and we appreciate so much your participation. We appreciate so much all you do for our community. Thank you. It’s an honor to be here in this room with you. Thank you for all you do for Kentucky. Congressman Barr?

Andy Barr: (04:13)
Thank you, Judge Williams. I would just say this project would not have happened without the persistence and determination and persuasive advocacy for this project but for the work of the county judge here. Obviously, State Representative Matt Cook and our state senator have also been instrumental in this, but I really want to thank you, Judge, for your persistence throughout this process in advocating for this road improvement. Leader McConnell, thank you very much for your instrumental leadership on this project as well.

Andy Barr: (04:45)
I think this is a historic announcement because it’s going to not only improve driver safety, but also support the regional economic growth and vitality right here in central Kentucky. This BUILD grant funding, which will be used to make critically needed improvements to the U.S. 460 corridor that connects I-75 in Scott County with U.S. 27 in Bourbon County represents a significant contribution to a collaborative public-private financing commitment from all those involved.

Andy Barr: (05:15)
Bourbon and Scott Counties have each committed $1 million towards the project in addition to the BUILD award from the federal government, while seven local private companies have agreed to provide $84,500 towards the project. And thanks to CMWA for your leadership and support for the project and for hosting us here today. This major improvement to U.S. 460 earned the full support of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, which has already expended $2.8 million for the design and right-of-way acquisition while authorizing an additional $9 million in project funding to complete that work.

Andy Barr: (05:54)
My office first became involved in this project in January 2017, when we met with Judge Williams and Gordon Wilson and other stakeholders in Bourbon County about planning improvements to the road. They told us that the condition of the road was dangerous and is keeping Toyota-related businesses from locating in the Bourbon County Industrial Park. We confirmed that fatal crashes occur at a rate two times higher on U.S. 460 than on all other roads in Bourbon and Scott County. We also learned that fatal and injury crashes occur at a rate of 67% higher on this road than the statewide rate.

Andy Barr: (06:34)
Our office then inquired with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to research the best state or federal funding options as discussions progressed towards construction action items. By May of 2018, we began discussing with local stakeholders in both Bourbon and Scott Counties about the new Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or BUILD, Transportation Discretionary Grants program. In July 2018, after confirming that Bourbon and Scott Counties would proceed with applying for this funding opportunity, our office provided our first letter of support for their application.

Andy Barr: (07:10)
After receiving a notification of initial denial for that 2018 funding, both counties again applied in 2019, and our office provided a second letter of support and facilitated meetings in Washington. As we advocated for this project, I communicated to the Transportation Cabinet and to the Transportation Department that I could think of no other project in the country with greater merit for a BUILD grant, given the safety and economic development impact of the project. Bourbon County made the case and was awarded $10.2 million for their proportion of the project from the federal government.

Andy Barr: (07:50)
As a priority for Bourbon County, this project will provide safer and more reliable commutes for area residents accessing Georgetown’s Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky. And Kim, thanks for being here, and Toyota’s support. And other-

Andy Barr: (08:03)
… Kentucky, and Kim, thanks for being here at Toyota’s support, and other destinations along I-75. The improved connection will be enormously beneficial for area industries that supply raw materials to Toyota and for regional employees daily commute to Georgetown or other destinations along I-75. The Build US 460 project will help reduce vehicle miles traveled, fuel costs, emissions and travel time by making these improvements, enabling trucks to safely use the more direct 17.5-mile US 460 Route rather than the 27-mile alternative, US 27/US 62 corridor, now often used due to the 460 safety concerns. And with a safer and more efficient routes between Georgetown and Paris, we will certainly see better employment opportunities for the region’s rural workforce/ a thorough comprehensive cost benefit analysis performed for this project showed that for every $1 expended, a positive benefit of $6.60 will be generated. I’m proud to support this monumental project, this Build grant. I appreciate the collaboration our office has had with Leader McConnell’s office in support of these two great counties in the sixth district. And I’m proud that this critically needed infrastructure improvement will continue to support economic development in central Kentucky. And with that, I’d like to introduce my good friend, Leader Mitch McConnell.

Mitch McConnell: (09:39)
Well, thank you, Congressman Barr. You really covered quite well the significance of the project. And I want to start as you did by congratulating Representative Cook and Judge Williams. These are hard to get these. Grants are really hard to get. And had they not put together an extraordinarily worthwhile project, it wouldn’t have been possible for Congressman Barr and myself to advocate this to the US Department of Transportation. So just to give you an idea of how hard these grants are to get, this year there was no state in America, not a one, that got more bill grant awards than Kentucky. Not a one. We got more than New York, which got one, more than California, which got two, more than Texas, which got two. So clearly, the Kentucky delegation punches above its weight in Washington. In fact, the role I try to play, as you know, as one of the four congressional leaders, I’m the only one not from New York or California, is to give us an advantage, providing that additional opportunity to advocate on behalf of worthwhile projects.

Mitch McConnell: (11:08)
So the principal congratulations go to those locally who developed it, the cooperative relationship that Congressman Barr and I have, that produced the result that I think this company and a lot of other companies that use this road are going to need. Let me take a few moments to just talk about the issues that are dominating the news these days. First, with regard to the coronavirus, as you know, all of you, this has been an extraordinary year for all of us, a very, very challenging year indeed. In the Senate at the beginning of the year, we were in an impeachment trial. That’s about as partisan an activity as you could possibly engage in. Just as soon as that came to an end, we got hit with a 100-year pandemic. And we got the extraordinary advice from Dr. Fauci and others who are experts in these matters that we needed to shut the economy down. So we had both a 100-year pandemic healthcare crisis and an induced economic crisis in order to deal with a healthcare crisis all at once.

Mitch McConnell: (12:26)
So what we were confronted with was the big question what to do. The CARES Act, which began in my office, in the Senate majority leader’s office in consultation with the Democrats and the administration, and a couple of smaller companion pieces produced about $3 trillion to attack both the healthcare crisis and the economic crisis simultaneously. Amazingly enough, not a single dissenting vote was cast in the Senate, and there may have been one in the House, just one.

Mitch McConnell: (13:08)
So we put aside the partisan passions that are always present, particularly in the middle of an important election year like this, and did the right thing for the country. One month later over in the House, the Speaker decided to double down and pass another $3 trillion, which included such things as tax cuts for rich people in New York and California and free healthcare for illegal immigrants and a whole lot of other things that were completely unrelated to the crisis before us. The approach I took was we just passed the CARES Act. Why don’t we see how it works? Why don’t we see what happens when the economy begins to open up again and take a look at it in a few months? It became clear in July it was time to talk again. The one thing I think we all agreed on was that another rescue package was a good idea. But as you can imagine, we were a lot closer to the election, and you’ve watched the back and forth over what is appropriate to do at this particular time. The Speaker insists on an outrageous amount of money. Remember, we already have now a debt the size of our economy for the first time since World War II. That in itself ought to give everyone pause before we add more to it.

Mitch McConnell: (14:38)
And while the economy is still struggling, it’s useful to note that the 8.4% unemployment rate we have is about the same as it was several years during the first Obama administration. So the economy is struggling to get back to normal. What do I think we should have done? Well, I put on the floor of the Senate a bill that seems like last year would $0.5 trillion. I can remember when that wasn’t chump change. That focused on the following things: liability protection so that no one engaged in dealing with this unknown disease, hospital, doctor, nurse, small business person, college president, no one, could be successfully sued unless you could demonstrate they were grossly negligent or engaged in intentional misbehavior, and it would cover a period from December 2019, four years forward and then go away, a one-time liability protection for a 100-year pandemic; plus money for schools-

Mitch McConnell: (16:02)
… Money for schools, over a hundred billion dollars for schools. For replenishing the popular PPP loan program. And let me just touch on that for a minute. In Kentucky, over 50,000 small businesses have access to over $5.2 billion in these forgivable PPP loans. It has literally helped to float our economy during this economic crisis. It needs to be replenished. So, that was another item in the bill that I put on the floor.

Mitch McConnell: (16:38)
Third, additional assistance for healthcare providers in particular hospitals, and also another round of checks for low income people, particularly in the hospitality field, hotels and restaurants, that have been hit the hardest.

Mitch McConnell: (16:56)
Regretfully, we couldn’t go to a single Democrat to support it and in the Senate, you need some level of cooperation in order to take a bill up. So, we’ve been going back and forth and back and forth. And a lot of people, including these folks in front of me are probably going to say, what are the prospects of getting another rescue package?

Mitch McConnell: (17:18)
I think it’s uncertain. But we’re still talking and hopefully there’ll be a way forward soon. But I do think the proximity of the election has made this much more challenging. Now the coronavirus is still going to be with us after the election. So, we’re going to have to deal with this whenever we’re willing to deal with it on a bipartisan basis, which leads me to remind everybody that this virus is not going to go away on its own. And one of the things that I’ve been preaching since May, when the Senate reconvened, is it is possible to work safely during a pandemic.

Mitch McConnell: (17:55)
We’ve been wearing masks as you are. You are practicing social distancing. And the Senate has been a relatively safe workplace since the 1st of May. It can be done and it must be done because Dr. Fauci says now we can’t shut the economy down again. As you know, it produced a whole different set of problems. Spouse abuse up, child abuse up, overdoses up, suicides up. Confining everybody had a whole different set of challenges. Take hospitals, for example, our governor and others, and I’m not saying this should not have been done, shut down elective surgery. If any of you are on a hospital board, the only money hospitals make is with elective surgery, not on Medicare, not on Medicaid. So they went into red ink almost immediately, which is why people like Congressman Barr and myself provided over a billion dollars here in Kentucky for hospitals to help them get through this.

Mitch McConnell: (19:02)
But we don’t want to do that again because the people whose healthcare was delayed were adversely impacted by having to wait a couple of months to get the treatment that they needed. So, we’re going to tackle this. Again, the timing is uncertain based on the proximity to the election.

Mitch McConnell: (19:21)
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Supreme Court. We have before us an extraordinary nominee with an incredible life story. Seven children, two of them adopted. One of them is special needs. A brilliant scholar was described by a Notre Dame Dean, where she went to the law school.

Mitch McConnell: (19:50)
By the way, Andy, I know you share my view that it’s about time we had somebody on the Supreme Court who didn’t go to Harvard or Yale. She would be the only one on the Supreme Court that didn’t go to Harvard or Yale.

Mitch McConnell: (20:02)
Described her as the single brightest student he ever had in all of his years at Notre Dame. She clerked for Justice Scalia. She’s a stunningly intelligent person with a great life story and we intend to move forward and complete that confirmation in the very near future.

Mitch McConnell: (20:25)
So, with that, Andy why don’t you come on over? We’ll be happy to take any questions you all might have.

Speaker 1: (20:42)
When was the last time either you were tested for the coronavirus?

Andy Barr: (20:48)
Could you use the microphone maybe? Because we can’t really hear you.

Speaker 1: (20:51)
You need me to take my mask off? Would that help?

Andy Barr: (20:53)
Lowering it might be fine.

Speaker 1: (20:55)
When was the last time either of you were test for the coronavirus?

Mitch McConnell: (21:00)
Well, I’ve been following it, following the advice of the CDC and the capital physician. I can tell you, I haven’t been in the White House since August the sixth and I personally didn’t feel that they were approaching the protection from this illness in the same way that I thought it was appropriate for the Senate. And the Senate has been operating in a way that I think as largely prevented contraction of this disease as we operate in the Senate. In other words, I think we’ve shown that we can function safely. Do you have anything you want to add?

Andy Barr: (21:40)
I’ve been tested a few times. When I’ve been to the White House, every time you go to the white house, you do a rapid ID test in order to proceed into the West Wing or wherever your meeting is. So, every time since the outbreak that I’ve been to the White House, I’ve had to be tested in advance and on occasion, even though asymptomatic, just out of an abundance of precaution because of my travels, I did get tested coming back to Lexington, but that’s just really out of an abundance of caution. Never had symptoms. Just wanted to make sure.

Speaker 2: (22:20)
You said the timing for another coronavirus deal is uncertain at this point. The president indicated that he would prefer that a more comprehensive coronavirus deal plan be put off until after the election. Do you agree with that or would you prefer to have that deal done before?

Mitch McConnell: (22:41)
Yeah, I think we’re still talking and trying to see if we can narrow our differences and the discussion from day to day can be confusing for all of us to follow, but we’re still engaging and hoping we can find a way forward. At some point we’re going to have to find a way forward because I do think there’s bipartisan agreement that we need another package, but the amount of money is not irrelevant. The amount of money it’s not irrelevant and how you spend it is not irrelevant.

Mitch McConnell: (23:13)
And I can say on behalf of Senate Republicans, we want to tackle the problem, not all of these other unrelated items that seem to be driving the cost of this up over on the House side. And at least so far, we haven’t been able to get together like we did back in the spring, which was a good example, by the way, that even in a really partisan atmosphere, every once in a while, we can rise above it and get together. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to do that since then.

Andy Barr: (23:48)
I’d like to add one thing about the PPP program, because as a member of the financial services committee, I’ve worked very closely with secretary Mnuchin and Jay Powell and the SBA, the federal reserve and the small business administration, on this program, which has been extremely successful-

Andy Barr: (24:03)
… and the small business administration on this program, which has been extremely successful for small business constituents, it was literally a lifeline that not only kept those Main Street firms in business, but also workers on the payroll. It literally helped people avoid more unemployment, because they were able to get their paycheck during that time of the shutdown.

Andy Barr: (24:23)
We do need, especially for certain distressed sectors, and you heard Chairman Powell talk about this earlier this week, we do need some additional stimulus for those distressed sectors. Hospitality, commercial real estate, retail, the airlines, obviously, but the PPP program, we don’t even have to appropriate more funds.

Andy Barr: (24:41)
The CARES Act, and then the subsequent legislation that followed on to replenish the PPP program, there’s still $135 billion of unspent money. All we need to do is reauthorize that program, and then streamline the forgiveness part of that, to make it a work in and provide that additional lifeline for those targeted distressed industries.

Andy Barr: (25:04)
There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be doing that right now, and unfortunately, every time the speaker gets involved, she wants to put extraneous issues in the mix, and that’s regrettable, and that’s why we don’t have another round of PPP right now.

Speaker 3: (25:23)
Looking ahead to Monday night’s debate against Democratic challenger retired Lieutenant Colonel Amy McGrath, what do you think should be the main focus of Monday night?

Speaker 4: (25:37)
Monday night’s debate against McGrath, and what should the main focus be?

Mitch McConnell: (25:42)
Well, it’ll be up to Bill Bryant to ask the questions. The format that I’ve agreed to, and that she has as well, no notes, no props, no audience. Just Bill Bryant asking questions of us, and it’ll give everybody an opportunity to assess the two candidates. I expect she will do extremely well, and all of you will have plenty to write about when we get through it.

Speaker 3: (26:15)
Have you been preparing?

Mitch McConnell: (26:16)
Have I what?

Speaker 3: (26:16)
Have you been preparing?

Speaker 4: (26:17)
Have you been preparing? Have you been preparing?

Mitch McConnell: (26:21)
Of course, yes. Yeah. Having done this a few times, I think debate prep is always important, and I certainly have been working on it, yes.

Speaker 3: (26:29)
Do you think that you two will be able to just talk about the issues, or do you anticipate any back and forth, talking over each other, like we have seen in the presidential debate and in the vice presidential debate?

Mitch McConnell: (26:43)
Well, I’m expecting it to be a civil discussion of the issues, and looking forward to it.

Speaker 3: (26:49)
And then lastly, my last question is, President Trump has, today he said that he was not going to participate in the second presidential debate because of it being virtual with his coronavirus diagnosis. Do you think that was the right move?

Mitch McConnell: (27:05)
I think every campaign has to decide what’s in their own best interest, and I won’t be giving the Trump campaign any advice about how to conduct their campaign. I got my hands full dealing with my own.

Speaker 5: (27:22)
So, you just said you’re still engaging on talks, and separating out the partisan divide, the partisan maneuvering that has to go on through this, do you feel a sense of urgency? Do you feel like the clock is ticking on passing some sort of coronavirus relief, given the fact that there are a lot of people out of work, all of the problems that we’re facing right now?

Mitch McConnell: (27:44)
Yeah. I mean, I put a bill on the Senate floor a month ago. I wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t think we ought to move again. I did say, in March and April, I thought we ought to wait a while to see what the impact of CARES was.

Mitch McConnell: (27:57)
Congressman Barr’s pointed out a couple of things we needed to correct so that PPP could continue to function as it should, and I felt in July, it was time to move ahead, but what we’ve seen since then is multiple efforts in the House to pass massive bills full of all kinds of things unrelated. In the Senate, we tried a more targeted approach. As I said earlier, Senate Democrats wouldn’t let us take up. Of course, I think we ought to act again, but when you’ve got a debt the size of your economy for the first time since World War II, it’s not an argument for extravagant unrelated spending.

Speaker 5: (28:39)
And I’m curious how much the White House plays a role because , I mean, you’ve talked about how they’ve handled it differently than in the Senate. Does President Trump’s rhetoric, does that detract from your ability to meet in the middle and pass a relief package?

Mitch McConnell: (28:52)
Well, in any legislative matter, the president is not irrelevant. He’s the only person out of 330 million people who can sign something to get into law. So, yeah, the administration’s involved in any discussions we have, and I think all of you know, for something to become a law, it has to pass the House, pass the Senate and be signed by the president. So, sure. Yeah, the president’s at the table, represented by Secretary Mnuchin.

Speaker 5: (29:17)
But I mean the attitude. So, you’ve said you felt a sense of urgency. I know the Democrats have expressed a sense of urgency as well. Do you feel like the attitude that the president and the White House has taken toward the virus has maybe slowed down the process as a whole?

Mitch McConnell: (29:33)
Look, I got my hands full with 52 other Republican senators, not all of whom, believe it or not, it’s hard for you to understand, have the same view of this. I’ve got a significant percentage of my members who think we’ve done enough, and who are alarmed that the amount of national debt.

Mitch McConnell: (29:54)
So, just synthesizing the various views within my conference in a way that gives us the chance to go forward takes up plenty of time, and each of these three entities, the White House, the House, and the Senate, have to first manage their own membership and then see if we can somehow come together, and because of the proximity to election, as I’ve said repeatedly, we just haven’t been able to do that yet. Okay. Thanks, everybody.

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