Oct 12, 2020
Mitch McConnell vs. Amy McGrath Kentucky Senate Debate Transcript October 12
Incumbent Senator Mitch McConnell faced off in a debate against his Democratic opponent Amy McGrath on October 12. Read the full transcript of their debate here.
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Amy McGrath: (00:00)
Tonight, Gray Television and UK student government welcome you to the Kentucky Debate.
Bill Bryant: (00:08)
Good evening. Live from the studios of WKYT in Lexington, I’m Bill Bryant. And I’m joined tonight by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and by retired Lieutenant Colonel Amy McGrath. We are following CDC guidelines tonight. While we’re in the same studio, the candidates and I are each 20 feet apart.
Bill Bryant: (00:27)
Each candidate will have 60 seconds to answer our questions and brief rebuttals will also be permitted tonight. A drawing determined the order of who will answer first, and Lieutenant Colonel McGrath, we will begin with you. And our question is, going into this election, nothing impacts the voters more than the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bill Bryant: (00:48)
The two of you have sparred over whether each of you should be tested before this debate. It comes to that. The president and the first lady have had COVID-19. Kentucky’s governor and his family are now in quarantine after an exposure. What should the federal government be doing right now to mitigate the threat of COVID-19?
Amy McGrath: (01:06)
Well, you’re right, Bill. The coronavirus has upended all of our lives, and if you take a step back and recognize that Senator McConnell, as Senate Majority Leader, has the highest levels of national security briefings of any member of Congress, and he knew about the dangers of coronavirus way back in January. And did he tell us? Did he come back to Kentucky and say, “Hey, we need to prepare”? Did he get the nation prepared and get our president prepared for what was to be this crisis?
Amy McGrath: (01:33)
No, he didn’t. The first time that he said the word coronavirus wasn’t until the stock market crashed, and all along, he’s playing these very partisan political games, even now when Kentucky and America needs more aid. That’s not what you’re going to get from me.
Amy McGrath: (01:51)
I have a plan to get us through this coronavirus so that our schools are opened up safely, so that we get our economy back, and stop playing these games. To this day, Senator McConnell still doesn’t have a plan, a national testing and tracing plan, and he’s not going to do what’s right for our country.
Bill Bryant: (02:07)
That’s time. Senator McConnell.
Mitch McConnell: (02:09)
Well, Bill, I want to start by congratulating Colonel McGrath for her service in the military. It’s been my privilege to nominate 131 Kentucky women to have the same opportunity she did. I also was involved in making it possible for women in the military to go into different jobs, like being able to fly in combat.
Mitch McConnell: (02:33)
With regard to the question you asked, what I did was shepherd through the Senate an almost $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill, which has provided $13 billion for Kentucky, over a billion dollars for hospitals and healthcare providers, and I’ve tried to be a good example, too.
Mitch McConnell: (02:57)
When we went back in session in the Senate in May, I was the one who said we need to wear a mask, practice social distancing. Dr. Fauci’s made it clear that coronavirus is not going away, and we need to practice distancing and mask until we finally get a vaccine and can put this in the rear-view mirror.
Bill Bryant: (03:17)
Time’s up, Senator, and Lieutenant Colonel McGrath, you have a rebuttal.
Amy McGrath: (03:20)
Sure. Well, Senator McConnell, that legislation was passed back in March. And here we are, this coronavirus is still happening. The House put up legislation in May, and it’s been sitting on his desk all summer long. He took a vacation, didn’t see the urgency to do anything.
Amy McGrath: (03:38)
Meanwhile, here in Kentucky, we have a million Kentuckians that are filed for unemployment sometime in the last six months. We have 300,000 Kentuckians that still don’t have healthcare in the middle of coronavirus. And he’s walking away from negotiations even now when President Trump even wants negotiations to happen before this election. It’s irresponsible.
Bill Bryant: (03:58)
Mitch McConnell: (04:00)
Well, what she supported after the Cares Act was the so-called Heroes bill over in the House at $3 trillion, and which included in it, by the way, tax cuts for rich people in New York and California, healthcare for illegal immigrants, and by the way, that bill that she supported, that they passed in the House after the Cares Act, provided more money for Puerto Rico than it did for Kentucky. In spite of her best efforts, she’s a national Democrat. She is in line with Schumer and Pelosi and all the rest on all of these issues.
Bill Bryant: (04:38)
For Kentuckians, President Trump and Governor Andrew Beshear are the two most important voices that they hear regarding COVID-19, and their messages are very often different. How would you rate their handling of the historic health crisis that we now face? Senator McConnell?
Mitch McConnell: (04:55)
Well, I think they’ve both done the best they can with an unknown disease that we were all trying to figure out how to handle. Imagine the situation we had in early March when Dr. Fauci recommended we shut down the economy in order to deal with the healthcare pandemic. So we were confronted with a combination of problems, a healthcare emergency, and a shut down economy at the same time.
Mitch McConnell: (05:21)
What to do? Well the Cares Act began in my office. We drafted it, built it out, appealed to the Democrats and the administration, and literally flooded the zone with, ultimately, $3 trillion to both deal with the healthcare pandemic and the economic crisis created by shutting down the government.
Mitch McConnell: (05:41)
And we learned some lessons. Dr. Fouci has indicated we’re not going to shut the economy down again. I agree with him. It created a whole different set of problems. So in the meantime, what we have to do until we get a vaccine is to wear our mask, practice social distancing, and try to prevent the spread.
Bill Bryant: (05:59)
Senator, thank you. Lieutenant Colonel McGrath.
Amy McGrath: (06:03)
Well, I give the president, the White House, and this Congress an F for its handling of coronavirus. Look, we have 213,000 Americans dead in nine months. That’s more Americans dead than World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan Wars combined. And Senator McConnell thinks we’ve done a good job? We have 5% of the world’s population, 25% of the world’s COVID cases.
Amy McGrath: (06:34)
And we still have a president in mixed messages from this White House on how to handle this virus. And Senator McConnell, his one job is to help America face this crisis right now in passing legislation to keep our economy afloat so the people can make ends meet. And instead of doing that, he is trying to ram through a Supreme Court nominee right now, instead of negotiating, which is what he should have been doing all summer long to make that happen.
Bill Bryant: (07:04)
Senator, do you have an additional response?
Mitch McConnell: (07:06)
Well, what you wanted us to pass was the bill that provided healthcare for illegals, tax cuts for rich people in New York and California, and had more money in it for Puerto Rico than for Kentucky. Yeah, we’ve been negotiating, trying to put something reasonable together that actually attacks the problem.
Mitch McConnell: (07:24)
I laid out a bill in the Senate about a month ago that provided a liability protection so that people didn’t get sued as a result of how they handle this, kids in school, jobs, healthcare. We couldn’t get a single Democrat to vote for it. So it’s pretty clear to me that her party doesn’t want to get a solution.
Bill Bryant: (07:44)
Senator, time. Lieutenant Colonel, [crosstalk 00:07:45].
Amy McGrath: (07:45)
Can I respond to that?
Bill Bryant: (07:46)
Amy McGrath: (07:47)
Yeah. So Senator McConnell three years ago had no problems ramming through, working overtime, to pass a $2 trillion tax cut for the wealthiest 1% and corporations. But now when it comes to Kentucky families, when it comes to putting food on the table, when it comes to renters, that 40% of Kentucky renters are facing eviction right now, he won’t pass the $2 trillion that even President Trump wants done right now. I mean, $2 trillion for corporations? No problem. $2 trillion for Kentucky in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of a national crisis that we haven’t seen in 100 years? No, that’s too hard.
Bill Bryant: (08:25)
All right. Let’s let’s really get into it because you’ve both made glancing references to the economic activity and the problem that we have right now and the trouble with getting a deal. And the pandemic has had a devastating impact on our economy, and we’re all well aware of that.
Bill Bryant: (08:40)
A $600 federal boost to unemployment benefits ended, a loan forgiveness program for small businesses expired, airlines have started mass layoffs as federal payroll assistance programs have ended as well. So this question, which comes from a University of Kentucky student, and we’re privileged to have their perspective tonight, where do you stand on negotiations on a second stimulus bill? And we begin with Lieutenant Colonel McGrath.
Amy McGrath: (09:06)
Well, as I said before, I think it’s an absolute dereliction of duty to not be negotiating and working on this. This is the first time in a century, in 100 years, where we have a major international crisis, where no one in the world is looking to the United States for leadership. Think about that. It’s because we have such poor leaders right now, who can’t get this coronavirus under control.
Amy McGrath: (09:37)
And the one thing that our Senate is supposed to do is to help people right now. And here’s the problem. Senator McConnell built a Senate that is so dysfunctional and so partisan that even in the middle of a national crisis, you can’t get it done. Think about that. For that reason alone, he should be voted out of office. We’ve got to get our democracy back again. We got to get our democracy working because we have to get through this crisis right now.
Bill Bryant: (10:09)
That’s your time. Senator McConnell.
Mitch McConnell: (10:11)
Well, my opponent’s entitled to her opinion, but not to her own set of facts. I mean, here’s the situation. We’ve been in negotiation with the speaker. She’s been demanding we throw $3 trillion at this problem in a way that is largely, in many respects, unrelated to solving the problem.
Mitch McConnell: (10:36)
What we’ve been trying to do is to reach an agreement. When you have divided government, you actually have to reach an agreement. And the speaker has been totally unreasonable and not interested in getting an outcome as we’ve tried and tried and tried.
Mitch McConnell: (10:50)
As I just said a few minutes ago, I put a bill on the floor of a half, a trillion dollars, a lot of money, about a month ago to tackle this problem in a highly targeted way, going after vaccines, treatment, testing, and we couldn’t get a single Democrat to vote for it. I think they don’t want a solution prior to the election.
Bill Bryant: (11:14)
Lieutenant Colonel McGrath, 30 seconds.
Amy McGrath: (11:17)
Well, I would just say is, all summer long Senator McConnell didn’t see the urgency of doing anything and even negotiating. And here’s the thing. He sits here and he says, “It’s too hard. It’s too hard to negotiate, too hard to get it done.” He’s basically saying that’s too hard for him.
Amy McGrath: (11:33)
That’s not hard to do what’s right for America. It’s not hard. I’ll tell you what’s hard. Strap on a $70 million jet to your back, land it on an aircraft carrier, 150 miles an hour at night in bad weather with no navigational aids. That’s hard. Doing what’s right for the American public in the middle of a national crisis, not hard.
Bill Bryant: (11:53)
Senator McConnell, you have an additional response.
Mitch McConnell: (11:56)
When you have a divided government, there has to be a willingness on both sides to get an agreement, and the Speaker of the House has clearly not been interested in getting an outcome. That’s why the talks have gone on for a while. She just chooses to blame the Republican Senate, when obviously, the biggest part of the problem has been the Democratic House.
Mitch McConnell: (12:15)
If I’m a viewer watching this debate, I’m saying, “Why can’t you guys get together?” And I think the answer is, the proximity to the election has slowed the process. And that’s unfortunate for the country. It’s unacceptable, but she wants to cast all the blame on the Senate.
Amy McGrath: (12:35)
Bill Bryant: (12:36)
Go ahead. I’ll give y’all a second here.
Amy McGrath: (12:38)
… the House passed a bill in May, and the Senate went on vacation. I mean, you just don’t do that. You negotiate. Senator, it is a national crisis. You knew that the coronavirus wasn’t going to end at the end of July. We knew this. And here’s the thing. If you want to call yourself a leader-
Bill Bryant: (13:01)
Amy McGrath: (13:03)
If you want to call yourself a leader, you got to get things done, and those of us that served in the Marines, we don’t just point fingers at the other side.
Bill Bryant: (13:10)
Amy McGrath: (13:10)
We get the job done.
Mitch McConnell: (13:12)
Nobody went on vacation, except the House was gone most of the time, but nobody went on vacation. We actually can do things like use telephones. We communicate with each other a lot. The challenge here was the speaker was simply unwilling to cooperate, to the extent that we could get a reasonable proposal.
Mitch McConnell: (13:32)
The secretary of the treasury who was delegated by the president to talk to her, went on and on and on for months. And I think we belabored this point pretty thoroughly, Bill. It seems to me, she thinks we’re the problem. I think they’re the problem. What we need is a solution. The way you got a solution is the way … Well-
Bill Bryant: (13:55)
Well, I was going to say, we know we have a problem and it is continuing.
Amy McGrath: (13:59)
A lot of excuses.
Bill Bryant: (14:00)
And so is the pandemic continuing. In fact, it appears we have an escalation in many of our states. And as the pandemic continues, and weather and flu season are approaching, what is the appropriate balance between keeping the economy open, students in school, if they can be, and protecting the health of Americans? Senator McConnell?
Mitch McConnell: (14:22)
Well, the single biggest thing is this is not going to be put in the rear-view mirror until we get a vaccine. For those of you who are familiar with World War II history, we had the Manhattan Project. We were trying to get the atom bomb as quickly as we could to avoid having to invade Japan.
Mitch McConnell: (14:40)
We have a Manhattan Project underway to get a vaccine. Some of our major pharmaceutical companies are already producing doses, even before the clinical trials are proved out. We’re going to get a vaccine in the most rapid period of time that this has ever been done without cutting any corners.
Mitch McConnell: (15:03)
Ever been done without cutting any corners. The honest answer, Bill, is until we get a vaccine, we can’t entirely put us behind us. We’ve got a resurgence here in Kentucky, a resurgence around the country. The coronavirus is not going to go away until we can kill it. It’s going to take the vaccine to do that.
Bill Bryant: (15:22)
Lieutenant Colonel McGrath?
Amy McGrath: (15:24)
Well, certainly, the coronavirus is not going to go away until we get a vaccine, but we still have the worst trajectory of first-world countries, when it comes to the coronavirus. There are other countries that have been able to get this under control, and they’ve done it with a national testing and tracing plan that we still don’t have in this country. This virus was so bungled at the federal level that we literally had states and communities fighting each other for personal protective equipment. There’s no leadership, at all.
Amy McGrath: (15:57)
What do we need? What do we need? We need immediate aid right now that, unfortunately, Senator McConnell doesn’t want to work on, but we need unemployment insurance from those people, an extension of that for those people who have been thrown off their work from no fault of their own. We need things like another round of PPE money for small businesses, right now. We need a testing and tracing plan. I can’t believe, nine months into this thing, I’m still saying that. Frankly, we need leadership at the very top to talk to us, to tell us the truth about this virus and how deadly it is.
Bill Bryant: (16:29)
Time on that. Senator, anything to add to the discussion?
Mitch McConnell: (16:32)
Yeah. Look, I know how to make deals. I made three major deals with Joe Biden during the Obama era. What the problem here has been an unwillingness by the Speaker to make a deal. We can spend the whole debate on this, if we want to. She wants to blame the Republican Senate. I think it’s been clearly the case that it’s the Democratic Speaker of the House, but there are some other issues going on, here, like a new Supreme Court justice-
Bill Bryant: (16:57)
We’re going to get to that.
Mitch McConnell: (16:59)
… that we might want to cover at some point.
Bill Bryant: (17:02)
We will. Lieutenant Colonel McGrath, if you want your two seconds in this.
Amy McGrath: (17:06)
Yeah, sure. Look, I was a United States Marine for 20 years. When you go into combat, you don’t make excuses. You get the job done. You’re the Senate Majority Leader. He’s the Senate Majority Leader, and all he can do right now is make excuses, in the middle of a national crisis. He has built a Senate, what was once the greatest deliberative body in the world cannot even function in the middle of a national crisis. It’s because of what he’s built. That’s why we’ve got to get rid of him.
Bill Bryant: (17:38)
Time, time. All right, this morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee began confirmation hearings for Supreme Court justice nominee Amy Coney Barrett. This is on the minds of many people, and, as it turns out, many U of K students, when we asked them to submit their questions. One of the students ask, should the confirmation hearings be happening this close to an election when early voting is already underway? Lieutenant Colonel McGrath.
Amy McGrath: (18:07)
No. That’s the short answer. Nobody should be voting on a Supreme Court nominee right now. Look, four years ago, Senator McConnell said, by the McConnell rule, during an election year, we don’t vote on a nominee. Let the people decide.
Amy McGrath: (18:24)
Well, right now, with 22 days to an election, we should let the people decide. What’s really important is that we should be focusing on aid for Kentucky, as we just talked about, and not a Supreme Court nominee. Let’s be clear about what this is all about. Senator McConnell, for a decade, tried to undermine and get rid of the Affordable Care Act. Legislatively, he could not do it, so now he is trying to do it in the courts.
Amy McGrath: (18:50)
The first case that the Supreme Court’s going to hear after the election is going to be about the Affordable Care Act. That is something that we really cannot have in Kentucky, because the Affordable Care Act did a lot of good for many, many Kentuckians. I don’t want to throw it away. I want to fix it.
Bill Bryant: (19:09)
Time’s up. Senator McConnell?
Mitch McConnell: (19:11)
Yeah. No one believes the Supreme Court is going to strike down the Affordable Care Act. What this is really about is trying to change the subject away from this extraordinary nominee who’s before the Senate, an outstanding woman, an accomplished scholar, a judge on the 7th circuit, a marvelous family, seven children, two of them adopted, one of them with special needs, an absolute legal all star.
Mitch McConnell: (19:40)
In the judiciary committee, you saw it today. They want to talk about anything other than the nominee. This is the progressive position. My opponent said she is the most progressive person in Kentucky. What does that mean? That means they want to stack the Supreme Court, in other words, add numbers so they can get an outcome that they like. She wants to make the District of Columbia a state, Puerto Rico a state, get rid of the filibuster in the Senate. In short, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between my opponent and all of the national Democrats that you have watched. If you give them control of the government, that’s what they’ll do.
Bill Bryant: (20:18)
Lieutenant Colonel McGrath, an additional response?
Amy McGrath: (20:21)
Well, I want to do what’s right for Kentucky, always. That’s what I’m all about. After 36 years in Washington, this is what you get, a man who basically, his word means nothing. Integrity means nothing. Does one thing four years ago, then just changes his mind and makes up an excuse the next four years. It’s what everybody hates about Washington. Folks, we cannot change Washington until we change the people we send there. Period.
Bill Bryant: (20:53)
Senator McConnell, additional response?
Mitch McConnell: (20:54)
Yeah. Have you seen those ads she runs about the swamp, Washington is the swamp? Well, she wants to give the swamp a place where they’re full of influence, peddlers, and lobbyists, two senators, just like Kentucky. That’s one of the things she’s in favor of. That’s why she’s one of the most, if not the most, progressive person in Kentucky.
Mitch McConnell: (21:17)
They want to completely change the rules in the Senate to give them an advantage, admit the district as a state, Puerto Rico as a state. That’s four new senators for them. Then, pack the Supreme Court, so they’ll get the outcomes they want that they can’t pass through the Congress.
Bill Bryant: (21:33)
Do you want to respond?
Amy McGrath: (21:36)
I would just say that Senator McConnell is lying to you about my stances, but that’s par for the course.
Bill Bryant: (21:44)
Would you favor enlarging the court?
Amy McGrath: (21:46)
I think we should be working on unpacking the Senate right now, because he has polarized and made this partisan mess of the Supreme Court so bad that people were even saying they were going to for or against the nominee before they even had the name. In my mind, that’s just not what we should be looking at. I’m focused on Kentucky.
Mitch McConnell: (22:08)
Yeah, you know, she won’t answer the question. Joe Biden won’t answer the question, either. What Biden said is, “I’ll tell you after the election,” whether or not he’s going to pass the Supreme Court. Well, we’re entitled to know now whether you’re going to pack the Supreme Court.
Amy McGrath: (22:21)
Wait a second.
Mitch McConnell: (22:22)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who we all revere, said in an interview last year, “Nine is the right number.” Nine is the right number, according to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s been nine since 1869.
Amy McGrath: (22:38)
Except for the one year that you left eight all year long. Here’s the thing. Ruth Bader Ginsburg also said that she didn’t think that her seat should be filled until the next president, and it does come down to this. When Ruth Bader Ginsburg was initially nominated and confirmed, she was confirmed 96 to 3, at the time. Think about that. Mitch McConnell wasn’t the Senate Majority Leader then, so we actually had regular order. Since he’s become the leader, he has made this a partisan, complete weapon of a mess that we have with the Supreme Court. We’ve got to get rid of him.
Bill Bryant: (23:14)
Senator, [crosstalk 00:23:15]-
Mitch McConnell: (23:14)
Every one of the big Supreme Court controversies was started by her party. Bork, Thomas, Kavanaugh. Look what they did to Kavanaugh, a year ago, tried to destroy his reputation.
Mitch McConnell: (23:29)
Look, under the Constitution, the president can nominate for a vacancy on the Supreme Court anytime he so chooses. This president has, for a vacancy during an election year, just like a lot of other presidents have over the years, 19 times. 17 of the times, they’ve been confirmed when you have the part of the president also in control of the Senate.
Bill Bryant: (23:54)
I’m not going to leave this general topic, but this question is if Judge Barrett is confirmed, there is some belief that Roe versus Wade, the law that gives women the right to an abortion, could be overturned. A Western Kentucky University student wants to know your thoughts on that, and where do you stand on women’s reproductive health issues? We begin with Senator McConnell.
Mitch McConnell: (24:17)
Well, I’m pro-life, myself, and enjoy the support of Right to Life, and the Susan B. Anthony List, and others who’ve worked on this issue over the years. That’s a different issue than what’s before the Supreme Court. Every president has been surprised by how Supreme Court nominees that they’ve put up have voted. No one knows what may happen with any nominee.
Mitch McConnell: (24:45)
Every Republican nominee has been projected to be a disaster for women, and none of them have turned out that way, so we don’t know how the court may rule. I suspect this nominee, just like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, will not answer any question about a case that might come before her, so we will not know. That’s one of the reasons judges have a lifetime appointment. They’re independent, once they get on the court. If they’re strict constructionists, they follow the Constitution and the law.
Bill Bryant: (25:19)
Time’s up. Lieutenant Colonel McGrath?
Amy McGrath: (25:22)
Well, I’m Catholic, and I’m the mother of three small children. This issue has been an important issue to me my whole life. I’m somebody that believes that the government should not be legislating my religion or my religious belief on others. I do believe we already have reasonable restrictions on abortion in this country, as per outlined in Roe v. Wade.
Amy McGrath: (25:44)
That said, as probably, well, I am the only woman up here on this stage today and the only mother, I’d like to point out that if you’re talking about life issues, you have to talk about the fact that before the Affordable Care Act in Kentucky, there was not a single insurer on the individual market that would cover maternity care. Senator McConnell has had a terrible record of trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act all along.
Amy McGrath: (26:11)
50% of children born in Kentucky and rural Kentucky are born on Medicaid. Senator McConnell wants to cut that. Those are life programs. As a mother, I always want to protect children and protect healthcare for people.
Bill Bryant: (26:28)
Senator, additional response?
Mitch McConnell: (26:29)
Well, speaking of healthcare, what she really wants and came out for was a single-payer system. That means the government is in charge of your healthcare. Then, she waffled a little bit and said a public option. There’s really not a dime’s worth of difference.
Mitch McConnell: (26:43)
If you put all of our healthcare in the hands of the government, think about it this way. If you went down to the Department of Motor Vehicles and asked them to build you a Corvette, do you think it’ll work out too well? That’s what we’re talking about, here. You don’t want the federal government to be entirely in charge of looking for testing, vaccines, treatment, and the long lines that will come as a result of the government taking over. That’s where they really want to go. They’re disappointed in Obamacare.
Bill Bryant: (27:14)
Mitch McConnell: (27:15)
They think it didn’t go far enough. They want to go the whole way and put all of our healthcare in the hands of the government.
Bill Bryant: (27:21)
Your time, Lieutenant Colonel McGrath.
Amy McGrath: (27:23)
I’m not sure what the senator’s talking about when he talks about they. I can tell you where I stand, in that I ran the primary and defeated my opponents that were for the Medicare for All system. Clearly, we need to fix healthcare in this country. We have 300,000 Kentuckians that still don’t have healthcare in the middle of a pandemic.
Amy McGrath: (27:42)
Senator McConnell, 30 years ago, ran an ad that said that he was going to fix healthcare. Now, he’s saying he just needs another six years to do it. Seriously? That’s like my eight-year-old son saying, “Hey, Mom, I really am going to take out the trash, but I just need another six years.”
Bill Bryant: (27:59)
All right, time.
Amy McGrath: (28:00)
He’s not interested in fixing healthcare.
Bill Bryant: (28:01)
Early voting starts in the commonwealth of Kentucky tomorrow, and more than 650,000 Kentuckians who have requested absentee ballots across the country, there are questions over mail-in voting and the potential for fraud. Are you concerned about the integrity of this election? Lieutenant Colonel McGrath.
Amy McGrath: (28:22)
I think that we have, here in Kentucky, we have a Democratic governor who came together with a Republican secretary of state, and they came up with a very good plan for everybody to vote, and it’s wonderful. They actually came together and negotiated. Isn’t that amazing? I wish we could do that at the federal level.
Amy McGrath: (28:44)
I think that Kentucky has never made it easier to vote than this year, and that’s incredible. Early voting starts tomorrow. I am very concerned about the US Postal Service. The postal service is such an important service. It provides prescription medication to our seniors, to our veterans, particularly in rural areas. It needs to be helped through this coronavirus. I’m afraid Senator McConnell hasn’t done enough for that. I would be helping our postal service, because let’s face it, if you can hand out $500 billion in slush funds for corporations, you should be able to turn around and help everyday people. One of the ways is to help our postal service.
Bill Bryant: (29:23)
Time. Senator McConnell, your response?
Mitch McConnell: (29:25)
Yeah. My opponent always likes to mention how long I’ve been in the Senate. She doesn’t seem to be troubled by the fact that Joe Biden’s been in Washington 47 years. Under her proposal to limit terms, Joe Biden would have been leaving the Senate at the time I got there. I’m amused by her advocacy for a position on term limits that would have eliminated Joe Biden’s career before I even got to the senate.
Mitch McConnell: (29:54)
Look, the question is who can be effective for Kentucky? There are four congressional leaders. I’m the only one not from New York or California. I …
Mitch McConnell: (30:03)
I’m the only one not from New York or California. I allow Kentucky to punch above its weight. What does it mean to Kentucky? Over the last term, my last term, $17.5 billion for the Commonwealth that would not have been there had I not been the Majority Leader of the Senate. I give Kentucky an opportunity to punch above its weight on national issues and to bring home things for this state that it would not otherwise get.
Bill Bryant: (30:30)
Senator, thank you. And a rebuttal from Lieutenant Colonel-
Amy McGrath: (30:33)
Senator McConnell likes to talk about Kentucky punching above its weight. Here in Kentucky, we know we feel like we’ve been sucker punched. We have the highest cancer rates in the country, highest rates of diabetes, highest rates of heart disease. Some of the lowest wages in the country. Our economy hasn’t been this bad since the Great Depression. It’s just unbelievable. And if Senator McConnell would love to talk about term limits, I would love to talk about it. Because you know what? President Trump is for congressional term limits. It’s top on his agenda, and I agree with him on that. We should have them and we should get them right now.
Bill Bryant: (31:07)
Mitch McConnell: (31:08)
Yeah, let’s just take opioids for example. $275 million that I directly brought into Kentucky for the opioid fight, $87 million of that was the largest grant the University of Kentucky has ever gotten. All of that was the outgrowth of two bipartisan bills passed, one of them back during the last two years of President Obama that I negotiated with him called the 21st Century Cures Act. Then the CARES Act came later. And all of that, I was deeply involved in negotiating that produced extraordinary results for the Commonwealth.
Amy McGrath: (31:49)
And meanwhile, you want to take away healthcare and Medicaid expansion, which covers 50% of Kentuckians who are addicted right now and getting them the treatment that they need. I mean, it’s just ridiculous.
Bill Bryant: (32:06)
I’ll give you a few seconds, Senator, if you want to respond to that. That was a little bit out of order in time.
Mitch McConnell: (32:12)
You mean to her ridiculous comment?
Bill Bryant: (32:12)
Mitch McConnell: (32:14)
Bill Bryant: (32:15)
All right. We’ll move on. You’re watching the Kentucky debate. We are here with the Republican and a Democratic candidates for the US Senate in Kentucky, the US Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, and retired Lieutenant Colonel Amy McGrath. And we are going through a series of questions and they are answering those tonight for our audience watching across Kentucky and really around the country. The death of Brianna Taylor and the grand jury’s decision has garnered national attention. It’s sparked more than 100 nights of protests in Louisville. Questions about racial injustice and what happened are on the minds of many of Kentucky’s college students we found out. And one UK student asked, do you think justice was done? Senator McConnell?
Mitch McConnell: (33:00)
Well, I have great tolerance for peaceful demonstrations. They are a protected constitutional rights. I don’t have much tolerance for violence and looting. For example, in Portland, just last night, they went on a rampage again and tore down a statue of Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. With regard to the Taylor case, the law sometimes does not, as Judge Barrett pointed out in her hearing this morning, the result that we all hope for. This was an incredible tragedy, a botched job, a terrible outcome, but law enforcement has to apply the law and they’re doing the best they can. I don’t have any advice to give them, but I think in terms of justice in America, we have to follow the laws that were written. I’m a strong supporter of law enforcement. I enjoy the support of the Fraternal Order of Police in Kentucky. I don’t think it’s appropriate to condemn all police officers. Some of them are bad, but it’s not appropriate to defund the police or demonize police officers in general.
Bill Bryant: (34:17)
Time, Senator. Lieutenant Colonel McGrath.
Amy McGrath: (34:21)
Well, first of all, as somebody who wore the uniform, I did three combat tours protecting our country, and the mother of three small children, I have to say that I’m never for looting or rioting or destruction of property or violence in any way. And I do not want to defund the police. That all said, the tragedy with Briana Taylor was an absolute tragedy. And I think leaders have to take a step back and recognize that we need change in this country, that there is systemic racism, that we have to tackle issues of equity and equality. I actually have a plan to do that. It’s called Equality for All. And we put it together, not just with me, but with leaders all around Kentucky. That’s what you’re supposed to do as a leader to tackle these issues. Senator McConnell’s not interested in that. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act sitting on his desk, as is the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, sitting on his desk, Violence Against Women Act, sitting on his desk. I could go on and on.
Bill Bryant: (35:25)
Can we move on to this issue of police reforms. Let’s do that. Taylor’s death and other cases like Georgia, Florida, and Minnesota have many Americans demanding police reform. It changes in some way. Some are going as far as asking if, or as you have both pointed out the defunding of police departments, you both have gone on record here tonight against that. What reforms do you think should happen within police departments that should be led on a national level? Lieutenant Colonel McGrath.
Amy McGrath: (35:55)
Well, I think we should provide at a national level body cameras to all police. I think that’s important. We have the technology to do that. I think there should be a national database for police officers, that in other words, if you get dismissed from one police department, you don’t get to go into another one without people knowing your record. And I always talk about the fact that you don’t get kicked out of the US Army and then get to roll into the US Navy. These are common sense reforms that we need to do. In addition to banning no knock search warrants at the federal level for federal drug cases. I mean, I think these are all things that we can do. And it’s just to me, I think it comes down to let’s get our Senate back again so that we can actually debate these things. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, Senator McConnell wouldn’t even allow a debate on it. We can make change in this country and we have to.
Bill Bryant: (36:53)
Senator McConnell, your response.
Mitch McConnell: (36:54)
Yeah, there’s a role for the federal government. I put on the floor of the Senate the Justice Act, which was drafted largely by Tim Scott, my Republican colleagues from South Carolina, an African-American himself, who’s experienced the kind of extra suspicion that African-Americans are frequently given. He crafted a bill that we thought made a lot of sense. I put it on the floor of the Senate. We couldn’t get a single Democrat to even let us take it up and debate it and amend it. So here was another example of how Democrats in the Congress the last few months have not wanted anything to succeed. They’ve been slow walking everything that comes up either by the House, putting up totally outrageous proposals. Or Senate Democrats slow walking efforts to get an outcome. So I think what’s happened here, which is not uncommon in proximity to the election, our Democratic friends just simply don’t want anything to occur that gets to an actual outcome and a Presidential signature-
Bill Bryant: (38:08)
Time, Senator. Lieutenant Colonel McGrath, a rebuttal.
Amy McGrath: (38:13)
I mean, you’re hearing it all night long, more excuses. He’s not just a member of the Senate, he’s the Senate Majority Leader, and he still can’t get it done. We know we need reforms. And I also want to work on not just criminal justice reform, but there are real inequities in this country. We have a $20 billion gap between majority white schools and majority non white schools in this country. We have in Kentucky, we have two and a half times the rate, black Kentuckians are dying at two and a half times the rate of white Kentuckians. We’ve got to fix these things. We got to be serious about them.
Bill Bryant: (38:50)
Mitch McConnell: (38:51)
Yeah. I’m glad she brought up the fact that I’m the Majority Leader. If she goes to Washington, the first vote she’ll cast in the Senate is to make Chuck Schumer from New York the Majority Leader, transferring the influence and power that Kentucky has now, because I’m one of the four leaders not from New York or California, to New York. Further degrading Kentucky’s influence in Washington, making it less likely Kentucky gets preferential treatment like it frequently does as a result of my being in the position I’m in. That’s what voting for her means. Taking the Majority Leader title away from Kentucky and giving it to New York.
Amy McGrath: (39:29)
We here in Kentucky know better. Okay? Senator McConnell likes to talk about his clout and power. Meanwhile, copays are up, the price of prescription medication has gone up, the price of insurance has gone up, the price of housing has gone up, people with pre-existing conditions are about ready to be thrown off their healthcare right now. We have the worst economy since the Great Depression, the worst job losses since the Great Recession. We have the highest cancer rates in the country, highest rates of diabetes. Senator McConnell’s clout is literally killing us in Kentucky.
Bill Bryant: (40:05)
Senator McConnell, additional response.
Mitch McConnell: (40:07)
Yeah, I mean, I used my clout to help our state. Let’s take coal, for example. Barack Obama destroyed the coal industry, completely destroyed it. And so I’m dealing with the collateral damage. Ask Cecil Roberts, the head of the United Mine Workers. I produced both guaranteed healthcare benefits and pension benefits from coal miners and am delivering retraining dollars so they can get new jobs to be employed once again. That’s how I use the clout I have to help Kentucky.
Bill Bryant: (40:43)
Senator, thank you. We’re going to try to get an additional coal question in here before we’re through. But funding for higher education has consistently been reduced here in Kentucky. Especially it’s placed a higher burden on students and their families. And currently the federal government owns 92% of all student loans. So with tuition increasing, student loan debt mounting, how can colleges make college more accessible and more affordable? We begin this time with Senator McConnell.
Mitch McConnell: (41:12)
Yeah. Well, I started by creating a program at the University of Louisville for undergraduate scholars at no cost to the government. The 40 best and brightest kids there at any given time, 10 freshmen, 10 sophomores, 10 juniors, 10 seniors. The goal is for them to get an Ivy League type education right here in Kentucky in the hopes that they’ll stay here, and most of them have. Let’s take the CARES Act, for example. Out of the CARES Act is almost $475 million for Kentucky education, K through 12 and colleges and universities. In addition to that, at UK, I’ve produced over $300 million for UK, $200 million for U of L, $75 million for Western Kentucky University. I paid a lot of attention to trying to help Kentucky higher education. And at the other end of the scale, at Southeast Community and Technical College, I’m going to be down there tomorrow, they were literally about to go out of business and I intervened with the Secretary of Education and literally saved them from going out of business.
Bill Bryant: (42:22)
Time. Lieutenant Colonel McGrath.
Amy McGrath: (42:25)
In the last 15 years, college debt has gone up about 540%. Here in Kentucky, we have some of the highest levels of college debt in the country. The first thing, and all of that happened by the way on his watch, the first thing I would do is hold Betsy Devos accountable because we have a program already in place to relieve people of their college debt, but 99% of the applicants are denied. So I would be jumping up and down in the Senate right now, finding out why is that? Why do we have a program where 99% of the applicants are denied? Some of the things that we need, we need things like universal pre-K, and maybe it’s because I’m the only mom up here, but if we had more moms in the Senate, we’d have universal pre-K yesterday. There is $1.2 billion for Kentucky schools sitting on his desk right now. It’s been sitting there for six months. All right. He’s not interested in helping schools and public education.
Bill Bryant: (43:28)
Unless there’s a need to respond, we’ll move on. In 2018, a dozen of the top 50 poorest counties in the United States were in Eastern Kentucky. And a UK student is asking, and here’s the cold question, how will you address the losses left behind from the dwindling coal industry in a way that builds more sustainable and healthy communities? And we began with Lieutenant Colonel McGrath.
Amy McGrath: (43:52)
Yeah. Recognize that six years ago, Senator McConnell sat here and said, “You got to vote for me. All your coal jobs are going to come back.” Meanwhile, in the last six years, we’ve lost 60% of coal jobs. He has used you and our state to bicker with the other side and he hasn’t planned for the future. Coal powered this country. I want to go to the Senate to make sure that our coal communities get what’s owed back to them for powering this country. And that means investment in the future, it means investment in infrastructure like broadband and cell phone coverage, because no business is going to want to come to a county in Kentucky that can not talk to the modern world. It means investment back in education and in healthcare. And those are the types of things we have to do to rebuild for an economy of the future. And we have to. Senator McConnell hasn’t done it. He’s let the coal industry die with no plan for the last 36 years. And look at where we are right now. Look at where we are.
Bill Bryant: (44:59)
Mitch McConnell: (45:02)
Kentuckians are not confused about…
Bill Bryant: (45:02)
Mitch McConnell: (45:02)
Kentuckians are not confused about who launched the war on coal. At the beginning of the Obama administration, 50% of electricity in America was supplied by coal fire generation. At the end of the Obama administration, 30%. It wreaked havoc all across coal country, and particularly, in Eastern Kentucky.
Mitch McConnell: (45:22)
We were then left to clean up the mess, the collateral damage from the war on coal. So I did insured health care benefits and pension benefits for coal miners, so they didn’t lose what was almost wiped out by the administration. And retraining, so they could get another job. Unfortunately, some of them have had to leave the area to do it. But they love Eastern Kentucky so much, they’ll drive all the way up to the Toyota plant every day in order to attend to their new job.
Mitch McConnell: (45:59)
That’s why we’re in the situation we are in Eastern Kentucky. There’s no mistake about who caused it.
Bill Bryant: (46:08)
Lieutenant Colonel McGrath, 30 seconds.
Amy McGrath: (46:10)
I think it just starts with being honest with people. I’ve always taught that, to be honest with people in the Marine Corps. The decline of coal is a function of… It’s a function of renewable energy being cheaper. It’s a function of automation. It’s a function of fracking. Which frankly, Senator McConnell pushed for.
Amy McGrath: (46:27)
But the real thing is we’ve got to have a plan for the future. Right now, the RECLAIM Act, for example, is sitting on Senator McConnell’s desk. This is an act that is bipartisan, was put up by Hal Rogers, would give $100 million to clean up Kentucky. Put people with good, quality union jobs to do that, the environmental hazards that we’ve seen from the industry here. That’s also introduced in the Senate by Senator Joe Manchin. Why is it sitting on McConnell’s desk?
Bill Bryant: (46:59)
All right. Time. Senator McConnell. Your additional response?
Mitch McConnell: (47:01)
Well, let me ask. What is that plan? What is the plan you’ve got that’s going to produce jobs in Eastern Kentucky? Lay it out for us right now.
Amy McGrath: (47:08)
Okay. Well, what the RECLAIM Act would do is it would provide a hundred million dollars to clean up the environmental hazards that we’ve seen from the coal industry for many years, and allow people to clean up the environmental hazards with good, quality jobs and the transition to the future.
Amy McGrath: (47:24)
The transition to the future has got to include infrastructure. We badly need it. We have water systems in Martin County, Senator, that don’t have clean water. We have sewer systems in Anderson County that need to be fixed. And we have to get into the 21st century.
Amy McGrath: (47:40)
Now, I know you’ve been in Washington, DC for 36 years, but I’ve served all around the world. And I’ve got to tell you that no business is going to want to come to a county in Kentucky that cannot talk to the modern globalized world. That’s broadband. That’s cell phone coverage.
Bill Bryant: (47:53)
Senator McConnell. I’ll give you a few seconds.
Mitch McConnell: (47:54)
Everything she’s talking about is already being done. And she-
Amy McGrath: (47:57)
Well, tell it to the people in Eastern Kentucky.
Mitch McConnell: (48:00)
… mentions she’s in the Marines about every other sentence. I think her entire campaign is she’s a Marine, she’s a mom, and I’ve been there too long. What we need to see are specifically what she has in mind to fix the issues that she thinks need fixing. I can tell you what she has in mind. She’s going to go to Washington. She’s going to make Chuck Schumer the majority leader. She’s going to-
Bill Bryant: (48:24)
Amy McGrath: (48:25)
Senator, you’ve been there for 36 years. How’s it looking, Kentucky? Have we fixed this stuff?
Mitch McConnell: (48:32)
What that 36 years has produced in the last term alone, $17.5 billion for Kentucky. It would not have had, had she been there on the back bench-
Bill Bryant: (48:43)
Mitch McConnell: (48:44)
… having made Chuck Schumer from New York the majority leader in the Senate.
Bill Bryant: (48:47)
Time. Here’s a very specific question. Kentucky, like many, many other states, has a real problem with drug addiction. We know that. Recent data shows that it has actually increased since the pandemic started. How do we turn the tide on this horrible opioid crisis? We’ve made glancing reference to that earlier, but let’s get a more detailed response. Senator McConnell, we begin with you.
Mitch McConnell: (49:10)
That’s a really good question. It’s been a devastating issue. Not just for us, but around the country. What I’ve done is the 21st Century Cures Act in the last two years of Barack Obama. The CARES Act, after that, produced a total of $275 million for Kentucky. In that $275 million was the single largest grant in UK history. $87 million, the single biggest grant they’ve ever gotten.
Mitch McConnell: (49:47)
In addition to that, there were these law enforcement areas called high intensity drug trafficking areas. I’ve gotten a number of those for Kentucky, so that roughly half of our state is covered by this combination of law enforcement and social workers working together to go after these very, very intense drug trafficking areas. So we’re still fighting the battle. It’s not over yet. But my clout has made a huge difference in providing funds for Kentucky on this big problem.
Bill Bryant: (50:23)
Senator, thank you. Lieutenant Colonel McGrath.
Amy McGrath: (50:26)
Senator McConnell’s clout has allowed billions of prescription medication pills to flood into Kentucky. Okay? The first thing that we need to do is hold big pharma accountable for that. He is incapable of doing that. He’s incapable of doing it because he gets the most money from big pharma than any member of Congress last cycle last year. That’s why. He’s basically bought off.
Amy McGrath: (50:55)
But what we really need in addition is more resources for treatment and prevention to include making sure that we don’t take away the Affordable Care Act. Because what Senator McConnell would do was take that away, take away the Medicaid expansion, where 50% of our fellow Kentuckians who are addicted get their treatment through Medicaid. He wants to undermine that. I don’t. I want to fix the Affordable Care Act. I want to make healthcare easier to attain so that people can get the treatment and prevention treatment that they need.
Bill Bryant: (51:31)
Time. Senator McConnell, nothing extra?
Mitch McConnell: (51:34)
No. Why don’t we go on to the next topic?
Bill Bryant: (51:36)
All right, we will do that. Well, you then have earned a few extra seconds here for sort of a closing statement that you might want to make of this.
Bill Bryant: (51:47)
In our final moment tonight, instead of the traditional little speech at the end, we thought that we would head to our closing statement with this question. Senator McConnell, you often say and have said here tonight that your leadership position and seniority pay big dividends for Kentucky. Lieutenant Colonel McGrath, you have turned the senator’s 36 years in Washington against him with so much of what you have said tonight, saying that he is out of touch with Kentucky and out of ideas. Who is right? We begin with Lieutenant Colonel McGrath.
Amy McGrath: (52:23)
Well, look, I don’t think this race is about Mitch McConnell and I don’t think it’s about Amy McGrath. I think it’s about Kentucky.
Amy McGrath: (52:32)
Kentucky deserves a senator who sees you, who listens to you, and who will serve you. I joined the Marines a long time ago to serve my country, to make a difference for my country. Every single combat mission that I did, no matter how high I flew, no matter where I was, in Afghanistan or Iraq, I never forgot who sent me there. I never forgot who it was I was serving. Senator McConnell stopped serving you a long time ago.
Amy McGrath: (53:06)
I took an oath six times in my life to defend the constitution of this country, to defend our country. Okay? And to build a better America for American families and for my family, for my three young kids, Teddy, George, and Eleanor. I want to do the same. I want to be your senator because you deserve better.
Amy McGrath: (53:33)
I ask for your vote. I want to remind everybody that early voting starts tomorrow. This is the most important election of our lifetime. It would be my privilege to serve you. Thank you, Bill.
Bill Bryant: (53:47)
Thank you. Senator McConnell.
Mitch McConnell: (53:49)
Thanks, Bill. Thanks for the opportunity to be here. My opponent seems not to be bothered by the fact that Joe Biden has been in Washington 47 years. He’d been there 12 years before I got there. I think it’s important not to be confused about what this election is about. Number one, if my opponent replaces me, her first vote in the Senate will be to make Chuck Schumer from New York the majority leader of the Senate, setting the agenda for the Senate, which will include changing the rules of the Senate to make it easier for liberals to win.
Mitch McConnell: (54:21)
Then they’ll make the ultimate swamp, the District of Columbia a state, giving influence peddlers and lobbyists two senators just like Kentucky. And then they’ll do that for Puerto Rico as well. That’s four new liberal Democratic senators in perpetuity to guarantee they can get their outcome.
Mitch McConnell: (54:43)
And then the reason Joe Biden won’t say whether or not he’s going to pack the Supreme Court is because he is. That’s exactly what they intend to do, so that the courts don’t get in the way of any of their left wing proposals.
Mitch McConnell: (54:58)
She will be a part of all of that. She will enable all of that. The single biggest vote you cast in the Senate is the first vote, “Who is going to determine the agenda?” She will make Chuck Schumer the agenda setter.
Bill Bryant: (55:14)
All right. This is 2020. So surprise, we have 30 seconds left for each of you. I want to give Lieutenant Colonel McGrath, you have an additional 30 seconds and we’ll cut you off hard here.
Amy McGrath: (55:25)
Yeah. I would simply say to my fellow Americans, all you just heard, how’s it working out for you right now? How’s Kentucky looking? Are you better off than you were six years ago? Are you better off than you were 36 years ago? I mean, we have the leader of a Senate right now that is so dysfunctional and so partisan that even in the middle of a national crisis, they can’t get things done for Kentucky. You want more of that? I don’t. I want change. I know that our country is better than this.
Bill Bryant: (55:55)
Thank you. Senator McConnell, 30 seconds.
Mitch McConnell: (55:56)
It’s not complicated. Do you want somebody from New York to be setting the agenda for America and not terribly interested in Kentucky? Or do you want to continue to have one of the four congressional leaders from our state looking out for Kentucky, giving Kentucky an opportunity to punch above its weight, providing extra assistance for Kentucky? That’s the question. She will transfer all of that to New York. I will keep it in Kentucky.
Bill Bryant: (56:29)
That’s our time. Candidates, thank you very much. We appreciate you being here tonight very much, and everybody getting a chance to hear from you this evening. And we’d like to thank our sponsors, Gray Television and the University of Kentucky Student Government Association.
Bill Bryant: (56:43)
Early voting begins across Kentucky tomorrow. The election is Tuesday, November 3rd. The polls on election day will be open 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Be sure to vote. Thank you for joining us and have a good night.
Bill Bryant: (56:54)