Democrat Amy McGrath made a closing pitch to a statewide TV audience Monday night at a forum that took place as her Republican opponent in Kentucky — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — basked in the confirmation of another conservative to the Supreme Court.
While McGrath and Libertarian candidate Brad Barron took turns answering questions, McConnell finished shepherding through Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation to the nation's highest court.
Down in the polls and barely a week before Election Day, McGrath was on the attack from start to finish. The retired Marine combat pilot accused McConnell of misplaced priorities by pushing through Barrett's confirmation while another coronavirus relief package has stalled in Congress.
“Here we are, we need more aid," McGrath said during the forum on Kentucky Educational Television. “That's what Kentuckians need right now — families, schools, business. And what's Sen. McConnell doing right now? He's ramming through a Supreme Court nominee with eight days to an election. Is he working on coronavirus aid that we need in Kentucky?"
For months, McConnell has crisscrossed Kentucky to tout his lead role in passing a $2 trillion economic rescue package early in the fight against the pandemic. In late summer, McConnell unveiled a slimmed-down version of another relief package totaling about $500 billion, which stalled amid partisan wrangling over its size and scope.
McGrath said McConnell waited too long and offered too little in relief. McGrath, who needs to win over some of President Donald Trump's supporters to pull an upset, said she sides with Trump's recent push for a bigger aid package. McConnell has said if such a bill passed the Democratic-controlled House with Trump’s blessing “we would put it on the floor of the Senate.”
McGrath talked about how the pandemic has affected her own life, saying: “I’m just like everybody else. I’m a regular Kentuckian. I’m trying to put my kids through school right now.” Some polling has indicated that she's struggled to connect with some Kentuckians.
Meanwhile, McConnell has been Trump's chief ally as the Senate has confirmed more than 200 federal judges — including three Supreme Court justices — put forward by Trump to put a more conservative imprint on the federal judiciary.
Barrett's confirmation secured a likely conservative court majority for years to come. In a Senate speech Monday, McConnell said that “by any objective standard" Barrett deserved to join the court.
“Tonight, we can place a woman of unparalleled ability and temperament on the Supreme Court," he said. “We can take another historic step toward a judiciary that fulfills its role with excellence, but does not grasp after power that our constitutional system intentionally assigns somewhere else."
McGrath condemned McConnell's handling of the Barrett confirmation barely a week before the presidential election, noting that the Kentucky Republican blocked then-President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nomination made months before the election.
“It is absolutely wrong," McGrath said. “There is no principle behind it. He has broken the system.”
Barron said he supported Barrett’s confirmation and said Trump was “within his constitutional rights” to nominate her. But he warned there could be “political consequences” for McConnell’s handling of the nomination so close to the election, saying: ““Mitch has set us up for a possible packing of the courts by the Democrats."
During the forum, McGrath repeated her support for senatorial term limits as she tries to unseat McConnell, who is seeking a seventh term. McGrath suggested that a two-term limit could be reasonable. Barron said he thought the proper limit would be three terms.
McConnell has touted his top Senate leadership post and his ability to deliver federal money as valuable assets for Kentucky that he says would be lost if he leaves the Senate.
McConnell's campaign took aim at both challengers for their performance at the forum.
Kate Cooksey, the senator's campaign spokeswoman, said McGrath and Barron “treated Kentuckians to an infomercial on what a disaster" they would be for Kentucky.
“It’s clear neither candidate would work for Kentucky families and job creators like Senator Mitch McConnell does every day,” she said in a statement.
McConnell and McGrath squared off in a debate earlier this month, but the senator's campaign refused to participate in a debate that included Barron.
For Barron, the forum was a golden opportunity to present himself to a statewide audience. He found plenty to criticize about McConnell, including the ballooning federal budget deficit.
“I’ve often said I don’t even know why you guys (Democrats) field a candidate against him," he said. “I really don’t. I mean to me, the way he spends, I don’t think you can tell any” difference.
The Libertarian candidate also laid out his limited government philosophy, saying it's in line with the views of Kentuckians who “want to be the authors of their own lives.”