Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Amy McGrath sparred Monday evening over the federal response to the coronavirus crisis in a hard-hitting televised debate.
McGrath, a retired Marine combat pilot, was aggressive from the outset in blaming the Kentucky senator for the lack of another round of federal relief for a pandemic-battered economy, calling it a “dereliction of duty.” McConnell blamed congressional Democrats for the stalemated negotiations.
The debate offered McGrath her best chance for a breakthrough against McConnell, who has long dominated Kentucky’s political landscape and has consistently led in polling as he seeks a seventh term. It was their first and potentially only faceoff of the campaign. In-person early voting begins Tuesday, and many Kentuckians are already filling out absentee ballots.
The debate comes at a crucial time for McConnell, who is running his own race while also focused on keeping his job as majority leader as the GOP struggles to retain control of the Senate.
The Kentucky rivals wrangled over health care but some of the sharpest of their early exchanges came when they were pressed about the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak.
McGrath gave President Donald Trump and Congress an “F” for their handling of the health crisis, before turning her attention to McConnell.
“His one job is to help America through this crisis right now in passing legislation to keep our economy afloat so that people can make ends meet,” she said. “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.”
In Washington, Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett presented her approach to the law as conservative and fair on Monday at the start of fast-tracked confirmation hearings, while angry Democrats, powerless to stop her, cast her as a threat to Americans’ health care coverage during the pandemic.
For his part, McConnell said he offered another coronavirus relief bill about a month ago that drew no Democratic support in the Senate.
“I think they don’t want a solution prior to the election,” he said.
The hourlong debate was aired on Gray Television’s Kentucky-based stations. It comes near the end of a big-spending campaign that has been waged in distance, with the two sparring in hard-hitting TV ads.
The rivals debated at WKYT, and the Lexington station took a number of precautions in response to the coronavirus. Kentucky is in the midst of another spike of COVID-19 cases.
During the debate, only the moderator and candidates were to be in the studio, which uses robotic cameras, said WKYT news director Robert Thomas. They were 20 feet from one another.