Democrat McGrath assails McConnell's leadership on virus

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., center, walks to his office from the Senate floor, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Democratic candidate Amy McGrath laid the mounting toll of coronavirus cases in the U.S. at the feet of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday while declaring that the country needs people in power who “take responsibility again."

During a campaign event in Georgetown, Kentucky, the retired Marine pilot who is trying to block a seventh term for McConnell zeroed in on the senator's response to the ongoing health crisis, calling it a “dereliction of duty." McGrath said an improved federal response is needed in testing and contact tracing to combat the virus.

“We still don’t have a plan to tackle it," McGrath said. “And he is the leader ... that drove the train off the tracks. And he’s got to go.”

McGrath called out McConnell by name but made no mention of Republican President Donald Trump in her stinging critique. Trump remains popular in Kentucky, and McGrath will have to win over some Trump supporters to have a chance of defeating McConnell.

Despite trailing McConnell in the polls, McGrath’s blistering campaign fundraising pace continued in August, when she raised $8.7 million, her campaign said Tuesday. It was the most she has raised in any single month of the campaign.

While McGrath attacked his response to the pandemic, McConnell announced Tuesday that the Senate will vote on a trimmed-down Republican coronavirus-relief package. The proposal appears to have a slim chance of passage in the face of Democrats’ insistence for more sweeping aid.

“It does not contain every idea our party likes," McConnell said. “I am confident Democrats will feel the same. Yet Republicans believe the many serious differences between our two parties should not stand in the way of agreeing where we can agree and making law that helps our nation."

The new $500 billion bill is roughly half the size of a measure McConnell unveiled earlier this summer. McGrath said Tuesday that McConnell “walked away" from negotiations weeks ago after presenting his initial $1 trillion counteroffer to a $3 trillion proposal from Democrats.

McGrath labeled McConnell's actions as a “dereliction of duty" in the face of the health and economic crisis. She later added: “We've got to have leaders that take responsibility again."

During much of August, McConnell toured Kentucky to tout his role in passing a massive virus relief package in the spring while stating his wish to pass another round of aid once Congress reconvened. He said he was in close contact with his GOP Senate colleagues and Trump's administration.

McConnell's campaign said Tuesday that McGrath showed she favors the “liberal wish list" of top Democratic congressional leaders over McConnell's “targeted rescue package."

Meanwhile, looking to make inroads in a Republican stronghold, McGrath also offered a broad plan for rural Kentucky on Tuesday. The blueprint includes promoting international trade, strengthening the Obama-era Affordable Care Act to help medically underserved areas and expanding broadband access. She also endorsed legalizing medical marijuana, a proposal that has gained increased attention but come up short in Kentucky's GOP-led legislature.

McConnell has played up his seniority and leadership role, saying it allows Kentucky to “punch above its weight” in national politics. McGrath portrayed the senator as out of touch with his constituents.

“Thirty-six years is long enough," she said of McConnell's Senate career. “We are more divided than ever. We are more partisan than ever. We have more inequality than ever. We have more congressional dysfunction than ever. And it has all happened on his watch.”