Mitch McConnell, Amy McGrath candidate Q&A

With the November election drawing near, The Courier Journal Editorial Board asked Sen. Mitch McConnell and his challenger in the U.S. Senate race, Amy McGrath, to answer 13 questions to help voters make an informed decision on Election Day.

Here are the questions and their responses, which we asked them to limit to 250 words or less:

What is the No. 1 issue in this election and what is your plan of attack in addressing that issue for all of Kentucky and the country?

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Amy McGrath plans to take on US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2020. (Photo: Courier Journal)

Sen. Mitch McConnell: Upholding our Kentucky values is at the center of this year’s election. I will always fight for our personal liberties, protect the Second Amendment, keep taxes low for middle-class Kentucky families, and defend the rights of unborn children. I will also work tirelessly to support Kentucky jobs and to create new opportunities across the Commonwealth. But if my opponent were to win this November, Washington Democrats like Chuck Schumer, Joe Biden, and Nancy Pelosi will control all of Congress, allowing them to confirm liberal, activist judges, defund the police, and wipe out the coal industry.

Amy McGrath: Tackling the pandemic and the resulting economic crisis. Mitch McConnell has failed every step of the way — from prioritizing a $500 billion slush fund to bail out big corporations in his relief bill to shutting down the Senate for 25 days without getting a second stimulus bill done. We need to get every American access to health care, we need to get our economy going again, and we can’t do that until we get this crisis under control. That requires a national test-and-trace program to slow the spread, and equipping our schools with the infrastructure to reopen safely. Most importantly, we need to help American small businesses and families — that means getting small businesses and workers the resources they need now to weather this crisis. 

President Trump and others have made statements casting doubt on whether people can trust the results of the November election, saying mail-in ballots could be an unreliable method of voting. Where do you stand on this issue?

McGrath: It has never been easier to vote in Kentucky than it is this year, and that is great for our democracy. Mail-in voting is absolutely secure. I did it for 20 years in the military. I have total confidence in our county clerks and the U.S. Postal Service, and everyone should feel confident casting their ballots by mail this election. 

McConnell: Under my leadership, the Senate has allocated billions of dollars to states to protect their voting systems from outside interference. I strongly believe that people should not worry about their vote not counting in November’s election. In addition to the billions provided by Congress, our governor and secretary of state developed a bipartisan plan to give Kentuckians three options to vote this November, which should make folks even more confident about their vote counting. Kentuckians can vote early, vote on Election Day, or vote by mail. I would encourage people to choose which option is the best for them and be sure to vote.

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What is the best way to boost the economy at a time when we still, for the foreseeable future, will have to take some degree of precautions due to COVID-19? What specific policies should Congress pass to stimulate economic growth and job creation?

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Residents wait to get unemployment assistance at the UAW Local 862. August 3, 2020 (Photo: Alton Strupp/Courier Journal)

McConnell: The Senate took immediate action to provide rescue funds to the families, workers, and job creators who were most affected by this pandemic. The Senate immediately addressed the economic impacts by unanimously passing the CARES Act, legislation written in my office, to deliver rescue funds to hospitals, schools, businesses, and state and local governments. The CARES Act has made a more than $12B impact on Kentucky, including $3.8B in direct payments to 2.2 million Kentuckians. The Paycheck Protection Program has helped 50,000 Kentucky small businesses, nonprofits, and farms with over $5.2B in 100% forgivable loans.

I recently led the Senate in voting on another rescue package to provide billions to help schools and childcare providers reopen, restart the PPP, and expand testing and tracing. We also need liability protections for coronavirus-related claims to protect job creators, health care facilities, nonprofit institutions, local government agencies, and schools from an onslaught of lawsuits. Instead of helping families, Washington Democrats blocked the Senate from passing this necessary bill.

What we won’t do — which is opposite of the Washington Democrats’ plan — is rollback tax cuts on job creators and middle-class Americans that helped bring about the economic boom we saw prior to the coronavirus. We must keep taxes low for American workers, families, and job creators to encourage new opportunities. At the start of this year, the U.S. had the strongest economy in 50 years, and, we have every reason to believe our economy will return stronger than ever.

McGrath: Keeping state and local governments functioning is vital to jumpstarting the economy. We won’t recover if basic services are threatened. States and local governments provide a lot of jobs, and without federal aid, we could face even more layoffs and retirees’ pensions will be at risk. About 94% of our retirees still live in Kentucky and contribute over $1.9 billion a year into all 120 counties. Cutting pension benefits will further depress our economy. 

We also need to provide support to families struggling to keep their heads above water. More than a million Kentuckians have filed for unemployment since March and 40% of our renters face eviction. There needs to be another stimulus check to those who need it and a continued boost to unemployment insurance. The reality is, there aren’t enough jobs right now, and we need to help people who cannot find them. And crucially, we need to support our small businesses, which are the backbone of our communities and economy, and ensure that going forward the help actually goes to the small businesses it was intended for, not big corporations.

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What will you do or have you done to address issues of systemic racism that protesters in Louisville and across the nation are fighting against?

McGrath: The Senate can do meaningful things to address the many inequities in our society that both contribute to, and are the result of, systemic racism. My Equality for All platform, which you can read on my website, was put together with support from community leaders in Louisville, activists and experts in racial justice policy.

Our approach to dismantling systemic racism has to be comprehensive and community-based and include policies to close the wealth gap, reform our criminal justice system, invest equally in our schools, protect and expand voting rights, and create health care equity.  

I’m in favor of closing the estimated $23 billion funding gap between majority white and majority non-white school districts. I’m in favor of using Jim Clyburn’s 10-20-30 plan in as much legislation as possible because without it, our poorest communities won’t get the support they need. I’m in favor of increasing homeownership for Black, Latino and Indigenous families by increasing access to banking systems via postal banking and other means. I support strengthening the enforcement of fair housing laws and finding ways to get white communities to desegregate. 

In the Senate, I would fight to pass H.R.1 to make voting registration and voting itself easier for all Americans, as well as the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would restore key protections against racial discrimination and disenfranchisement from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the Supreme Court struck down.


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McConnell: My beliefs in equal and civil rights has been at the center of my career. As a city and a nation, we have work to do to build constructive paths forward between law enforcement and affected communities, which is why I support the JUSTICE Act authored by my colleague Senator Tim Scott, an African American Republican from South Carolina. His legislation recognizes the need for tailored reforms on the federal level and supports states and localities in their reform efforts without infringing upon their constitutional rights. Unfortunately, my Democratic colleagues opposed this legislation, signaling that they’re more interested in creating an issue than getting an outcome.

I have and always will be a proud supporter of the First Amendment rights to peacefully assemble and protest. The right to peacefully protest is a bedrock of our nation enshrined in the Constitution by our Founding Fathers. We must hear the legitimate concerns of peaceful protests while also protecting an open, civil discourse. We cannot let the First Amendment fall by the wayside.

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Do you support President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus?

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President Donald Trump, left, brought Sen. Mitch McConnell up to the stage after Trump made remarks supporting former Gov. Matt Bevin’s re-election campaign at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. on Nov. 4, 2019. (Photo: Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal)

McConnell: Yes, I do. President Trump took swift and early action to slow the spread of the virus by banning travel from Asia and Europe. Since the first case of coronavirus came to our shores, President Trump and his team have been excellent partners in the rescue and recovery mission. Most notably, his administration signed into law my CARES Act, which is making a more than $12B impact on Kentucky. Without President Trump’s signature, this critical rescue mission could not have gotten underway. His administration is working quickly to deliver direct payments to Kentucky families and allocate billions to Kentucky hospitals and health care centers, farmers, small businesses, schools, and local communities. President Trump’s administration is also leading Operation Warp Speed, a massive undertaking to quickly and safely develop a coronavirus vaccine. Developers are in the middle of trials, and amazingly enough, some of them, before they finish the trials, are beginning to produce doses in order to quickly distribute a safe vaccine. This type of progress is extremely welcome news to all Americans, and it could not have happened without the administration’s leadership.

McGrath: The president and Congress have failed the American people in their handling of COVID-19. Unlike Mitch McConnell, I’d stand up to the president and leaders of both parties when not enough is being done for Kentucky. The president, and Mitch, should have told the truth from the beginning about the severity of the situation instead of remaining silent until the stock market crashed and wealthy donors started to worry. Americans are tough and can handle the truth. We deserve leaders who will be honest with us. As a military officer, I’ve had to lead in tough situations, and as senator, I’ll do what’s needed to pull us out of this crisis.

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State unemployment systems have been overwhelmed during the pandemic, leaving many people without much-needed financial aid. Is there a path for Congress to address nationwide website infrastructure funding for these systems that are using aging technology?

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People who came to protest unemployment arrived June 16 to find that a room had been set up in the education center to help with unemployment claims at the Kentucky State Capitol. (Photo: Michael Clevenger/Louisville Courier Journal)

McGrath: The federal government should be providing aid to state and local governments that are facing huge budget shortfalls due to COVID-19 on top of a surge in need for unemployment benefits that is overwhelming their systems. Unemployment benefits are a partnership between states and the federal government, and Congress has a responsibility to ensure that people who cannot find jobs get the help they need to survive right now. Our economy has been decimated, and this is not the time to withhold help for Kentuckians for political reasons. Mitch McConnell suggested that states should be allowed to go bankrupt rather than receive aid that could be used for their pension systems. More than 1 million Kentuckians have filed for unemployment since March. Mitch has abdicated his responsibility and has chosen to point fingers rather than do his job. 

McConnell: Since unemployment is led by each state government, there is limited room for Congress to set federal standards for each individual state. My CARES Act and other rescue packages enacted provided robust resources for those who needed unemployment insurance as well as federal funding to states to help process those payments, including $1B to boost state systems to help process increased demand for benefits. I was also supportive of President Trump’s executive order, which provided more money for unemployment benefits. I encouraged Governor Beshear to opt into the program to help out of work Kentuckians and applaud him for opting into the program because we must support those seeking unemployment. I will continue my efforts to help Kentuckians in need and helping Americans return to work safely. 

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The shift to virtual learning due to the pandemic has underlined already existing concerns about achievement gaps and inequities like internet access, adequate device access, the rising cost of daycare and school technology. What will you do to address these issues?

McConnell: Since the start of this pandemic, I’ve advocated for policies that priorities kids, jobs, and health care. These concerns are why I advocated for passage of the CARES Act as well as another rescue package that would focus on getting kids back to school while also supporting teachers and childcare facilities. The CARES Act foresaw these struggles, and I’m proud to say that Kentucky childcare providers, Head Start, K-12 schools, colleges, universities, and students have received more than $474M in funding to address these exact issues. Critical rescue funding has reached every corner of the state to help schools invest in new technology, help maintain access to childcare facilities, and extend school programs to provide meals to children at no cost through the end of the year. As students, parents, and teachers prepare for getting back to school in-person, I will continue my work to secure resources to ensure their safe return to the classroom.

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Sam Clevenger worked on his homework during the first day of NTI learning. Sam, 14, is in high school at J. Graham Brown School. His brother, Ben, was learning in his middle school class in a separate area at home.  (Photo: Michael Clevenger/Courier Journal)

McGrath: For our students, especially the most vulnerable, online learning has led to significant losses academically. We should be prioritizing equipping schools with the infrastructure changes (e.g. HVAC systems), PPE and strategic support needed to reopen when it is safe to do so based on the state of the pandemic in each community.

We need federal investment in our broadband so that every Kentucky child can have the reliable internet they need to learn online. Broadband is a necessity; it is the paper and pencils of the 21st century for our students. 

We need to guarantee access to pre-K or Head Start. For children, every dollar invested in high-quality early education pays for itself in lifetime benefits for their careers and our communities. We should provide all 3- and 4-year-olds with access to high-quality pre-kindergarten or Head Start programs in order to lay a strong foundation for children and save parents thousands of dollars each year on child care.

Watching my own children do virtual learning has given me an even greater appreciation for our teachers and our school systems. We need to fully fund our public schools, and close the $23 billion funding gap between majority white and majority non-white school districts so that every teacher has the resources they need to meet their students’ needs. The quality of a child’s education should not depend on their zip code. 

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We all have heard a lot about policing issues in America these past few months. Are reforms needed in our country’s police departments? If so, what reforms do you support and what do you want to see enacted at the federal level? If not, why?

McGrath: The grief from the loss of Breonna Taylor spread across the country and spurred countless Americans to stand up and work for change, and much of that change can be done at the federal level. In order to keep our neighborhoods safe and ensure our policing practices and criminal justice systems treat all Americans equally and with dignity, we have to invest in varied approaches to community safety. We need to set national standards including banning chokeholds, banning no-knock search warrants in federal drug cases and supporting independent investigations when warranted. My Equality for All program addresses not only police reform but also inequities in housing, education and work opportunities.


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McConnell: We need to speak clearly about how the need for good policing is as important as ever. Any discussion of defunding the police is a ridiculous and dangerous suggestion. The American people fully understand that most police officers are honest, upright people doing an extremely difficult job and enjoy our respect. In our efforts to address police misbehavior, it is critical not to forget how the majority of police officers are good and do the tough work of protecting our communities every day. My unwavering support of law enforcement and our police officers is why the Kentucky State Fraternal Order of Police endorsed my reelection bid this year.

I am a major proponent of the JUSTICE Act, the police reform bill Senate Democrats filibustered. Our JUSTICE Act, authored by Senator Tim Scott from South Carolina, focuses on ensuring greater accountability and more transparency by addressing key issues like chokeholds and no-knock warrants. It also expands reporting, use of body cameras, transparency in hiring, and training for de-escalation. This bill is a smart, tailored approach to police reform that would not steamroll the constitutional powers of states and localities. 

What I will not support is taking away qualified immunity for police officers. If a police officer is going to be personally liable for every action, no one would ever sign up to be a police officer, and no police officer would ever get out of the car.

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What have you or your staff done to reach out to Black Lives Matter and other anti-racism and anti-police brutality groups in Louisville and elsewhere in Kentucky to have a dialogue with them about their concerns?

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Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement walk back from Jefferson Square after a short rally Saturday afternoon chanting for justice. Aug. 29, 2020 (Photo: Matt Stone/Courier Journal)

McConnell: During my travels throughout Kentucky this summer, I’ve had numerous, important conversations with Kentuckians about these concerns as well as with local leaders and our law enforcement officials. I’ve also continued to express my support for the peaceful protestors and their First Amendment rights on the floor of the Senate. I support the peaceful protestors and recognize the legitimate concerns that they have, and I believe we have a long way to go in improving race relations in this country, which is why I support Senator Scott’s JUSTICE Act. It is equally as important to denounce the violent protests, rioting, and looting taking place in cities across our nation. Let’s not confuse violence with protected speech under the First Amendment.

McGrath: I have met with the Kentucky Alliance, visited with Louisvillians in Breonna Taylor Park multiple times and attended numerous BLM rallies across the state. I continue to seek out citizens in Jefferson County, and throughout the state, so I can listen and learn about how I can use my platform as a candidate and if sent to Washington, my position in the Senate to help create and change policy to make things better for the black community.

Part of my efforts also include working closely with Jamon Brown as he develops his foundation to combat racism and invest in programs for those affected by poverty, violence and youth homelessness.

In Louisville, my campaign has a deputy political director, a field director and two senior-level consultants who are all actively engaged with BLM, the Kentucky Alliance, and many other anti-racist organizations.

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The Trump administration is working to have what remains of the Affordable Care Act ruled unconstitutional. If that effort is successful, what would you do to ensure that people can obtain health insurance at a reasonable rate, that they are covered for preexisting conditions and can keep their children on their health insurance until age 26? Or do you oppose these components of Obamacare?

McGrath: I support making health care affordable and accessible to every American, regardless of employment status or income, especially those with pre-existing conditions. The Affordable Care Act is far from perfect, but through Kynect and expanded Medicaid, it enabled many Kentuckians to get affordable health insurance for the first time. As a result of the ACA, the uninsured rate in Kentucky dropped to 11% from 20%. But Mitch McConnell still pushed to pass a repeal bill without replacement legislation that would have stripped health care coverage from close to 400,000 Kentuckians. In fact, he has voted 19 times to weaken or repeal the ACA. All while taking in over $1.1 million in donations from the health care industry over the past 30 years. And now, he is supporting this lawsuit that would tear away coverage from hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians.

I am committed to preventing insurers from charging higher premiums based on factors such as health status or pre-existing conditions, or imposing annual or lifetime coverage caps.

My health care plan includes creating a public option, what I call an “Uncle Sam plan” and lowering the Medicare buy-in age to 55 to ensure every Kentuckian has access to health care. People would be allowed to automatically enroll in the public option if they lose their jobs, and anyone can opt-in if they wish. I also support legislation to stop “surprise billing” so that families don’t get hit with massive, unexpected health care expenses.

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file photo (Photo: Jonathan Palmer, Special to The C-J)

McConnell: All Americans must have access to affordable care, and that’s what I’ve fought for throughout my career. I led the effort to repeal Obamacare’s disastrous individual mandate because it pushed too many Kentuckians into purchasing health care coverage they did not need and could not afford. President Obama promised Americans that they would be able to keep their health care and their doctor, but that did not turn out to be the case. I clearly stated my support for measures that help provide affordable and reliable health care that protect individuals with preexisting conditions. The Republicans put forward a health care proposal in 2017 that both protected preexisting conditions and maintained the ability to keep young adults on their parents’ plans until the age of 26. There is nobody in the Senate who is not in favor of protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions. Health care is extremely personal, and the conversation is ongoing to get the balance right.

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Do you feel any urgency to pass climate change legislation, particularly given the fires out West? What kinds of policies, if any, should the Senate pass to combat climate change?

McConnell: It is important to keep rates affordable and reliable for all Americans. We must also remain consistent with the values of American capitalism by focusing on technology and innovation. Rather than setting guideposts that would ruin our economy, Congress should seek commonsense and actually attainable solutions to protect our environment. Republicans in the Senate are leading on this front by introducing energy bills addressing the issue, but they were blocked by Senate Democrats. The Republican-led Senate has also passed appropriations bills containing record funding for carbon capture and energy efficiency priorities. Encouraging innovation is the way to get results, not shutting down our economy, throwing people out of work, or making people reconstruct their homes. America doesn’t need left-wing radicals like Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden to gain power because they would immediately move to eliminate the way of life for our coal communities, ban fracking, and implement the Green New Deal.


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McGrath: Climate change is a national security issue and a threat to our way of life that is only going to get more serious. Scientists around the world know it, and our military is already testing, adapting, and researching how to operate and succeed in these rapidly changing environments.

To address this, we need unprecedented investments in research and development for renewable technology (including carbon capture) because we have to lead the world in those technologies if we want to remain a world leader. Any transition away from fossil fuels, however, needs to account for communities that rely on fossil fuel jobs as well as industries that depend on fossil fuels. Right now, we need coal for our energy grids, and Kentucky is a leading car manufacturer. I won’t sign legislation that doesn’t have a plan for keeping jobs around and supporting our communities. 

Putting a price on carbon appears to be one of the most effective tools to combat climate change, and it has historically had bipartisan appeal, which is absolutely essential if we are going to pass legislation to tackle this crisis head-on. I think we need to think critically about the best way to do it and make sure our middle and working-class families are not feeling the brunt of it.

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What do you consider to be the greatest international threat or danger facing America right now; something that transcends domestic issues.

McGrath: The major concern for the security of our nation remains the threat of a nuclear device in the hands of a violent non-state actor — so we must be relentless when it comes to seeking nuclear nonproliferation around the world.

Yet, some of the greatest international threats of the 21st century cannot be resolved with fighter jets and aircraft carriers. These non-traditional threats to our security —information warfare, pandemic disease, the diffusion of violent extremist ideology, global financial crises and climate change — need the same attention and resources as traditional military threats. 

My three post-9/11 combat tours taught me that not only do we need a strong military, but we must invest in a strong diplomatic corps and in international development. It is the cheapest insurance policy we can buy as a country. I agree with former Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, when he says that if we don’t help our allies, then we’ll only wind up needing to “buy more ammunition.” This means fully funding the U.S. State Department, USAID, and developing a robust platform of international development and assistance.

We need leaders who understand this, who’ve worked in the 21st-century global economy, and have the foresight to prepare for, and effectively respond to, our changing world environment and shifting international relations. 

McConnell: China is increasingly flaunting the various ways it is directly violating international promises. One example is President Xi and the Chinese Communist Party instituting a new “national security law” that tramples the freedom and autonomy previously enjoyed by Hong Kong. I am proud to stand with the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong and will continue to do so however I can. China is also participating in a horrific ethnic cleansing campaign against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang that includes forced abortions, forced birth control, and state-enforced sterilizations on a systematic scale. All of this is taking place against the backdrop of a global pandemic and growing international provocations against America’s allies around the world. 

Russia’s growing influence in the Middle East is also of grave concern. As our troops moved earlier this year to remove the world’s most dangerous terrorist Qasim Soleimani from the battlefield, our adversaries — like Iran, Russia, and terrorist groups in the region — are seeking to push U.S. troops out and exert their anti-democracy influence instead. Our troops deserve the full support of our nation, which is why I led the Senate to pass this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.

This has been one of the most-watched, most-expensive Senate races in the U.S. What is one thing about yourself — as a person, as a candidate and or as an American — that you want Kentucky voters to know about you?

McConnell: Of the four Congressional leaders, I am the only one not from New York or California. I am the only leader looking out for middle America, and I have a particular interest in looking out for Kentucky — my favorite state in middle America. As long as I serve in the Senate, Kentucky has significant influence at the decision-making table. If my opponent were to be elected, her first vote would be to transfer the Senate Majority Leader influence from Kentucky to New York, ensuring that the needs of New Yorkers will be put before the needs of our Commonwealth. My opponent would lead us down a path towards socialism by rubber-stamping a radical agenda that includes federal funding for abortions, a ban on coal and fossil fuels, and higher taxes. I am and will always be the firewall to these far-left, extreme policies.

It is a distinct honor to work for all Kentuckians in the Senate and to give a voice to their daily struggles that may not always get covered on the front page news, such as securing the health care and pension benefits of thousands of coal miners. And I am grateful Kentucky continues to put their trust in me to protect their lives and livelihoods during times of crisis.

McGrath: I’m not a career politician. I’m a wife, a mother and a retired Marine who served my country for more than 20 years. Like most Americans, I am sick of the dysfunction in Congress that prevents even the most basic things, like lowering prescription drug prices or investing in our public schools, from getting accomplished. I don’t see everything through a partisan political lens, and I will work with my colleagues in Washington, Democratic and Republican, to get our government working for the people again. I want to fight for Kentucky families, rebuild our economy for the working class and pass the bipartisan, common-sense legislation that Mitch McConnell lets die on his desk. 

Mitch has sat in Washington for 36 years while our commonwealth fell further and further behind. He’s abandoned us and is completely beholden to his special interest and corporate donors. He is the architect of the D.C. Swamp, he built the Congress we all hate, and nothing will change until we vote him out. 

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