Criticised by challenger Amy McGrath in a debate on Monday night for blocking a new coronavirus relief bill, Mitch McConnell laughed.
“Trying to figure out what he is laughing about,” tweeted Claire McCaskill, a former Democratic senator from Missouri who now works for NBC News.
Nearly 7.8m coronavirus cases and almost 215,000 deaths have been recorded in the US. Amid devastating economic fallout, Congress has not passed a relief package since May, when the Democratic-held House passed a $3tn bill the Republican Senate did not take up. Donald Trump recently dynamited negotiations, which he then tried to restart.
“The House passed a bill in May and this Senate went on vacation,” McGrath said.
As McConnell chuckled, she continued: “I mean, you just don’t do that. You negotiate. Senator, it is a national crisis, you knew that the coronavirus wasn’t gonna end at the end of July. We knew that.”
As McConnell tried to interrupt, still chuckling, McGrath said: “If you want to call yourself a leader … you got to get things done and those of us who served in the marines, we don’t just point fingers at the other side. We get the job done.”
McConnell blamed the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, saying: “Look, I know how to make deals. I made three major deals with Joe Biden during the Obama era. What the problem is here is the unwillingness of the speaker to make a deal.”
On Tuesday, after Trump tweeted “STIMULUS! Go big or go home!!!”, McConnell said the Senate would soon vote on a “skinny” bill, meant to tap into unused funds from previous legislation, a course Pelosi has already rejected.
McGrath is a former Marine Corps fighter pilot.
“She mentions she was in the marines about every other sentence,” McConnell said on Monday night. “I think her entire campaign is: she’s a marine, she’s a mom, and I’ve been [in Washington] too long.”
“Senator,” McGrath retorted, “you’ve been there for 36 years. How’s it looking, Kentucky?”
McConnell’s “one job” as Senate majority leader, she said, “is to help America through this crisis right now in passing legislation to keep our economy afloat so that 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.”
Echoing Democrats’ arguments at Senate judiciary committee hearings in Washington, McGrath also said the current supreme court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, would help bring down the Affordable Care Act.
McConnell contended: “No one believes the supreme court is going to strike down the Affordable Care Act.”
The court is due to hear a challenge to Barack Obama’s signature healthcare reform on 10 November. Few observers fancy the ACA’s chances before a 6-3 conservative court.
In the debate in Kentucky, McConnell repeatedly pointed out that the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, who would lead the chamber if Democrats take it in November, is from New York.
“It’s not complicated,” he said. “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.”
Observers were swift to point out that the Republican president with whom McConnell serves, Donald Trump, is from New York too.
McGrath has posted strong fundraising figures. But speaking to the Associated Press on Monday, Josh Holmes, a McConnell adviser, said that though “money can buy you a lot of TV advertising”, McGrath would never “have enough money to buy [enough] liberal voters”.