By ALLISON PECORIN, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — Amy McGrath, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Kentucky, said Thursday that she is confident voters want to bring about change as they head to the polls this week, despite facing long odds against Sen. Mitch McConnell.
McConnell, the Senate majority leader and a 36-year veteran of the Senate, wields significant power over the Congress and frequently touts that he is the only senior leader in Congress not from New York or California.
McGrath told ABC News’ Lindsey Davis Thursday that she believes voters can tell that McConnell is too entrenched in Washington politics to get things done for Kentucky.
“You can’t drain the swamp until you get rid of the guy who built it, and that’s Mitch McConnell,” McGrath said. “My fellow Kentuckians don’t come up to me and say, ‘Wow, Sen. McConnell’s power is really working for us."”
A Quinnipiac poll from mid-September showed McConnell leading McGrath by 12 points. President Donald Trump, a close ally of the senator, is also expected to win Kentucky; he did so handily in 2016.
McGrath is a former Marine fighter pilot who has made public service a centerpiece of her campaign.
On Thursday, she focused on the need to secure health care for vulnerable citizens. She also took aim at McConnell’s push to quickly install Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court without successfully passing another round of coronavirus relief.
“The Supreme Court nominee that he just rammed through is all about health care,” McGrath said. “He couldn’t take away the Affordable Care Act legislatively for a decade and now he’s trying to do it in court.”
The Senate voted to confirm Barrett’s confirmation on Monday, just eight days before the Nov. 3 election.
McConnell was a major force in moving the nomination through despite objection from Democrats, who argued that the winner of the election should nominate the next person to fill the vacancy.
Central to Democrats’ arguments against Barrett was the threat they felt she posed to health care. Barrett testified repeatedly that she is “not hostile” to the Affordable Care Act during her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, though Barrett criticized a ruling by Chief Justice John Roberts that upheld the landmark Obama-era health care bill in a 2017 academic article.
McConnell, meanwhile, has touted the Barrett nomination as one of his most significant accomplishments in his time serving in the Senate. He’s called Barrett a “sterling” nominee and celebrated the Senate’s accomplishments at a press stop earlier this week. The confirmation gives conservatives a 6-3 advantage on the nation’s highest court.
“It was a proud moment when we confirmed her Monday night,” McConnell said this week. “We worked through the weekend … and we made an important difference for the country.”
Despite her opposition to Barrett’s installation on the court, McGrath told Davis that she’s not interested in the proposal from some progressives to add additional justices to the court if Democrats win the White House and Senate next week.
“I’m not interested in packing the courts right now,” McGrath told ABC News Live. “I’m interested in unpacking the Senate.”
McGrath accused McConnell of leading the Senate toward dysfunction and said he has made it impossible for Congress to pass a new round of COVID-19 relief despite months of negotiation. McConnell has opposed the House-passed coronavirus relief bill, calling it a “liberal wish list” that is too expensive. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and members of the administration have been negotiating a deal for months, with no clear outcome in site.
McConnell meanwhile has proposed more targeted relief measures that haven’t gained support of Democrats. He’s led the Senate on two separate failed votes on this relief plan.
The majority leader has placed the blame for these failed attempts squarely on the shoulders of Democrats. In recent campaign stops around Kentucky, McConnell has touted his accomplishments to constituents, including the passage of the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill in March.
After an interview McGrath gave in July, a spokesperson for McConnell’s campaign fired back at McGrath in a statement to ABC News, saying she’s “living in an alternate reality narrated by talkshows.”
“McGrath is a failed candidate whose only chance to be relevant is by falsely attacking Leader McConnell’s indisputable record of delivering for Kentucky,” said Kate Cooksey, press secretary for McConnell’s reelection campaign.
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