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Majority Leader discusses policing, coronavirus, and rural hospitals

(GRAYDC)
Published: Jun. 25, 2020 at 2:57 PM CDT
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In an exclusive one-on-one interview, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) discusses police reform, coronavirus, and funding for rural hospitals.

You can find the full interview with Gray DC's Kyle Midura in the video player above and the transcript below.

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Kyle Midura:

Senator, thank you for making time for us today. Wednesday, Democrats blocked debate on Senate Republicans Justice Act, arguing it didn't have enough substance to be a foundation for meaningful reform. As it's currently written, how would that bill affect the status quo in Kentucky?

Senator McConnell:

Well, they voted against even taking the bill up. That's the way it works around here. You have to vote to take a bill up if you're interested in passing something. It was a ridiculous argument to not have the debate at all.

Senator McConnell:

Sen.Tim Scott, our Republican, African American senator from South Carolina drafted the bill, and as the Democrats turned their back on it, said they didn't want to have the debate. I think the American people can see through that. Nobody would understand anything other than the Democrats killed the bill. They killed the debate. They wouldn't let us even debate and amend the proposal.

Kyle Midura:

So, Democrats aren't alone in their criticisms. The attorney for the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have said it stands in contrast to demands to improve the social safety net and public mental health. Civil rights organizations like the NAACP call it a half-measure at best and mostly symbolic at worst.

Kyle Midura:

What do you make of their concerns, and what differences would you have seen this bill making, or could it still make in Kentucky if it does come to the floor?

Senator McConnell:

At the risk of repeating myself, the only way we would have known how the bill ended up would have been to take it up, and it would have been amendable. It might have been a different product at the end, so with all due respect to those who criticize the bill, the way you pass a bill in the senate, you take it up, you amend it, and it could have become something quite different that would have been more acceptable to some of the critics.

Senator McConnell:

In any event, I've positioned us to be able to bring it up again at some future date, and hopefully we'll be able to have an open amendment process that everybody will be able to weigh in on it and offer their amendments and critiques of the product.

Kyle Midura:

Whether it's this vehicle or another vehicle, what are the most necessary changes that the federal government could make that may prevent another incident like we saw with Breonna Taylor in Kentucky? What would make the biggest differences back home that you think are must haves in any measure?

Senator McConnell:

Well, even in the proposal the Democrats are advocating, it doesn't affect state and local police, and that's where most of this interaction is. The federal government's role in this is quite limited. Important, but quite limited. Even the bill the Democrats preferred to ours wouldn't have any impact on state and local police, so this is a debate we need to have. In order to have it, you have to get on the bill, and the Democrats killed the opportunity to get on the bill.

Senator McConnell:

Can we talk a little bit about healthcare?

Kyle Midura:

I do want to get there, but I've got one final question on this topic, which is, will you take up the House bill that the Democrats are set to send over? Could this bill pop back up in committee? What, if any, path forward is there for meaningful, substantial reform on this?

Senator McConnell:

The bill will start with the product written by Sen. Tim Scott, the African American Republican from South Carolina. That's the base bill. That's what we will work on, and that's what I will bring up again and, hopefully, the Democrats will let us go forward, have a debate, offer their amendments, and let's see what the final product looks like.

Kyle Midura:

Your office and Governor Beshear's office announced a Medicaid settlement, 380-plus million dollars in additional funding for rural hospitals. How would folks see that when they go to use healthcare in Kentucky?

Senator McConnell:

Well, it was important the governor and I worked on this. This is a settlement with the federal government that provided the amount of money you mentioned for 54 rural hospitals, and we made that announcement a day or two ago. In addition to that, just today, I was announcing 152-million dollars additionally for eleven hospitals in Kentucky based upon the rescue packages that were passed earlier in the Senate that were written in my office.

Senator McConnell:

Together, they should provide a good deal of relief for Kentucky hospitals all across the state.

Kyle Midura:

Do you foresee another round of relief when it comes to the coronavirus for regular folks back home and across the country?

Senator McConnell:

There will be. In July, we're going to take a look at the condition of the country at the time, see how much of the money we previously allocated has gone out, see how much of a comeback we're getting with the economy opening up, and then make a decision then. I think it's likely there will be one more final round of rescue funding, but we'll make that decision in July.

Kyle Midura:

Saturday, the President suggested scaling back testing for coronavirus. Aides said he was kidding. Then Tuesday, he said he doesn't kid, and aides said that was sarcasm. Big picture, does the federal government need to scale up, hold stable, decrease? What are your thoughts on that front, sir?

Senator McConnell:

We all need to scale up. We need more testing. Kentucky's already received 100-million dollars from the federal government again in a bill that was written in my office. We need to do more testing, not less, and that's the key to getting us through this period. When we find out people are positive, they need to be quarantined so they don't infect others.

Senator McConnell:

Ultimately, we get on top of this, and we have a vaccine, and there's vaccine development going on at warp speed by a number of different pharmaceutical companies. We're hopeful we'll get a vaccine sometime later this year or early next year. That's the key to putting this whole pandemic in the rear view mirror so we get past it.

Kyle Midura:

The government accountability office suggested one million checks went to dead people in the last round of personal financial assistance. Does that need to be addressed in the next bill? What other elements do you think need to be top priorities if and when the Senate takes action on another corona relief package?

Senator McConnell:

Oh, I can't imagine that was the only mistake the was made when you put together over a two trillion dollar bill in one week. There were some mistakes made. It's hard, frequently, for the checks to be delivered with precision when you have a country as big as ours. The good news is I can't imagine those checks would be cashed, and so that money is probably still in the federal government's hands.

Senator McConnell:

But, look, no matter how you craft the system, there's going to be some things that fall through the cracks. The good news is, if you want to focus on some good news, is that 47-thousand Kentucky small businesses took advantage of 5.2 billion dollars in PPP's small business loan. That is a significant underpinning for small businesses in Kentucky and the people who work there.

Kyle Midura:

Senator, I really appreciate your time today. Anything else you'd like to add or underline before we wrap this up?

Senator:

No, that's it. Thank you.

Copyright 2020 Gray DC. All rights reserved.

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