Remember folks, Mitch McConnell is up for reelection in November. Former fighter pilot Amy McGrath is the front-runner in the (now June) primary, and McConnell knows his fortunes are irrevocably tied to Donald Trump's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. McGrath knows damn well that McConnell is vulnerable on his treatment of Kentuckians in crisis.
Two weeks ago I received a letter from Angie, a working mom. She wrote to me about her 12-year-old daughter, Addison, who has had Type 1 diabetes since she was 3. Sometimes, Angie and her husband, Steve — who have insurance — pay as much as $1,000 out of pocket per month for the medication and supplies their daughter needs to stay alive. That’s in addition to the $1,250 she and her husband are paying every month for their health insurance premiums.
Angie has been fighting with insurance companies for nine years to get coverage for her daughter’s lifesaving health needs. And she’s not alone. As I talk to Kentuckians across the state, the No. 1 concern I hear about is access to affordable, quality health care.
Kentucky has some of the worst health statistics in the nation. We have the highest mortality rate for cancer and among the worst rates of lung disease, diabetes and heart disease.
Yet as Kentuckians struggle, Sen. Mitch McConnell has fought to make our health care system and its outcomes even worse.
As we are in the midst of a global coronavirus pandemic, let’s remember that McConnell has consistently voted to cut funding for medical research and immunization programs, and cut funding to the very agencies (CDC and NIH) that should be prepared for an infectious disease outbreak. Instead of acting immediately to include provisions in an emergency bill to control the costs of vaccines and treatments being developed in response to this outbreak, he held up coronavirus funding in order to make sure Big Pharma would still be able to gouge prices.
Businesses are shuttering, schools are closing, our front-line workers are at risk, and McConnell took off for a long weekend instead of working with his colleagues on the legislation we urgently need to curb this public health crisis. What good is a powerful senator if he treats Kentuckians like this?
But Mitch has drafted a new player in his battle to keep his seat: Gov. Andy Beshear.
As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell negotiated his chamber's $2 trillion coronavirus response package, he was turning to a Democrat in his home state for advice: Gov. Andy Beshear.
McConnell and Beshear have been in frequent contact in recent weeks, as McConnell shaped the Senate's $2 trillion stimulus deal and Beshear led Kentucky's effort to slow the spread of coronavirus there, sources close to both men said. The conversations started with the state's basic needs -- tests and protective medical equipment -- and eventually encompassed how the federal government could help states, municipalities and hospitals. Top staff members continue to speak daily.
"It has been really helpful to get ground truth on this while developing a bill of this magnitude," said Phil Maxson, McConnell's chief of staff.
The link between the nation's most powerful Republican lawmaker and his home state's first-year Democratic executive, who was sworn in just three and a half months ago, underscores the central role governors like Beshear have played in attempting to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Beshear's daily briefings, alongside Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack and American Sign Language interpreter Virginia Moore, are sober and straightforward -- lacking the gusto of New York's Andrew Cuomo, but similarly accomplishing the dual tasks of providing instructions to his state's residents and outlining its needs and challenges for the federal government.
"I will do what it takes. I will spend what it takes," Beshear said Thursday.
Beshear is caught in the middle, like many of us here in Kentucky. On the one hand, he has done an amazing job getting out ahead of the state's COVID-19 cases when they were smaller in number, with social distancing and closures, two weeks ago. We're still seeing a major spike in cases, going from 250 to 300 today alone, and from 5 reported deaths to 8. But we're nowhere near in as bad as shape as neighboring Tennessee, Ohio, Missouri, Virginia, Illinois or Indiana are.
On the other hand, he's absolutely refused to attack Mitch McConnell for his role in weakening the nation's public healthcare system, trying to destroy Obamacare, and trying to take affordable healthcare way from more than 10% of Kentuckians. Beshear needs to keep McConnell happy, and McConnell needs to keep Beshear happy, and it just so happens that there's enough enlightened self-interest there to keep Kentucky alive, too.
I don't expect McGrath to win, frankly. McConnell is too canny a politician and will have too many opportunities to point to Kentucky's success in limiting the spread of COVID-19 so far. When the checks show up in people's mail next month, they'll remember Mitch...and Donald Trump.
Even though Mitch made things infinitely worse.