During a debate with his Democratic challenger, former marine Amy McGrath, the veteran Kentucky senator accused his rival of unfairly blaming Senate Republicans for the lack of a rescue bill after months of negotiations.
Mr McConnell himself attributed the delay to House speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom he said was refusing to come to a compromise because of the looming election.
“The House passed a bill in May,” responded Ms McGrath, “and the Senate went on vacation!”
At this, Mr McConnell laughed. His opponent continued: “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 … If you want to call yourself a leader, you’ve got to get things done.”
The sight of Mr McConnell laughing during this exchange enraged many on social media, with users opposed to Mr McConnell venting their shock and anger at his mirth during a discussion about the coronavirus pandemic – especially on the point of Congress’s responsibility to bail out Americans facing unemployment, eviction and other dire problems.
— Kelsie Taggart (@kelsientaggart) October 12, 2020
— Jon Cooper 🇺🇸 (@joncoopertweets) October 13, 2020
Mitch McConnell is literally laughing in the faces of Kentucky voters who are going broke, have no access to healthcare and are actually dying. pic.twitter.com/nnm2F6Uttn
— Amee Vanderpool (@girlsreallyrule) October 13, 2020
In a tweet of her own, Ms McGrath wrote: “We're facing a national crisis. There's nothing funny about 214,000 Americans dying.”
Mr McConnell has held his seat since 1985, and has generally not been considered one of his party’s more vulnerable senators; in 2014, he was re-elected by more than 15 points. While the race this year is not considered highly competitive, some polls have put McGrath within single digits of her usually safe rival. She has also raised enormous sums of money for her campaign.
Elsewhere in the debate, Mr McConnell took a jab at Ms McGrath by dismissing her campaign as insubstantial. “I think her entire campaign is: ‘She’s a marine, she’s a mom, and I’ve been there too long,” he said.
That summation was mocked by some commentators as perfect fodder for a potential McGrath attack ad, in a long tradition of using rivals’ own words against them. Donald Trump famously ended his bitter second debate against Hillary Clinton by praising her as a “fighter” – parroting one of her campaign’s key messages about her.