Mitch McConnell faces backlash from Kentucky crowd amid health concerns

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was booed and heckled by a crowd of his own constituents in Kentucky on Saturday, as he delivered a speech at the annual Fancy Farm Picnic, a political event that features speakers from both parties. The 81-year-old Republican senator, who has been a target of criticism from the right wing of his party for his stance on former President Donald Trump and the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, was met with chants of “retire”, “ditch Mitch” and “shame on you” as he tried to address the audience.

McConnell ignores the jeers and attacks Democrats

McConnell, who appeared at the event less than two weeks after a health scare that raised questions about his ability to do his job, did not acknowledge the jeers from the crowd. He praised local Republican leaders and criticized Democratic policies, citing issues ranging from inflation to COVID-19 restrictions. He also took aim at Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who sat behind him during his remarks and is up for re-election this year.

Mitch McConnell faces backlash from Kentucky crowd amid health concerns
Mitch McConnell faces backlash from Kentucky crowd amid health concerns

“Governor Beshear has been busy this year,” McConnell said. “He’s vetoed bills to protect life, to protect jobs, to protect the separation of powers. He’s vetoed bills to protect your right to worship and your right to bear arms.”

McConnell also touted his role in confirming conservative judges to the federal courts, including three Supreme Court justices nominated by Trump. He said he was proud of his record as the Senate majority leader until January 2021, when Democrats took control of the chamber after winning two runoff elections in Georgia.

“I’m here to tell you today that I’m not going anywhere,” McConnell said. “I’m going to keep fighting for your values, for your future and for this great country that we all love.”

Beshear responds to McConnell and defends his record

Beshear, who spoke after McConnell, defended his record as governor and accused McConnell of being out of touch with the people of Kentucky. He said he had vetoed bills that were unconstitutional, harmful or unnecessary, and that he had worked to protect the health and safety of Kentuckians during the pandemic.

“Senator McConnell talked about a lot of things, but he didn’t talk about COVID,” Beshear said. “He didn’t talk about the fact that we have lost over 7,000 Kentuckians. He didn’t talk about how he slow-walked relief for our families and our businesses. He didn’t talk about how we’re in a war right now with this virus and we all have to come together.”

Beshear also criticized McConnell for opposing the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, which provided stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, aid to state and local governments, funding for vaccines and testing, and other relief measures. He said McConnell was trying to take credit for some of the benefits of the law, while voting against it.

“He wants you to believe that he’s responsible for every good thing that happens in Kentucky,” Beshear said. “But let me tell you this: If Mitch McConnell was governor, we wouldn’t have expanded Medicaid, we wouldn’t have a state-based health exchange, we wouldn’t have broadband expansion, we wouldn’t have record investments in education, and we wouldn’t have beaten back three waves of this virus.”

McConnell’s health scare sparks speculation about his future

McConnell’s appearance at the Fancy Farm Picnic came amid intensified concerns over his health and age. He is the oldest serving party leader in Senate history and has fallen at least three times this year, according to a source close to him. He suffered a concussion and broken ribs after a fall in March, and had a visible bruise on his lip in June.

In late July, McConnell froze mid-sentence for almost 30 seconds during a press conference in Washington. He had to be escorted from the lectern by Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, a top McConnell deputy. He returned to the press conference a few minutes later and said he was fine when asked about his health.

However, some political observers wondered if McConnell would attend the outdoor event over the weekend in the hot and muggy weather. They also speculated about what would happen if McConnell were to retire or become incapacitated before his term ends in 2027.

Under current Kentucky law, if a Senate vacancy occurs more than two years and six months before the end of the term, the governor appoints a temporary replacement until a special election is held. If the vacancy occurs within that time frame, the governor appoints a permanent replacement until the end of the term.

This means that Beshear, a Democrat, could potentially appoint a Democrat to replace McConnell if he were to leave office before November 2024. This could have major implications for the balance of power in the Senate, which is currently split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties.

McConnell has reportedly been working behind the scenes to change the law and prevent Beshear from having that power. He has been pushing for a bill that would require the governor to appoint a replacement from the same party as the departing senator, and to choose from a list of three candidates provided by the state party.

The bill passed the Republican-controlled state Senate in March, but stalled in the House. Beshear has said he would veto the bill if it reached his desk, but Republicans have enough votes to override his veto.

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