The laugh was insidious.
It wasn’t a full-throated laugh of joy or the guffaw you give when you’ve heard a really good joke.
It was more like the “heh, heh, heh” a cartoon villain gives when he thinks he’s pulled off his greatest exploit and there is nothing anyone can do about the situation. A Snidely Whiplash sort of laugh.
But there was nothing funny about what Amy McGrath was saying as she spoke of the 220,000 deaths this year from COVID-19, a virus as insidious as that laugh.
This debate moment last week between McGrath, Kentucky’s Democratic Senate challenger, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), whom she hopes to unseat, has been a feature of many cable news programs.
If McConnell thought his laughter would jar her, he was wrong. McGrath remained unflappable.
Kind of like the jet pilot who experiences turbulence remains in control until she reaches that place in the skies where there is nothing but the blue beyond and a stillness in the atmosphere.
As a former pilot in the Marines, it is a place McGrath knows well — the space above it all before an engagement with an opponent, including McConnell laughing at 220,000 dead people from a virus he and Donald Trump refuse to provide more aid to control.
But she also knows how to do battle, as the retired Lt. Colonel has flown 89 combat missions against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. In fact, her Wikipedia page notes McGrath is the first woman ever to fight in combat for the Marine Corps and the first to fly the F/A-18 Hornet.
It is no thanks to McConnell that McGrath can claim these achievements. Or the Meritorious Service Medal, the eight Air Medals, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal she earned during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the course of her 20-year Marine career.
When she was a preteen, McGrath wrote to leaders in her state, asking why women couldn’t fly in combat. McConnell never replied.
It was a congresswoman named Pat Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat, who responded to McGrath’s congressional letter on the subject and told her to not give up on her dream to fly combat missions. It was a dream born of McGrath’s 7th-grade studies about aviation during World War II, along with visits to the National Museum of the Air Force and family visits to Wright Patterson Air Force Base.
But McGrath isn’t just an accomplished combat pilot. She is an expert on global security as well. The Naval Academy graduate has a bachelor’s degree in political science, a graduate certificate in legislative studies from Georgetown University and a master’s in international and global security studies from Johns Hopkins University.
So when McGrath looks at an issue like climate change, the former Naval Academy instructor and congressional defense and foreign affairs advisor sees it from a military perspective, viewing it as a national and international security threat, writes InsideClimate News. And McConnell, a longtime supporter of the coal industry, “has been in lock step with the Trump administration’s agenda to promote fossil fuels and relax environmental regulations.” McGrath supports Joe Biden’s progressive climate action agenda, while McConnell, who barely acknowledges climate change as having human causation, has no plan for it at all, the site opined.
Just like McConnell and Trump have no plan to continue battling COVID-19 beyond the promise of a vaccine, not even acknowledging a “herd immunity” approach has become the GOP’s default option. A herd immunity approach can cause an incredible increase in the virus death rate and overwhelm hospitals compared to a public health policy of testing, tracing and isolation of the coronavirus-infected to keep the virus from community spread.
McGrath told ABC News that McConnell’s failure to address the health crisis was a “dereliction of duty.”
“We still don’t have a plan to tackle it,” McGrath said. “And he is the leader…that drove the train off the tracks. And he’s got to go,” she added of McConnell, seeking his seventh term in office since he first ran in 1984.
Besides COVID-19, McGrath cares about access to healthcare for her fellow Kentuckians. WSIL-TV reported that in a Paducah, Kentucky, campaign stop, McGrath outlined a healthcare plan that would allow Medicare buy-in to start at age 55. “The plan would also allow Kentuckians to automatically enroll in a public option if they lose their jobs or if their income falls below 200% of the poverty line,” WSIL-TV reported.
Meanwhile, McConnell’s pick to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, is reported to hold a position that Social Security and Medicare may be “unconstitutional,” per MSNBC.
McGrath has criticized McConnell about his own rule of giving voters a voice on Supreme Court nominees during an election year, per WDRB.com. McGrath called McConnell’s move to bring Barrett’s nomination to a vote on the Senate floor before November 3 “power for power’s sake.”
“He has no principles. He has no moral compass,” added McGrath, who believes the seat should have been left to fill by whomever the next President might be, as McConnell insisted when he refused to bring President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to a vote in 2016.
She told Louisville’s Spectrum News1 that McConnell is trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, which could mean 250,000 Kentuckians could lose access to healthcare.
Like Biden, McGrath supports a public option for healthcare like the kind the former Marine is able to purchase for her family, which includes husband Erik Henderson, a retired naval Lieutenant Commander, and their three young children. Or like the same type of healthcare available to McConnell and other members of Congress to which the general public does not have access.
Like much of the public, McGrath is juggling homeschooling during the pandemic along with her campaigning. Her 4-year-old asks every day “Is the virus gone yet?” McGrath told Spectrum News. “It didn’t have to be this way.”
McGrath also spoke of her Catholic faith pushing her to work for “social justice.”
“It’s about making sure that we don’t forget about people who are left behind…making sure that if you work, you should be able to have a wage that you could put food on the table and live a good life. Making sure that healthcare is a priority…making sure that we try to tackle poverty and take care of the least among us. That’s what my faith has taught us,” she said.
McGrath has the support of social justice groups like Giffords Courage, the gun violence prevention organization founded by former Arizona Representative Gabby Giffords. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear (D) has also endorsed McGrath, saying she “embodies our Kentucky values of family, faith, service and caring for our neighbors, and I know those values will drive everything she does in Washington.”
In addition to a slew of endorsements, including from her primary challenger, McGrath has garnered a hefty war chest to take on McConnell.
But the question lingers. Will McGrath’s many accomplishments — both academic and military — along with her zeal to serve Kentucky at a national political level, her endorsements, and the historic campaign contribution levels be enough to unseat a man who has been many Kentuckians’ senator their whole lives?
Will they ever ask themselves why Mitch McConnell would laugh about 220,000 dead fellow Americans and whether or not he is moral enough to continue serving this nation?
Time — and votes cast — will tell.
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