FLEMING-NEON, Ky. ― Fresh off a weekend “vote-a-rama” in the nation’s capital, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell visited flood-ravaged communities in Eastern Kentucky on Monday, just a day after President Joe Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden.
During the weekend session, McConnell voted against legislation that would, among other things, invest billions into initiatives aimed to address climate change and bolster clean energy efforts. This comes after some experts said climate change is fueling Kentucky flooding.
“As you know (climate change) is a big political issue,” McConnell responded, when asked about it during a stop in the Fleming-Neon area.
But, he said, people should be focusing on recovery from this “extraordinary weather” and not the decisions of the future.
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Amid the shaking hands and photographs, McConnell continued to emphasize that Kentucky has “never been in a better financial position to get our people back in the right direction.”
He encouraged people to apply for FEMA assistance and said, “there are plenty of funds around that are not normally there as a result of the COVID responses.”
McConnell suggested leftover state COVID funds be reallocated to help the victims of the flooding.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was also touring the area on Monday, with planned stops in Hazard, Whitesburg and other hard-hit areas.
Paul said he sent letters to Biden and to Gov. Andy Beshear requesting unused COVID funds go to flood relief.
“From a federal government point of view, we’re going to be here until the job is finished,” McConnell said. “No matter how long that takes.”
McConnell encouraged people from everywhere, not just Eastern Kentucky, to not lose interest or fail to pay attention as the recovery efforts continue. He explained that “mountain people are strong and resilient” and was impressed with volunteers who had come from as far as New Jersey and Florida to help.
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At Fleming-Neon Middle School, the senator was particularly struck by the presence of a 7-month-old baby. He said the child represented the “hope and faith that will be behind us,” as the recovery progresses. At the next stop on his day-long tour, at the Knott Sportsplex in Leburn, he brought the baby up again and said he was optimistic for the future.
He said when he considered all the natural disasters he has seen in Kentucky, he said these floods were the worst.
“The previous worst was in December,” McConnell said, referencing the devastating tornados that hit communities in Western Kentucky.
McConnell mentioned the federal government covering 100% of the costs for certain emergency services in Kentucky for the first 30 days. After that, he said, the federal government percentage is supposed to drop to 75%. However, he did say, “We will be working on trying to see if we can extend either 100% or 90% of that. Of course the state is all over this is as well…”
McConnell brought up the consideration of a special session for flood assistance in the Kentucky legislature several times, although he would not officially endorse that idea, saying it does not directly involve him.
When asked for his reaction to the FBI raid on President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, McConnell said: “I’m here today to talk about the flood and the recovery from the flood.”
Reach reporter Eleanor McCrary at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @ellie_mccrary.