Mitch McConnell surveys tornado damage in home state of Kentucky

The Republican leader has praised President Joe Biden's response to the storms.

December 17, 2021, 4:44 PM

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell started his tour through western Kentucky on Friday to meet with local leaders and residents in the storm-ravaged state he's represented in Congress for 36 years.

"It is still difficult to comprehend the vast scope of this storm," McConnell said on the Senate floor earlier this week. "This is the worst storm to hit Kentucky in my lifetime."

McConnell met with officials and volunteers in Bowling Green on Friday before traveling Saturday to Madisonville and two of the hardest-hit areas -- Dawson Springs and Mayfield -- where President Joe Biden also surveyed storm damage this week. His office tweeted that McConnell was "hearing stories of generosity, hard work and hope that is helping our state recover."

The Senate minority leader's trip comes two days after a visit from Biden, whose efforts in Kentucky McConnell has praised -- a rare bipartisan gesture from the conservative leader.

"Kentucky's congressional delegation came together to send multiple letters to the president in support of disaster relief. In response, President Biden cut through the red tape to approve our request at an accelerated pace, providing the rapid support we need to recover," McConnell said on Monday.

PHOTO: People sort through debris in the Cambridge Shores Drive area after a tornado struck in Gilbertsville, Ky., Dec. 12, 2021.
People sort through debris in the Cambridge Shores Drive area after a tornado struck in Gilbertsville, Ky., Dec. 12, 2021.
Briana Stewart/ABC News

In an interview with a Kentucky Spectrum news reporter ahead of heading home, McConnell applauded officials he says "got on the ground very quickly" -- but also offered praise for another group that many Republicans have maligned.

Asked about the House select committee's ongoing investigation into the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, McConnell said he's watching it play out.

"It was a horrendous event, and I think what they are seeking to find out is something the public needs to know," said McConnell, whose condemnation of the attempted coup has drawn the ire of former President Donald Trump.

PHOTO: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell holds an end-of-the-year news conference at the Capitol, Dec. 16, 2021.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell holds an end-of-the-year news conference at the Capitol, Dec. 16, 2021.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Biden's supporters have touted his response as a significant change from that of his predecessor, whose administration put up bureaucratic obstacles that stalled billions in hurricane relief to Puerto Rico, according to an Inspector General report. Trump also suggested that increased federal funding to states hurting early on from the impact of coronavirus was unfair to Republicans "because all the states that need help -- they're run by Democrats in every case."

"I don't think the Republicans want to be in a position where they bail out states that are, that have been mismanaged over a long period of time," Trump said last May.

PHOTO: Photographs of Oaklynn Koon, who died as a result of injuries sustained during the storm, are seen attached to a fence at the site of a memorial for tornado victims outside of town hall in Mayfield, Ky., Dec. 15, 2021.
Photographs of Oaklynn Koon, who died as a result of injuries sustained during the storm, are seen attached to a fence at the site of a memorial for tornado victims outside of town hall in Mayfield, Ky., Dec. 15, 2021.
Cheney Orr/Reuters

Biden, having already approved a major disaster declaration for the state, announced during his visit to Kentucky that the federal government would boost its support to cover 100% of the disaster recovery there for the next 30 days, from debris cleanup to paying overtime for first responders.

Rep. James Comer -- who represents Kentucky's 1st District -- was the only congressional Republican to accompany Biden on his visit to the area, which heavily leans Republican, though McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., were invited to travel with the president, according to the White House. The two Kentucky senators were in Washington on Wednesday for votes, and Paul surveyed storm damage in Bowling Green on Sunday.

"There's no red tornadoes or blue tornadoes," Biden said during his visit where he recommitted federal support. "There's no red states or blue states when this stuff starts to happen. And I think, at least in my experience, it either brings people together or really knocks them apart."

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks with a resident as he tours storm damage in Mayfield, Ky., on Dec. 15, 2021.
President Joe Biden speaks with a resident as he tours storm damage in Mayfield, Ky., on Dec. 15, 2021.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

For many families, federal aid can't come soon enough.

At least 77 people were killed in Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear said Friday, with ages ranging from 2 months to 98 years, in deadly storms that spanned five states.

Officials predict the death toll will rise.

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