Q&A with McConnell: Senator discusses vaccines, economy, Afghanistan

August 24, 2021 | 12:10 am

Updated August 24, 2021 | 12:19 am

Photo by Ryan Richardson

In a short interview spanning several topics, Sen. Mitch McConnell said Monday he hopes more people get vaccinated as that’s the key to ending the pandemic, he thinks President Joe Biden’s proposed federal tax changes would be a “huge blow” to the economy, and that the U.S. should have maintained their presence in Afghanistan. 

Following his attendance at a conference in the Owensboro Convention Center, McConnell sat down for one-on-one interviews. Here’s a portion of the conversation with Owensboro Times Managing Editor Ryan Richardson:

RR: The FDA fully approved the Pfizer vaccine today. What are your thoughts on that approval? 

MM: That’s good and I hope it encourages people to get vaccinated. As you know, but it’s worth repeating, we came up with three highly effective vaccines in under one year, really a modern medical miracle. 

It never occurred to me we’d have so much difficulty getting people to take the shots, but obviously we have had difficulty. I think a lot of it is related to listening to bad advice, rumors and theories on the internet. But what’s a fact, and not an opinion of fact, they work. Ninety percent of the people in hospitals are unvaccinated. There are some people who’ve been vaccinated who get the disease, but it’s mild and they don’t end up in the hospital [as often]. 

So I think we just have to keep repeating that and hope that we can get on top of this. Because unlike a year ago, we know what works. We didn’t have a vaccine a year ago. … Maybe this decision today by the FDA will reassure more people. But that’s the way out of the pandemic.

RR: What are your thoughts on requiring vaccines in workplaces?

MM: Some employers are requiring that. I don’t think it’s the business of the government, certainly not the federal government, [to make that recommendation]. … The governors basically deal with issues like those and mask mandates and that sort of thing. If I were governor I’d leave the issue of masks and vaccines up to school boards and employers.

RR: What do you feel like is the biggest indicator of the strength of the economy and how does that look right now?

MM: I think our biggest problem right now is inflation, produced by throwing too much money at the problem. The $2 trillion bill that passed a few months ago that I didn’t vote for, no Republican the House or Senate voted for, has flooded the country with money. 

A related problem is the difficulty in getting people back to work. The governor of Kentucky, for example, decided to continue the [additional] $300 a week [unemployment payment]. The governor of Indiana decided not to, and the governor of Indiana had a lot better results in getting people back to work. 

RR: There are ongoing federal discussions on raising taxes, including a major capital gains hike. Where are the discussions on that, and would any changes be retroactive to a certain date or would they take effect next year? (For more on the American Families Plan and the American Jobs Plan, two proposals from the White House, click here.)

MM: I don’t know [about the effective date] but [the American Families Plan] would be a huge blow to the economy. [Biden’s administration wants] to raise corporate taxes, personal tax rates. They want a new tax on what’s called a stepped-up basis — that is the gain in the course of your lifetime, for example your family farm or your home all of a sudden would be subject to capital gains tax; it’s not currently. 

All of this would be a devastating blow to the economy. Let me just take you back to February 2020. We had the best economy in 50 years. A big part of that was the 2017 tax bill that the Republican Congress and Republican President put into law that lowered the rates for businesses and individuals. It created a boom. 

Not a single Republican is going to vote for [the proposed plan] in the House or Senate. [Democrats] have a 50-50 Senate and a couple of seats majority in the House. Hopefully there’ll be enough brave Democrats not to support it and it won’t happen. 

RR: Do you know when that would go to a vote? 

MM: [Nancy] Pelosi is trying to have several procedural votes directly tied to that today and tomorrow. That wouldn’t be a final result but it would be a step in that direction.

RR: Are there any other big bills on the table right now?

MM: There’s another bill (the American Jobs Plan) that I actually supported, an infrastructure bill that passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis that’s being held up in the House as a hostage to the larger tax bill that you and I were just discussing. I hope the infrastructure bill can make it through. It’s good for Kentucky, good for the country, and something that I thought we ought to do on a bipartisan basis.

RR: Afghanistan. Was it the right move to pull all the troops out, or do you think we should have stayed in some capacity?

MM: I thought the current policy was working. We only had 2,500 troops there. We didn’t lose anybody in combat in the last year and a half, and it cost about 1% of the defense budget. We were keeping a lid on, keeping the barbarians out of power and the terrorists from being able to attack us. 

Each of the last two presidents wanted to leave. I argued against it then, to both Obama and Trump. Ultimately, they didn’t. I also argued against it with Biden. I think it was a huge mistake to leave. But if you were going to leave, this has been a catastrophic evacuation effort, a stain on the reputation of the United States. …

Honestly, I think, at this point we need to stay there as long as it takes to get every American out safely, and to get every Afghan who worked with us, as an interpreter or friend, that wants to leave, and give them an opportunity to relocate someplace in the world and start their lives all over again. 

August 24, 2021 | 12:10 am

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