Politics

With hundreds of protesters assembled outside, Sen. Mitch McConnell held a contentious town hall-type event in Lawrenceburg on Tuesday.

The Senate Majority Leader refused to answer two questions from opponents in the audience, asking instead for inquiries from those “who maybe actually were interested in what I had to say.”

During a speech, McConnell said that opponents needed to get over the results of the election.

“They had their shot in the election, they certainly had their shot in Kentucky,” McConnell said. “I always remind people winners make policy and losers go home, that’s the way it works.

The event was the first of three town hall events McConnell is holding in Kentucky this week during Congress’ February recess.

Protesters amassed outside of the gates of the American Legion in Lawrenceburg, booing and chanting as his car entered the event.

During his speech, McConnell criticized Senate Democrats for slowing down the appointment process of President Trump’s cabinet nominees.

“I hope the fever’s going to break here at some point,” McConnell said at the event, sponsored by the Anderson County Chamber of Commerce. “There’s a lot of resistance, not just outside but in the country, largely based on an unprecedented decision to literally not accept the outcome of the election.”

McConnell said “it never occurred” to him to block or slow-down presidential cabinet appointments when he served as minority leader at the beginning of President Obama’s administration.

He defended his decision to block Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to be a Supreme Court justice, about 10 months before the end of his term.

“I made the call, myself, that we would not fill that vacancy in the middle of the presidential election year, in the 11th hour of the outgoing president,” McConnell said.

After the meeting, McConnell talked to reporters about the hundreds of protesters who showed up outside of the American Legion in Lawrenceburg.

“I can only speak for myself,” he said. “Protests in America are not unusual. We’ve had them for 240 years. I don’t think anybody should be alarmed about citizens expressing their point of view, it doesn’t bother me one bit.”

But during the event, McConnell passed on answering a question about coal jobs and another about whether a botched raid in Yemen constitutes grounds for impeaching President Trump.

“Thank you for your speech,” McConnell said in his answer to the Yemen question. “Is there anybody else with a question? Anybody up front who may be actually interested in what I had to say?”

McConnell’s response to the second question was shorter.

“Anybody interested in anything I had to say up here in front,” he asked.

McConnell did answer other questions dealing with small businesses, the Affordable Care Act and drug addiction

Katricia Rogers drove from Whitesburg to attend the event. She said she wanted to ask a question about education and the economy in Eastern Kentucky.

“I want to know what does he plan to do to bring education and other jobs into our area,” Rogers said. “Because that’s what we really need is more education for our public schools and more jobs that’s not coal related. We are educated enough to know that the coal jobs are not going to come back for other reasons rather than what he’s stating.”

In a press huddle after the meeting, McConnell said he likes “what the president’s doing,” but criticized his ongoing use of Twitter.

“I think the president would serve himself better by not having as many controversies surrounding his statements because it tends to take us off message,” McConnell said. “I would not be tweeting so often or I would be tweeting different things.”

McConnell also differed from the president’s characterization of journalists as “enemies of the state.”

“I think the press services an important function in our country,” McConnell said. “We need to have people looking at us and raising tough questions, that’s what all of you do and that’s what you do and I have no problem with it.”

This story has been updated.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.