“Well, unfortunately, my friends, it’s not over,” said McConnell at a hospital in Mt. Vernon, Kentucky. “We are seeing a surge in Florida, Texas and Arizona and yes, here in Kentucky. ”
It is a message very different from what is adopted by President Donald Trump, who boasts of the country’s response, calls for the reopening of the economy, rarely exhorts Americans to wear a mask and rejects the rise of the virus to across the sunbelt and increasing cases in 37 states.
“It will take a while to get a vaccine,” said McConnell at home this week, less than a week after Trump promised a vaccine “very, very soon” and “in record time.”
McConnell, on the other hand, calls for caution.
And as Trump rejects the need for more testing and falsely blames the increase in tests for a large increase in Covid-19 cases, McConnell has repeatedly asked for more, claiming that the increase in testing capacity – as well as treatment and vaccine – are at the heart of bringing the country back to normal.
“On the Hill front, a very strong emphasis is placed on tests, treatments and vaccines. Tests, treatments, vaccines, “said McConnell on Tuesday.
The fact that the most powerful President and Republican in Congress are expressing very different messages is striking – given that the November elections could activate Washington’s response to the pandemic, underscoring how optimistic Trump’s vision of the virus is. has little support within his party. In addition, McConnell has long preached party unity and message discipline during the election season, but staying rhetorical with Trump is an almost impossible task.
As he meets with hospital workers and chats with local journalists less than four months before facing voters and seeking a seventh term in the Senate, McConnell does not criticize Trump for the response to the pandemic, and it makes it clear that the Senate GOP and the Trump administration want to move forward with a new recovery program later this month, even though the Democrats are attacking it for moving too slowly.
Back in Kentucky, McConnell’s speeches were mostly devoid of politics and avoided the rhetoric of partisan battles he waged in the Senate. Instead, it provides an essentially apolitical view of the crisis.
Privately, some high-profile Republicans have told CNN they want Trump to take a similar approach: talking frankly about the real challenges in dealing with the deadly pandemic, educating the public about the shortcomings of the federal response, avoiding minimize the real risks for Americans and try not to rush a reopening of the economy at the risk of public health.
“He would be in a very different place if he did,” said a GOP source about Trump.
Indeed, while polls show a clear majority of voters disapproving of Trump’s handling of the crisis, Republicans are wary of aligning themselves with the President’s assertions as he questions science, trusts his instinct and undermines the credibility of his own health advisers, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s foremost expert on infectious diseases.
“Participating in a contest with Dr. Fauci to find out if he was right or wrong does not move the ball,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, the Republican of South Carolina, who is seeking reelection this Tuesday. year. “The infection rate is increasing. ”
In appearances across his state, McConnell doesn’t mention Trump much at all. In Washington, McConnell is frequently asked by journalists about the president’s comments and inflammatory tweets, and he often refuses to sign up. He made a similar decision in Kentucky last week when asked by a reporter about the conflicting messages from Fauci and Trump’s White House.
“I can only speak for myself,” said McConnell. “What I’m trying to do is be a good example,” emphasizing the wearing of masks and social distancing in the Senate.
Instead, in Kentucky for the past few weeks, McConnell has been talking about Washington’s response to the pandemic and his plans to move forward with a new package, which he is currently negotiating with senior administration officials and key presidents. of the GOP. The Democrats called on him to act faster, engage in bipartisan talks, and accept a $ 3 trillion package that was passed by the House two months ago, a proposal that McConnell flatly rejected at the time. he called on Washington to take stock of the roughly $ 3 trillion already approved before moving on to a new plan.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told Senate Democrats in a private call Tuesday that there has been no communication from McConnell about a new plan, warning his caucus that the leader of the GOP would try to do bring forward a partisan bill later this month.
“Republicans are blocked for special interests,” Schumer told Democratic Senators, according to a person named.
Since helping to launch the largest $ 2.2 trillion economic rescue package in March, McConnell has held a state strike to thank first responders and tout the elements of the measure, citing a $ 12 billion law impact on his state, and met with workers from food banks and hospitals. He also points out that if he was not the leader of the majority, Schumer would lead the agenda.
During the two July 4 weeks of recess ending Friday, McConnell will have hosted 18 events across the state, according to his collaborators. And during the events, he delivered a similar refrain: talking about how Washington had to figure out how to react to this new virus, how it turned the economy upside down, and how Americans should take action to protect themselves and others from the continued spread of the disease.
And he says, it’s not over.
“The best thing we can do to protect ourselves and others is to wear a mask and maintain social distance,” said McConnell in Corbin, Kentucky. “It is not that difficult. Some people in the country have tried to politicize this issue. Believe me, the coronavirus is not involved in American politics, has no involvement in American politics. But we have an obligation as individuals to try to protect ourselves and others. ”
McConnell’s advisers say the honorable senator knows how to speak to his constituents in times of crisis.
“There’s no point in not telling them the truth,” said Josh Holmes, one of McConnell’s best advisers and his former chief of staff. “He feels a sense of obligation to keep up with people with what they can do here at this point. There is no magic button that will take us through six months and beyond … The best you can do is try to tone it down here. ”
McConnell faces re-election at home against Democrat Amy McGrath, who criticizes GOP leader’s handling of the crisis, telling an interviewer this week with WYMT in eastern Kentucky that McConnell wants “massive bailouts for American companies ”and assistance for its“ corporate donors ”. ”
But the bailout McConnell is campaigning for passed the Senate without a dissenting vote – a rarity on Capitol Hill – and was the subject of an advertising campaign that the head of the Senate’s GOP ran across the state. A review of its ads shows that 45% have focused on the coronavirus, more than any other topic, with the announcement that its campaign features the most touting its role during the crisis, a sign that the head of the GOP sees the problem as a central subject on the minds of voters.
“America is in crisis like never before, and in times of crisis, we are turning to the leaders,” said the ad, showing McConnell.
CNN’s David Wright and CNN Liptak contributed to this report.