Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., caught fire from both parties after telling the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Wednesday that he would rather see states declare bankruptcy — which they cannot do — than wait for expanded federal aid that would demand further deficit spending.
"We all have governors regardless of party who would love to have free money," McConnell said. "I think this whole business of additional assistance for state and local governments need to be thoroughly evaluated."
Hours later, Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., publicly rebuked McConnell, calling his Republican colleague's remarks "indefensible."
"To say that it is 'free money' to provide funds for cops, firefighters and healthcare workers makes McConnell the Marie Antoinette of the Senate," King tweeted.
McConnell — who nicknamed himself the "Grim Reaper" — made the remarks the day after the Senate passed a relief bill that excluded the hundreds of billions of dollars in federal aid requested by a bipartisan coalition of governors.
"These continuing losses will force states and territories not only to make drastic cuts to the programs we depend on to provide economic security, educational opportunities, and public safety, but the national economic recovery will be dramatically hampered," Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD), chairman of the National Governors Association, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.), vice-chair, wrote in a joint letter to Congress last week.
Though McConnell said he prefers the bankruptcy route, President Donald Trump has said he wants to add a relief package for state and local governments in the next round of emergency funding.
McConnell's office published a press release to promote the interview, tossing off the requested funds as "blue-state bailouts," which Cuomo rebuked as "one of the saddest, really dumb comments of all time."
In a an interview with brother, a CNN host who has recovered after testing positive for COVID-19, Cuomo said, "You talk about one issue where you think you can get past partisanship and pettiness, and you talk about communities where people are dying. And you say, 'They are blue states.' How am I supposed to re-open if you want me to declare bankruptcy?"
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., put McConnell's colleagues on the spot Thursday morning, tweeting: "Republican Senators: Raise your hand if you think your state should go bankrupt."
King and Schumer both veterans of Congress — King has represented parts of Long Island since 1993 — have teamed up against McConnell before. In the wake of last summer's mass shooting at a San Antonio Wal-Mart, the pair called on McConnell to call an emergency session to vote on a background check bill that passed in the lower chamber.
King has also checked McConnell on his own, criticizing the Senate's vote on a slapdash Obamacare repeal in a 2017 interview with CNN's Don Lemon. "It's wrong to pass something for the sake of passing it," he said at the time.
King has also expressed disdain for former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, calling him a "disheveled drunk."
McConnell's Senate office could not be immediately reached for comment. His campaign redirected Salon's request to his Senate office.
However, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, a Republican who rose to governorship in South Carolina on the small-government Tea Party wave, defended McConnell.
Haley, long rumored to be a possible replacement for Vice President Mike Pence on Trump's 2020 ticket, tweeted Thursday: "States should always plan for a rainy day just like any business. I disagree that states should take Fed money or be bailed out. This will lead to taxpayers paying for mismanagement of poorly run states. States need to tighten up, make some cuts, and manage."
McConnell wrapped his interview with Hewitt by discussing one of his favorite topics: the federal judiciary.
"As soon as we get back in session, we'll start confirming judges again. We need to have hearings, and we need to confirm judges," he said. "My motto for the year is leave no vacancy behind. That hasn't changed. The pandemic will not prevent us from achieving that goal.