Nearly 1,000 people jeered Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as he drove to a speech Tuesday where he told local business leaders that "winners make policy and the losers go home."
Protesters crowded the American Legion Post 34 Fairgrounds, kept at bay by several police officers and a chain link fence. The crowd chanted "No ban, no wall, Mitch McConnell take our call" -- a reference to full voicemail boxes at the senator's offices -- as McConnell drove past in a black SUV. It was the first of several scheduled public appearances for McConnell this week during a congressional recess. Protesters upset with Republican President Donald Trump's policies have vowed to follow McConnell to every stop.
A handful of dissidents were able to RSVP for a seat to hear McConnell's speech. One woman, 54-year-old Rose Perkins of Georgetown, stood and wagged her finger at McConnell as she asked him about the thousands of coal jobs that have disappeared in eastern Kentucky.
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"If you'll answer that, I'll sit down and shut up like Elizabeth Warren," Perkins said, a reference to McConnell invoking Senate rules to silence the Massachusetts senator during her speech opposing Jeff Sessions' confirmation as U.S. attorney general.
After a brief pause filled with gasps from the mostly friendly crowd, McConnell replied: "I hope you feel better now."
Nationwide, Republicans are facing angry constituents frustrated by the president's Cabinet appointments and plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the federal health care law credited with drastically cutting reducing the number of uninsured people while also driving up the cost of monthly premiums. None have faced more scrutiny than McConnell, who is managing a narrow majority to push through the president's agenda and cabinet appointments.
President Donald Trump late Tuesday tweeted that protests in Republican congressional districts are being planned "by liberal activists."
Trump wrote, "The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!"
Several people stood and booed as McConnell finished his remarks, including answering a few questions about the Affordable Care Act and regulations on the financial industry imposed by the legislation known as Dodd-Frank. McConnell was largely unfazed by those he called "the people outside," saying he was "proud" of them for expressing their views.
But he also told his mostly friendly audience that the protesters "had their shot," adding: "Winners make policy and the losers go home."
Specific details of a replacement plan have not yet been made public, a fact 32-year-old Robert Brown found troubling. He traveled from Lexington to protest McConnell while in the wheelchair he uses because of spina bifida. He worried that repealing the law would make it harder for him to get insurance.
"Sen. McConnell is not holding town hall meetings," Brown said. "He's holding private meetings with people that will pay to see him and that largely agree with him."
McConnell distanced himself from Trump's stated war with the media, telling reporters after the speech that "I like you guys" and "we need to have people looking at us and raising tough questions." He acknowledged Trump would be well served to tone down some of his tweets, but said: "He's not going to take my advice."