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Obama says UK-Michigan ‘as good of a game as we’ve seen the entire season’

President Barack ObamaBy Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

President Barack Obama told an Ann Arbor, Michigan crowd Wednesday that the Kentucky Wildcats’ defeat of the Michigan Wolverines in the Elite Eight Sunday was “as good of a game as we’ve seen the entire season.”

Visiting Michigan to rally support for raising the minimum wage, Obama directed some of his opening remarks to the Wolverines, praising their season and the dramatic battle they lost to the Cats.

The president, who has long endured abysmal approval numbers in the Bluegrass, called out a number of Michigan players by name, but not surprisingly, did not mention any Kentucky players.

“You guys had a great run,” Obama said. “That last game was as good of a game as we’ve seen the entire season. I know you wish that that turned out a little bit later — if you’d had five more seconds, it would have been helpful. But I wanted to congratulate the coach, Coach Beilein, and the team for a great season.”

Obama predicted in his brackets that Wichita State would beat Kentucky. The Cats prevailed in that game 78-76.

Obama joked in his remarks that his “bracket is a mess.”

“I’ve learned my lesson — I will not pick against the Wolverines,” Obama said. “It’s not going to happen. This is the problem with doing these brackets — people just trash-talk you non-stop. It’s terrible.”

Gov. Beshear and his wife attend state dinner with Obama

Gov. Steve BeshearBy Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

Gov. Steve Beshear is once again on President Barack Obama’s guest list.

Beshear and his wife, Jane, were on the list of invited guests to Obama’s State Dinner Tuesday evening with French President Francois Hollande, along with Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Somerset.

“It is an honor to be invited to a state dinner by the president of United States,” Beshear said in a statement. “This event will include leaders of business and industry, arts, sports and government from around the country and the world. It is a wonderful opportunity for the commonwealth anytime a governor can be in the same room with these leaders.”

Beshear traveled to France in July 2012 as part of a European economic development trip. France is the seventh-largest consumer of Kentucky prodeucts and French businesses have supplied nearly $1.2 billion in foreign direct investment in Kentucky, the fifth-highest total of any country, according to the governor’s office.

Beshear, who joined his wife in attending the arrival ceremony for Hollande earlier Tuesday, has been repeatedly praised by Obama for the implementation of the president’s health care law in Kentucky.

Most recently, Obama lauded Beshear in his State of the Union address, which the Beshears also attended as guests of the Obamas.

In addition to the Beshears, Rogers and a slew of notable politicians, several celebrities were on the guest list, including Stephen Colbert, Mary J. Blige, Bradley Cooper, Mindy Kaling and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

‘Steve’s right:’ Obama praises Beshear in State of the Union speech

Gov. Steve Beshear delivers his 2014 State of the Commonwealth speech on Jan. 7, 2014, in Frankfort. Photo by Mark Cornelison | StaffBy Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

President Barack Obama on Tuesday night hailed Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear for implementing the president’s health care law in Kentucky, praising the governor who attended as Obama’s guest.

In defending and promoting the embattled and controversial law, Obama listed the high points of the law since the majority of it took effect on Oct. 1 and railed against Republican efforts to repeal it.

“And if you want to know the real impact this law is having, just talk to Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky, who’s here tonight,” Obama said. “Kentucky’s not the most liberal part of the country. That’s not where I got my highest vote totals. But he is like a man possessed when it comes to covering his commonwealth’s families.”

The president continued, quoting Beshear at length: “‘They’re our friends and they’re our neighbors,’ [Beshear] said. ‘They are people we shop and go to church with … farmers out on the tractors … grocery clerks … they are people who go to work every morning praying they don’t get sick. No one deserves to live that way.’”

“Steve’s right,” Obama said. “That’s why, tonight, I ask every American who knows someone without health insurance to help them get covered by March 31st. Moms, get on your kids to sign up. Kids, call your mom and walk her through the application. It will give her some peace of mind — plus, she’ll appreciate hearing from you.”

Beshear and Kentucky’s First Lady, Jane Beshear, flew to Washington, D.C. Tuesday morning to attend the speech at the president’s invitation.

After the speech, Beshear issued a statement saying they were “honored” to attend the speech and “hear the president praise Kentucky as a national model for providing affordable, accessible health care to every one of our citizens.”

“We’re very proud to have the commonwealth in the national spotlight,” Beshear said. “Our work in providing access to health care will strengthen our families as well as our workforce.”

Beshear also said he was “pleased” to hear the president push for raising the minimum wage and improving early childhood education.

Mitch McConnell takes aim at ‘Obamacare’ and Beshear ahead of State of the Union

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
By Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell Tuesday morning laid the groundwork for the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s Tuesday night State of the Union address.

McConnell took aim at the president’s health care law and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who will join the Obamas at the annual address, warning that they “can keep telling Americans to ‘get over it’ if they don’t like this law, but sooner or later they’re going to have to come to terms with reality.”

“They’re going to have to accept that Obamacare just hasn’t worked like the administration promised — in Kentucky, and across America — and that it’s time to start over with real reform,” McConnell said in remarks on the Senate floor.

The senator, facing a bruising re-election battle, castigated both the federal-run and Kentucky-run health care exchanges, saying that Kentucky had received more than $253 million “to essentially limit care, cancel plans and increase costs.”

“Kentucky has gotten more money to set up its exchange than every state except California, New York, Oregon and Washington,” McConnell said. “That’s a lot of money. And they’ve still only enrolled 30 percent of the people they were supposed to at this point. How is that a success?”

The senator said he held a telephone town hall meeting with Kentuckians Monday night, and he heard from people who had their insurance plans canceled. He said health insurance premiums in the state have gone up on average 47 percent. (That figure comes from a study by WalletHub.com, which examined historical premium rates for men and women ages 27, 40 and 64, and compared them to the average premiums of plans available on state and federal health-care exchanges. Other studies have said it is very difficult to figure out how much premiums will go up for any given individual.)

“I assure you, these folks won’t be applauding when the president tries to spin this law as a success tonight,” McConnell said. “More than a quarter million Kentuckians lost the plans they had and presumably wanted to keep – despite the president’s promises to the contrary.”

Beshear told the Herald-Leader Monday afternoon that he was “honored” to be joining First Lady Michelle Obama at the State of the Union address, boasting of the success Kentucky’s exchange has enjoyed.

More than 180,000 Kentuckians have signed up since the program went live on Oct. 1. About a quarter of those have signed up for private health plans while the rest have enrolled in the state’s expanded Medicaid program.

“I appreciate his hard work in getting the Affordable Care Act passed to give me the opportunity to change the course of Kentucky’s history when it comes to health care,” Beshear said of Obama.

Mitch McConnell outlines ‘Obamacare’ plans if GOP wins Senate majority

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell By Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday that if Republicans take control of the Senate after this year’s elections, he would move to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law regardless of a likely veto threat.

McConnell held two events in Lexington, the second a “hospital town hall” — McConnell’s 59th such event in Kentucky — with medical professionals at Baptist Health Lexington, where he warned of further dysfunction and disruption caused by the law.

Fewer than 10 protesters stood outside the hospital on Nicholasville Road, some with signs in support of likely Democratic Senate nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes and at least two that read “Despicable Mitch.”

When asked what he would do about “Obamacare” if his party is able to regain control of the Senate for the first time since 2006, McConnell explained that he is currently the “defensive coordinator” for his party. If he got promoted to “offensive coordinator,” the senator said, he would move to “pull it out root and branch and start over.”

“Every member of my party thinks this was a huge mistake for the country and ought to be undone, and if the American people gave us the opportunity, we would,” McConnell said.

McConnell, Paul, Rogers support Obama plan to help southeast Ky.

By Bill Estep
bestep@herald-leader.com

Echoing President Lyndon B. Johnson’s call 50 years ago for a bipartisan attack on poverty, President Barack Obama on Thursday sought support from both parties for efforts to boost economic opportunity, as he announced an initiative aimed at doing that in southeastern Kentucky and four other places.

Obama identified the first sites chosen for his Promise Zones program, which will give the areas priority in getting federal money for education and other needs.

An area made up of Harlan, Bell, Letcher, Perry, Leslie, Clay, and Knox counties, along with much of Whitley County, was one of two rural zones Obama announced. The Lexington Herald-Leader first reported Obama’s plans Wednesday.

Republican U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, as well as U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers, whose district includes the eight-county area, attended the announcement in the East Room of the White House.

All have been critical of Obama on a range of issues, including his health-care overhaul.

Obama noted the country has had a “rancorous political year,” but said he believes that making sure all Americans have a “fair shot” to succeed should not be a partisan issue.

“This should be a challenge that unites us all,” said Obama, specifically acknowleding Paul’s attendance. “I don’t care if the ideas are Democrats or Republican. I do care that they work.”

McConnell-allied Super PAC makes $90K radio buy to link Grimes with Obama

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellBy Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, the Super PAC allied with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, plans to begin running a new radio ad Monday that attempts to paint likely Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes as a willing would-be puppet to President Barack Obama.

The $90,000 ad buy, which doesn’t include the Louisville market, also mentions Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as it focuses on the issue of coal and includes the ominous voice of a narrator warning Kentuckians that “Obama says he needs more allies in Congress to finish forcing his liberal agenda on our country.”

The spot, scheduled to run through Dec. 17, represents the heart of McConnell’s strategy against Grimes, if he is able to fend off Republican challenger Matt Bevin in the May primary.

McConnell hasn’t been shy about his game plan, saying he wants to make the race a referendum on Obama, who remains unpopular in much of the state. Grimes has largely avoided saying the president’s name in recent months, presumably because it would appear in an ad against her almost immediately.

In the radio ad, Grimes is heard saying, “We need to have someone who is not just attacking the president.”

“Really?” the narrator follows. “Obama’s reckless regulations are killing Kentucky jobs and devastating communities. But Alison Lundergan Grimes keeps on supporting him.”

The ad tries to establish the link McConnell hopes voters will see by pointing out that Grimes was a delegate to last year’s Democratic National Convention. She cast a vote for Obama to be the Democratic nominee, even though he is “killing Kentucky jobs and devastating communities,” the ad alleges.

Grimes, meanwhile, has attempted to move to the right of McConnell on coal issues, at one point laying the blame for dramatic job losses in Eastern Kentucky at McConnell’s feet and assailing Obama for “reckless regulations” that she said are killing coal.

But Grimes has so far declined to discuss in detail her thoughts on global warming, how much of a contributing factor coal might be to that issue and how she reconciles her positions with the environmentalist base of the Democratic Party.

The ad describes Reid, who has helped Grimes raise money, as “an Obama liberal who claims coal makes us sick.”

Though the ad is ominous in its delivery, the content is notable for its unlikely politeness.

“Say ‘no, thank you’ to Alison Lundergan Grimes,” the narrator says in closing. “She’s on Obama’s side; not ours. “

Grimes gives McConnell ammunition with Michelle Obama fundraiser

McConnellGrimesBy Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

It was exactly what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had been hoping for.

Except instead of President Barack Obama discussing gun control and his health care law at a New York fundraiser for female Senate candidates, it was First Lady Michelle Obama.

Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes was among the female candidates who gathered Monday with the First Lady for a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser, where Michelle Obama spoke of the need to elect more Democratic senators to further the president’s agenda.

The First Lady, talking about how narrowly “Obamacare” passed and the slim margin by which gun control legislation was defeated, said that “it is critical that we elect Michelle Nunn, Alison Grimes, Natalie Tennant.”

“It is critical that we get them to the Senate,” the First Lady said. “And it is just as critical that we elect — reelect Senators Mary Kay Hagan, Mary Landrieu, Jeanne Shaheen — it is critical, because we all know that it’s not enough to elect Barack Obama President if we don’t give him a Congress that will help him keep moving this country forward. We know that now. We’ve seen it. We’ve experienced it.”

Grimes, who has been reluctant to embrace any ties to the Obama White House as she squares off against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has gone to great lengths to avoid using the president’s name, referring to him as “Washington politicians” in a recent interview with WKYT’s “Kentucky Newsmakers.”

Mitch McConnell criticized for taking money from firm tied to health website

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellBy John Cheves
jcheves@herald-leader.com

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is a vocal critic of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and its glitch-stricken website, HealthCare.gov, repeatedly calling for repeal of the law “root and branch.”

“At this point, senators from both parties can agree: HealthCare.gov is a rolling disaster. Every day seems to bring more, newer comic calamity,” McConnell, R-Ky., said Oct. 29 in a Senate floor speech. “The only thing the website seems to be good for right now is creating punch lines for late-night comedians.”

However, since 2011, McConnell has accepted more than $75,000 in political donations from health care giant UnitedHealth Group, which owns the technology company that helped build and launch HealthCare.gov for a reported $155 million and now is responsible for fixing it.

The donations came from UnitedHealth’s political action committee and five of its top executives; they went to McConnell’s 2014 re-election campaign and two fundraising committees that he oversees, the Bluegrass Committee and the McConnell-Cornyn Leadership Victory Committee.

UnitedHealth also co-hosted a $1,000-per-person fundraising dinner for McConnell’s campaign last December in Washington, D.C. And the company, based in Minnetonka, Minn., retains former McConnell chief of staff Billy Piper as a Washington lobbyist to work on its behalf in Congress on implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Senate records show.

UnitedHealth, which tends to favor incumbent Democrats and Republicans as it gives more than $1 million in political donations during a typical two-year election cycle, has expressed optimism about the health care law.

“UnitedHealth Group strongly supports making high-quality health care accessible and affordable for everyone,” it stated in a news release last year.

Josh Holmes, a McConnell aide on loan to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Thursday there is no indication that UnitedHealth’s donations have weakened McConnell’s opposition to the health law.

Two conservative groups, however, said UnitedHealth’s support of McConnell is further evidence that his only true ideology is power. They already have criticized McConnell for not fully supporting Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and others who fight to defund the health care law, which they call “Obamacare.”

Mitch McConnell predicts Alison Lundergan Grimes will ‘run away’ from health law

McConnellGrimesBy Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

LOUISVILLE — Calling the nation’s new health care law “a monstrosity,” U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes will follow other “red state” Democrats in trying to distance themselves from the law.

McConnell, addressing reporters at his campaign headquarters, again called for the full repeal of “Obamacare” and accused his opponent of following other Democrats in calling for tinkering with a law that he said has caused “chaos.”

“The panic has set in,” McConnell said. “The troops are restless. And on a daily basis, you will see some Democrat in some red state come up with a new way to try to distance themselves from Obamacare.”

Tuesday’s news conference represented a new chapter in McConnell’s re-election effort, as the senator and his campaign seek to draw out Grimes as a supporter of the new health care law and other issues backed by national Democrats.