Sanders slams McConnell's 'cowardice' in fiery visit to top Republican's home state of Kentucky

Bernie Sanders renewed his attacks on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at a fiery rally in the top Republican's home state of Kentucky on Sunday afternoon, demanding that McConnell stop his "cowardice" and "have the guts" to immediately take up legislation aimed at reducing gun violence, strengthening election security and raising the federal minimum wage.

The blistering address in Louisville came as national Democrats, hoping to retake not only the White House but also the Senate in 2020, increasingly have set their sights on the 77-year-old McConnell.

"The reason I’m in Louisville is to ask McConnell to do the right thing," Sanders said at the rally, his voice rising. "Stop worrying about your billionaire friends -- they’re doing just fine -- and start worrying about the working families of this state and around the country who are struggling to keep their heads above water."

Sanders also made a pitch for his version of the Green New Deal while speaking in coal-producing Kentucky. Last week, Sanders turned heads by tweeting that fossil fuel executives should be prosecuted criminally for damaging the environment.

"Why does he oppose virtually every piece of legislation that protects working families, while supporting legislation that gives huge tax breaks to billionaires?" Sanders asked rally attendees on Sunday. "Follow the money." (Earlier this year, Sanders sparred with progressive activist groups that pointed out that he has since largely dropped his criticisms of "millionaires and billionaires," opting instead to single out "billionaires" only, ever since Sanders disclosed he is a multimillionaire.)

Bernie Sanders speaking to striking telecommunications workers on Sunday in Louisville. (AP Photo/Bruce Schreiner)

Bernie Sanders speaking to striking telecommunications workers on Sunday in Louisville. (AP Photo/Bruce Schreiner)

Sanders went on to note that McConnell has received "huge amounts of campaign contributions from Wall Street companies like Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase and hedge funds," as the crowd booed.

"If you want to vote against any of that legislation, that's fine," Sanders said. "You have the right to come back to Kentucky and tell the people why you voted the way you did. But you don’t have the right to stop democracy in the United States Senate. You don't have the right to prevent debate and votes on the most important issues facing the working people of this country."

Sanders concluded, to applause: "Stop your cowardice. Have the guts to debate the issues."

McConnell has attached himself to Trump in positioning himself for his 2020 reelection bid, and the longtime senator has vowed to bury the House Democrats' agenda. Senate Republicans, for example, haven't taken up Democrat-based bills that would expand background checks for firearms purchases, as well as increase funding for election security.

In response to the ongoing attacks, McConnell has lamented what he'as called unprecedented divisiveness in Washington. In unusually forceful, angry, and personal terms late last month, McConnell countered what he called "baseless smears" from left-wing media and vowed not to be "intimidated," in the wake of a Washington Post op-ed that declared McConnell a "Russian asset."

In particular, many Republicans said congressional Democrats have been playing politics by seeking election-security funding that already has been allocated for that purpose. Last year, Republicans allocated $380 million to the states for election security in a funding bill, although the move attracted little attention.

And McConnell has said he's willing to work towards bipartisan gun-control reforms.

Nevertheless, the political confrontations turned threatening earlier this month, when progressive activists gathered outside McConnell's home while he was inside. One demonstrator called for someone to stab McConnell "in the heart" and for McConnell to break his "raggedy" neck.

Twitter then suspended the account belonging to McConnell's re-election campaign for posting a video of the episode, but the social media giant later reversed its decision under pressure from Republicans.

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The episode led many Republicans to call on Democrats to tone down their rhetoric. But on Sunday, Sanders directly accused McConnell of prioritizing campaign contributions over domestic security.

"McConnell, take a look around you, and tell your wealthy campaign contributors that enough is enough -- they can’t have it all," Sanders declared.

Sanders spoke to the striking telecommunications workers before attending his rally in Louisville. (AP Photo/Bruce Schreiner)

Sanders spoke to the striking telecommunications workers before attending his rally in Louisville. (AP Photo/Bruce Schreiner)

Prior to the rally at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Sanders spoke to striking AT&T workers who have accused management of "unfair labor practices" during negotiations for a new contract.

The Vermont senator told union members that workers nationwide needed to "stand up and tell corporate America, 'enough is enough.'" He added that corporations needed to reinvest in America and stop sending jobs abroad.

Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, whom Sanders also attacked, condemned the self-described democratic socialist for "protesting business, protesting those who create jobs and opportunity."

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"He thinks that everything should be free, somehow the job creators should be punished, and the people who do and don’t work to varying degrees should get everything for free," Bevin said. "Doesn’t work that way. Anytime someone gets something for free, someone else is paying for it."

Sanders, Bevin continued, was "crazy," and "strongly believes" Second Amendment rights should be restricted.

Fox News' Allie Raffa in Louisville, Sam Dorman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.