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McConnell under fire for burying election bills in 'legislative graveyard'

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Unemployment gains lower than expected | Jobs report lights fire under coronavirus relief talks GOP senators back Christian school's push for COVID-19 carve-out Bipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package MORE (R-Ky.) is under fire from Democrats for repeatedly blocking election security legislation in recent days.

The simmering anger among Senate Democrats reached a boiling point this week when McConnell blocked two attempts to pass election bills shortly after former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerBarr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting MORE warned that foreign governments will interfere in the 2020 elections.

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“We are not going to let Leader McConnell put the bills passed by the House into his legislative graveyard without a fight. You're going to hear from us on this issue over and over again,” Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package Pelosi, Schumer endorse 8 billion plan as basis for stimulus talks Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms MORE (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Government used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 | Defense bill leaves out Section 230 repeal, includes White House cyber czar position | Officials warn hackers are targeting vaccine supply chain Government used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 Despite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill MORE (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called McConnell “Russia's biggest ally” in its meddling efforts, while Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinLawmakers pressure leaders to reach COVID-19 relief deal Congress faces late-year logjam Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms MORE (D-Ill.), Schumer’s No. 2, accused the GOP leader of “abdicating his responsibility to protect American democracy so he can protect a President who unravels it day-by-day.”

Democrats are hitting McConnell, who is up for reelection next year, from all angles: showdowns on the floor, press conferences and an endless barrage of tweets. Their ultimate goal, they say, is to try to force McConnell to move legislation or at least go on the record blocking bills heading into 2020.

McConnell fired back in a series of tweets Friday night while seeking to raise money for his campaign, saying "Democrats’ Russian conspiracy theories against President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE hit a dead end during the Mueller hearing" and "now, like a failed doomsday cult that predicted the end of the world, the liberal grifters need a fresh target: Mitch."

One of the bills pushed by Senate Democrats would require the use of paper ballots and boost election funding; the other would mandate that candidates, campaign officials and family members notify the FBI of assistance offers from foreign governments.

The House has sent the Senate two major election security bills since Democrats regained the majority earlier this year, but both have been sidelined by McConnell.

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McConnell’s blockade went viral Friday after MSNBC host and former GOP lawmaker Joe ScarboroughCharles (Joe) Joseph ScarboroughBrzezinski scolds Scarborough over mask mockery: 'Done with being polite' How Trump's election lawsuits became his worst nightmare Scarborough says he'll never return to Republican Party after GOP supported Trump MORE repeatedly referred to the GOP leader as “Moscow Mitch.”

Democrats argue their case was bolstered this week when Mueller and FBI Director Christopher Wray said Russia or other governments will try to interfere in next year’s presidential elections.

Mueller characterized Moscow’s efforts as “among the most serious” and warned House lawmakers that the Kremlin was working to interfere in the 2020 election “as we sit here.” 

Wray said at a conference that the FBI expects to see foreign targeting of election infrastructure to obtain personal information, disrupt elections and undermine voter confidence in 2020.

But there’s no sign that the pressure tactics from Democrats or the recent warnings from Mueller and Wray are influencing McConnell when it comes to legislation.

After Schumer tried to get consent to pass election security legislation, McConnell dinged Democrats for trying to slide “partisan” bills through the Senate on unanimous consent, meaning they would pass without a vote.

McConnell added that it’s “very important that we maintain the integrity and the security of our elections in this country” but that federal involvement has to be bipartisan and done with “extreme care.”

“[This is] just a highly partisan bill from the same folks who spent two years hyping up a conspiracy theory about President Trump and Russia and who continue to ignore this administration’s process at correcting the Obama administration’s failures on this subject,” McConnell said.

The Kentucky Republican has made it clear that he believes elections should be controlled primarily by state and local governments. Democrats blame him and former White House counsel Don McGahn for tanking a bipartisan election security bill last year. 

Meanwhile, Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate committee approves nominations of three FEC commissioners Congress faces late-year logjam The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Barr splits with Trump on election; pardon controversy MORE (R-Mo.) has ruled out votes in the Rules Committee on election bills, saying he doesn’t think they would be called up for a floor vote.

McConnell is backed up by members of his caucus, who have repeatedly brushed off the need to pass additional legislation or provide new funding ahead of the 2020 elections.

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) blocked two election measures and a cybersecurity bill on the Senate floor just hours after Mueller’s testimony. The move sparked fierce criticism, but Hyde-Smith dismissed it as nothing more than Democrats engaging in “political theater.”

Republicans argue they have done plenty to help secure future elections, including passing two bills and providing $380 million to states for election security efforts in last year’s government funding bills. They’ve also credited the Trump administration with making strides to secure the 2018 election and held a briefing on the topic earlier this month with administration officials.

“We passed two bills on election security. ... But it's not just about passing bills. It's about actually making sure that the ballots are secured. We had a bipartisan meeting of all of the senators with the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to make sure that all of our states have the resources that they need,” Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight Senate advances energy regulator nominees despite uncertainty of floor vote Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee MORE (Wyo.), the No. 3 Republican senator, said during an interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto.

Barrasso added that Democrats’ attempts to pass legislation were “a charade, and you know it, and the viewers know it.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee released a long-awaited report this week focused on election security and intrusion operations by Russia during the 2016 election. The panel made a number of recommendations, from considering appropriating more funds to states for election security once existing funding runs out to examining the vulnerabilities of election systems.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security | Biden says China must play by 'international norms' | House Democrats use Markup app for leadership contest voting Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security Defense policy bill would create new cyber czar position MORE (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, predicted the recommendations would get support from 70 senators if they got a vote.

“I think this is pushback from this White House, which doesn’t want to see an election security bill come to the floor, and unfortunately from some of the Republican leadership,” he told reporters.

But even some of the loudest voices within McConnell’s caucus on election security legislation are backing off the need to move quickly, underscoring the lack of internal pressure the GOP leader is facing.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham reports 'record-breaking' 9M haul during 2020 campaign Lawmakers pressure leaders to reach COVID-19 relief deal Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country MORE (R-S.C.) told reporters he believes there is “some bipartisan space” on the topic, but he wouldn’t commit to taking further concrete steps in this area.

“Maybe this is where you want to go into the old chamber and see if we can regain that sense of the Senate that’s been lost and find a way forward,” Graham said.

Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordEthics experts ask Senate to investigate Graham's probe of mail-in voting The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Capital One - Pfizer unveils detailed analysis of COVID-19 vaccine & next steps GOP senators congratulate Harris on Senate floor MORE (R-Okla.) has been negotiating with the White House and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSenate committee advances bill for national Latino museum Senate committee approves nominations of three FEC commissioners Scammers step up efforts to target older Americans during pandemic MORE (Minn.), the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, on changes to the Secure Elections Act, which would incentivize the use of backup paper ballots. But he’s turned his focus to 2022, arguing states don’t have time to put in place new systems by Election Day next year.

“They’re not going to add new stuff unless it's already currently in the pipeline. It’s really 2022 at this point,” Lankford told reporters this week.

McConnell also isn’t getting any pressure from Trump, who views efforts to secure the 2020 elections as an attempt to call into question his 2016 victory.

After Sen. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnGOP senator gets into nasty Twitter spat with Chinese journalist Republican senators introduce bill to protect government workers from being targeted at home Time to bring federal employees home for every holiday MORE (R-Tenn.) blocked election legislation last month, Trump praised the freshman senator “for fighting obstructionist Democrats led by Cryin' Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerBipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package Pelosi, Schumer endorse 8 billion plan as basis for stimulus talks Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms MORE.”

Asked about moving election security legislation, Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyAlabama Republican becomes third House member to test positive for COVID-19 this week The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates Republican senators urge Trump to dodge pardon controversies MORE (R-Iowa) argued the administration had been successful in preventing interference in 2018. He also appeared to knock provisions in a House-passed bill that would automatically register people to vote unless they actively decline to be added.

“If you bring up election bills, you’ll have all the liberals that want to federalize the federal election laws,” Grassley said. “But when you got people that want to have national registrations mixed up with stopping foreign interference in elections, then do they really want to stop foreign interference?”