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

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats seek leverage for trial Democrats spend big to put Senate in play House Democrats to vote on flavored e-cigarettes ban next year 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) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerKrystal Ball: Is this how Bernie Sanders will break the establishment? TikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments MORE (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field House GOP unveils alternative drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote Pelosi gets standing ovation at Kennedy Center Honors MORE (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called McConnell “Russia's biggest ally” in its meddling efforts, while Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinJulián Castro jabs ICE: 'Delete your account' Watchdog: Steele dossier 'had no impact' on opening of 2016 probe Horowitz: 'Very concerned' about FBI leaks to Giuliani 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 TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 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 ScarboroughScarborough rips GOP over Ukraine conspiracy theories It's the aggressive progressives vs. the pragmatic moderates Scarborough: Trump is either 'an agent of Russia' or 'a useful idiot' 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 BluntRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Senate braces for brawl on Trump impeachment rules Trump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans 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 BarrassoLife after Yucca Mountain: The time has come to reset US nuclear waste policy Trump announces restart to Taliban peace talks in surprise Afghanistan visit Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda 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 WarnerTikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Watchdog report finds FBI not motivated by political bias in Trump probe Ex-Rep. Scott Taylor to seek old Virginia seat 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 GrahamInspector general testifies on FBI failures: Five takeaways Horowitz offers troubling picture of FBI's Trump campaign probe Conservatives rip FBI over IG report: 'scathing indictment' 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 LankfordThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Lankford to be named next Senate Ethics chairman Trump to sign order penalizing colleges over perceived anti-Semitism on campus: report MORE (R-Okla.) has been negotiating with the White House and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats seek leverage for trial Horowitz offers troubling picture of FBI's Trump campaign probe 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 BlackburnTikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Lawsuits pose new challenge for TikTok TikTok's leader to meet with lawmakers next week MORE (R-Tenn.) blocked election legislation last month, Trump praised the freshman senator “for fighting obstructionist Democrats led by Cryin' Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerKrystal Ball: Is this how Bernie Sanders will break the establishment? TikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments MORE.”

Asked about moving election security legislation, Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Horowitz did not find evidence Obama asked for probe of Trump Live coverage: DOJ inspector general testifies on Capitol Hill 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?”