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

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump shows he holds stranglehold on GOP, media in CPAC barnburner Trump rules out starting a new party: 'Fake news' Sunday shows - Trump's reemergence, COVID-19 vaccines and variants dominate 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) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened 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 SchumerChuck SchumerThe bizarre back story of the filibuster Hillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill MORE (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSenate Democrats nix 'Plan B' on minimum wage hike Senate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill House Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike MORE (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called McConnell “Russia's biggest ally” in its meddling efforts, while Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinSenate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Partisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission Murkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo 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 TrumpSacha Baron Cohen calls out 'danger of lies, hate and conspiracies' in Golden Globes speech Sorkin uses Abbie Hoffman quote to condemn Capitol violence: Democracy is 'something you do' Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress 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 says comparisons of Capitol riot to summer protests irrelevant Scarborough: 'Pence is in fear for his life because of Donald J. Trump' Can the media regain credibility under Biden? 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 BluntPartisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy Microsoft, FireEye push for breach reporting rules after SolarWinds hack 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 BarrassoBiden returns to Obama-era greenhouse gas calculation Indigenous groups post billboards urging senators to confirm Deb Haaland Senate confirms former Michigan governor Granholm as Energy secretary 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 WarnerSunday shows - Trump's reemergence, COVID-19 vaccines and variants dominate Warner: White House should 'keep open additional sanctions' against Saudi crown prince Sunday shows preview: 2024 hopefuls gather at CPAC; House passes coronavirus relief; vaccine effort continues 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 GrahamPortman on Trump's dominance of GOP: Republican Party's policies are 'even more popular' Overnight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Graham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents 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 LankfordCPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be Republicans see Becerra as next target in confirmation wars Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March MORE (R-Okla.) has been negotiating with the White House and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharOpen-ended antitrust is an innovation killer FBI, DHS and Pentagon officials to testify on Capitol riot Five big takeaways on the Capitol security hearings 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 BlackburnPassage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers Biden health nominee faces first Senate test MORE (R-Tenn.) blocked election legislation last month, Trump praised the freshman senator “for fighting obstructionist Democrats led by Cryin' Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerThe bizarre back story of the filibuster Hillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill MORE.”

Asked about moving election security legislation, Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley to vote against Tanden nomination Grassley says he'll decide this fall whether to run in 2022 Yellen deputy Adeyemo on track for quick confirmation 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?”