McConnell, allies lean into Twitter, media 'war'

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Graham: Senate trial 'must expose the whistleblower' Graham says Schiff should be a witness in Trump impeachment trial MORE (R-Ky.) and his allies are embracing a fight with the media and Twitter that has struck a nerve among Republicans. 

Taking fierce criticism over election security, a series of campaign imbroglios and the GOP leader’s response to two mass shootings, the normally tightlipped McConnell and his team have repeatedly punched back at what they view as unfair coverage and leaned into a fight with the social media giant. 

Those tensions, which had been simmering for weeks, erupted on Thursday after the McConnell campaign found itself locked out of Twitter after it shared a video of protesters outside the GOP leader’s House, with one woman overheard saying someone should “just stab the motherf----- in the heart.” 

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Instead of backing down, and regaining access to the social media platform, the campaign has dug in, arguing the decision is the latest example of what conservatives see as double standards practiced by the tech giant and media. 

“We firmly believe that if a platform allows #massacremitch to trend but locks our account because we posted threats made against him, there is something deeply wrong with that platform,” Kevin Golden, McConnell’s campaign manager, said on Thursday as the standoff stretched into its second day. 

McConnell described himself as in a “major war” with Twitter, accusing them of “selective enforcement” of their rules. 

“The point that we wanted to make is Twitter is perfectly fine with carrying Massacre Mitch, which is obviously an invitation to violence, but when those kinds of words are directed at me they shut us down,” McConnell said during an interview with WHAS, a Kentucky radio station. 

McConnell’s campaign says it shared the video as a way to highlight threats against the GOP leader, who has been at his home in Kentucky recovering after he broke his shoulder on Sunday. 

Twitter says it locked the account because the tweet “violated our violent threats policy, specifically threats involving physical safety.”

Twitter’s guidelines say that users may not post content on the platform featuring violent threats, and it does not lay out how to deal with context such as posting the video for the purposes of highlighting those threats. The company also says that any glorification of violence violates its policies. 

McConnell’s campaign says they appealed the move, but Twitter stuck by its decision.

The back-and-forth comes as McConnell and his allies have engaged in a string of scuffles with the media in recent weeks as they’ve batted down campaign criticism and calls for the GOP leader to act on election security ahead of 2020 and gun legislation after the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. 

In an unusually fiery speech from the Senate floor late last month, McConnell called out MSNBC and Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, who called him a “Russian asset,” by name, calling the rhetoric a “shameful smear and based on more lies.” 

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“These pundits are lying, lying when they dismiss the work that has been done. They are lying when they insist I have personally blocked actions which, in fact, I have championed and the Senate has passed,” he said during the roughly 30-minute speech. 

Since then his staff and allies have tussled with reporters and took issue with coverage of the GOP leader over social media. 

After a tweet from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) showing a group of young men in “Team Mitch” shirts “groping [and] choking” a cut-out of the freshman lawmaker, McConnell’s campaign fired back that the men were not campaign staff. 

“They’re high schoolers and it’s incredible that the national media has sought to once again paint a target on their backs rather than report real, and significant news in our country,” Golden said.

Meanwhile, Josh Holmes, McConnell’s former chief of staff and a longtime adviser, got in a back-and-forth this week with an NBC News reporter after he criticized The Washington Post. David Popp, McConnell’s spokesman, thanked Milbank late last week for reaching out on a follow-up column but said “the premise is rotten garbage.” 

Democrats believe the pushback over the election security criticism shows that they are getting to the GOP leader, with Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary Schumer blocks drug pricing measure during Senate fight, seeking larger action MORE (D-N.Y.) predicting McConnell would bring a bill up for a vote later this year. 

“We're forcing his hand and as I think you've seen by his reaction it’s having some success. Because he knows stymieing it is not good for America and not good for the Republican Party and frankly not very good for him,” Schumer told reporters during a press conference. 

But it’s the fight with Twitter that seems to have struck a chord with Republicans, with large segments of the party rallying to McConnell’s defense. 

“Twitter: Can you tell us that there is no double standard at play here?  If there isn’t, I’d really like to know,” asked Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeFed chief urges Congress to expand US workforce while economy still strong On The Money: Retirement savings bill blocked in Senate after fight over amendments | Stopgap bill may set up December spending fight | Hardwood industry pleads for relief from Trump trade war Retirement bill blocked in Senate amid fight over amendments MORE (R-Utah), a libertarian-minded senator who has at times been at odds with McConnell. 

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWarren goes local in race to build 2020 movement Trump holds chummy meeting with Turkey's Erdoğan Overnight Defense: Trump hosts Erdoğan at White House | Says Turkish leader has 'great relationship with the Kurds' | Highlights from first public impeachment hearing MORE (R-Texas), who called McConnell a liar on the Senate floor, also came to his defense, tweeting that “this is unbelievable even for Twitter.” 

Several Republican groups, including the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and the Senate Leadership Fund, a McConnell-aligned outside group, each said they would stop spending with Twitter until the social media giant reversed its decision. 

“We will stand firmly with our friends against anti-conservative bias,” said Parker Hamilton Poling, the executive director of the NRCC.

Republicans have increasingly battled the country’s largest tech companies, which they claim routinely censor right-wing voices. Critics have insisted there is little evidence to substantiate those claims beyond individual anecdotes

“This shows you the political tilt, the left-wing tilt, of these big companies,” McConnell added on Thursday. “And how they try to suppress speech when it’s inconvenient.”