McConnell support for election security funds leaves Dems declaring victory

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (Ky.) decision to back giving $250 million to states for election security constituted a major turnaround for the GOP leader.
McConnell, who had been derided as “Moscow Mitch” by Democrats over his refusal to give election security legislation a vote, in a surprise move Thursday said he would back an amendment providing funds to help states shore up their voting systems.

{mosads}He took credit for helping to develop the amendment and touted that its inclusion in a government funding bill brings spending on election security to $600 million since fiscal 2018. 

McConnell’s staff pushed back Friday on the idea that he had flip-flopped, blasting out an email to reporters titled “Setting the record straight on election security” that detailed previous steps taken by the Senate and federal agencies to secure elections since 2016. 

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of Senate Republican leadership, also downplayed the idea that McConnell had reversed himself, saying his support for the funding came down to the timing of the spending bill. 

“I know I’ve heard him say if this is a money thing, we’ll do that at the right time. I thought he had done that either on the floor or out here, but others think maybe not. But it didn’t surprise me that he was in favor of doing that,” Blunt said. 

But Democrats cast McConnell as having done a turnaround on the issue, and they made it clear they were surprised even as they continued to poke him with Russia references.  

“Did he? Is that right?” a visibly surprised Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said when told about the GOP leader’s decision.

“No more invitations to the Kremlin for him,” Durbin quipped. 

Senate Republicans, led by McConnell, have repeatedly blocked Democrats from bringing up election security legislation, arguing that the bills would “federalize” national elections. 

That fight boiled over in the wake of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony in July, when he warned that he expected Russian actors to attempt to interfere in the 2020 U.S. elections.

McConnell sparked a firestorm of criticism after he blocked two bills — one requiring paper ballots and provided more funding, the other requiring  campaigns to report foreign contacts to the FBI — a day after Mueller’s testimony.

“Clearly something so partisan that it only received one single solitary Republican vote in the House is not going to travel through the Senate by unanimous consent,” McConnell said from the Senate floor at the time. 

The decision spawned the “Moscow Mitch” nickname, which went viral on Twitter and was seized upon by activist groups to pressure McConnell to support election security legislation and funding. 

The GOP leader is known for a controlled, tight-lipped demeanor, but the nickname appeared to get under his skin. 

“These pundits are lying, lying when they dismiss the work that has been done. They’re lying when they insist I have personally blocked actions which, in fact, I have championed and the Senate has passed,” McConnell said during an unusually fiery floor speech during which he called out an MSNBC pundit and a Washington Post columnist by name. 

More than a month later, in early September, McConnell swiped at his opponents again during an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, referring to himself as a “cold warrior.” 

“It’s an effort to smear me. You know, I can laugh about things like the Grim Reaper, but calling me Moscow Mitch is over the top,” he said. 

McConnell came under intense pressure from outside groups, including TV ads targeting him and vulnerable GOP incumbents. 

Just this week, advocacy groups sponsored an election security “day of action” outside district offices for members on both sides of the aisle and Stand Up America, a progressive group, placed ads on billboards outside of his offices in Kentucky with the “Moscow Mitch” nickname.

Democrats were quick to claim victory for McConnell’s pivot, noting it came after months of public pressure. But they are doubling down on their efforts to get him to take up election security legislation, arguing that the funding isn’t enough. 

“Leader McConnell kept saying we don’t need the money. I made umpteen speeches here at this chair and the Republican leader denied the need but now, thank God, he has seen the light,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said after McConnell’s announcement. 

The $250 million is less than the $600 million approved by the House for election security in June, so a final figure will still have to be negotiated. 

Blunt predicted that Democrats would continue to try to use election security as a bludgeon against Republicans heading into 2020. 

“This is one of those things that some Democrats won’t stop talking about it even when they know the problem has been solved. This is too good of a political issue to talk about,” he said. “I think that if we did everything they wanted to do, they would still be talking about it.”

A few Republicans, including Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), expressed reservations about including additional election security money in the funding bill. 

“We are just handing states money, and they are glad to take it, but we are not even requiring that they spend it at this point,” Lankford said during the markup.

GOP Sen. John Kennedy (La.) was the only senator on the committee to vote against the funding. Kennedy staunchly opposed giving states more funds for election security and cited concerns that doing so would give the federal government control over elections.

“If you want to put the United States federal government in charge of your elections instead of the states, if you think that’s a swell idea, I want you to close your eyes for a minute and imagine living in a world designed by the Post Office, because that is what you are going to get,” Kennedy said on the Senate floor last week.

Tags Charles Schumer Dick Durbin Election Security James Lankford John Kennedy Mitch McConnell Richard Shelby Robert Mueller Roy Blunt
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