Senate

McConnell accuses Democrats of sowing division by 'downplaying progress' on election security

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday accused Senate Democrats of furthering election interference goals of foreign adversaries by downplaying the U.S. progress on election security.  

In a four-page letter to Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), McConnell wrote that Democrats are "sowing the kind of divisions" in U.S. society about the Democratic process that the leaders of Russia and China have aimed to do by expressing repeated concerns around the security of elections.

"Leading Democrats and prominent media voices have spent years downplaying our progress on election security, casting doubt on the legitimacy of elections that Democrats do not win, and abusing this crucial issue as a platform for partisan finger-pointing," McConnell wrote, pointing to Democrats' concerns over Postal Service delays and collusion between President Trump and Russia. 

"This endless parade of partisan hysteria has furthered our adversaries' goals to a degree that Putin, Xi, and mullahs in Tehran can scarcely dream of achieving themselves," he wrote. 

Schumer pushed back against McConnell Thursday night, telling The Hill that "President Trump and Senator McConnell spend a lot of time criticizing Democrats for calling attention to foreign interference in our elections. If they spent half as much time actually trying to stop that foreign interference, our country would be far better off."

McConnell's concerns were raised as government officials are increasingly sounding the alarm about foreign threats to elections. 

FBI Director Christopher Wray testified to a House committee Thursday that Russia is attempting to undermine the presidential campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden. His testimony confirmed an assessment from an official at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence last month that reported that Russia, China and Iran are actively interfering in U.S. elections.

Microsoft also sounded the alarm last week, warning that hackers in Russia, China and Iran were targeting their customers who are part of political groups including the campaigns of Biden and President Trump. 

McConnell on Thursday emphasized efforts by the Department of Homeland Security, the Intelligence Community, election officials in all 50 states and social media companies that are working together to secure elections and prevent similar foreign meddling to what occurred in 2016.

Russian agents targeted election infrastructure in all 50 states in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, successfully gaining access to certain systems, along with launching a disinformation campaign meant to favor now-President Trump and hacking into Democratic networks. 

There is no evidence any votes were changed.

McConnell sent the letter the day after Schumer and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) requested that McConnell support the formation of a bipartisan congressional election security committee to hear testimony on issues including mail-in voting, election integrity and post-election scenarios. 

McConnell criticized the request, arguing that panels including the Senate Homeland Security Committee have already held hearings on the topic of election security in recent months, and argued that setting up the committee could "actively hurt our elections."

"Fewer than 50 days before the election, you and Senator Sanders say you want a brand-new Senate committee to form and start studying election issues," McConnell wrote. "You want this new committee to pull key officials and experts off the front lines during the home stretch to come to Capitol Hill for theatrical hearings. As I explained, real Senate committees with actual jurisdiction have already been at this for four years."

McConnell argued that the "Senate has led at every stage" on election security, specifically citing the bipartisan investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee into Russian interference in the 2016 election, with the panel putting out its final report on the issue last month.

McConnell also pointed to election funds appropriated to states. 

The Senate has approved more than $800 million of election security grants since 2018, along with $400 million in response to new challenges to elections posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Election officials have argued they need more, with state and local election officials repeatedly asking Congress for more funding due to shortfalls in state and local budgets brought on by the pandemic and poll worker protective equipment needs. 

Election funds have become a key part of stalled negotiations between Democrats and Republicans on future coronavirus stimulus packages. Most recently, the Democrat-controlled House passed legislation in May appropriating $3.6 billion in election funds to states, while proposals from Senate Republicans have not included any additional funds.

A coalition of 50 bipartisan House lawmakers rolled out a proposed coronavirus stimulus package earlier this week that included $400 million for pandemic election challenges. 

Democrats have repeatedly gone to the Senate floor this year in attempts to pass various pieces of election security legislation, including measures that would require campaigns to report foreign offers of assistance. 

Their efforts have been blocked each time by Republicans who have argued the bills take power from the states and federalize the election process. 

Schumer has forcefully argued the need for election security enhancements in the past several years, and has criticized McConnell and other Senate Republicans for not doing enough on the issue.

"As you know, there is a great deal of concern about possible confusion and chaos in the upcoming November 3rd election," Schumer and Sanders wrote to McConnell earlier this week. "Sadly, there are some who are systematically undermining public confidence in the voting process, and irresponsibly fanning suspicions and conspiracy theories about the legitimacy of election results."

In their respective letters to each other, both McConnell and Schumer stated a need for a bipartisan approach to ensuring the security of elections this year. 

"Leader Schumer, you recently stated that 'Republicans are the enemy of the good,'" McConnell wrote. "There is still time for you to remember that Democrats and Republicans are not enemies. Our fellow Americans are not our enemies. There are many around the world who wish our nation real harm. None of them work in the United States Senate."

-Updated at 9:10 p.m. 

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