Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell defended himself from withering criticism by Democrats and political commentators that his blockade of election security legislation is un-American, calling it “modern-day McCarthyism.”
In a spirited speech on the Senate floor Monday, the Kentucky Republican turned his sights on opinion columnist Dana Milbank and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, who respectively called McConnell on Friday a “Russian asset” and “Moscow Mitch.”
McConnell said that he has been tough on Russia for more than three decades, from supporting President Ronald Reagan’s strategy on missile defense to greenlighting the bipartisan Senate investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. He said Democrats and Republicans had spontaneously applauded at a closed-door meeting he helped set up a few weeks ago when officials discussed all the “progress” that had been made since then. And he noted that he supported the hundreds of millions of dollars Congress has sent to the states to boost their election infrastructure.
“American pundits calling an American official treasonous because of a policy disagreement,” McConnell said. “If anything is an asset to the Russians, it is disgusting behavior like that.”
For months, the left has criticized McConnell for countering in 2016 a proposal by the Obama administration to warn state election officials about Russian interference in the election; he reportedly agreed to send a vaguer letter regarding “malefactors” who sought to “disrupt” the election.
But McConnell’s critics revived their attacks last week, after special counsel Robert Mueller confirmed his report on Russian interference in the presidential election for the first time before Congress. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York asked McConnell for a unanimous request to pass a bill that would spend hundreds of millions of dollars to improve election security and require the use of backup paper ballots. The Democratic-controlled House passed the bill with a single Republican vote; McConnell blocked it.
“This kind of objection is a routine occurrence in the Senate,” said McConnell on Monday. “It doesn’t make Republicans traitors or un-American.”
Senate Republicans have blocked Democratic attempts to bring up several bipartisan election security bills for votes, including legislation to require a paper trail for ballots and to require disclosure for online political advertisements. McConnell has blamed Democrats for politicizing the issue and asserted that elections should be primarily controlled by state and local authorities.
“My opposition to nationalizing election authorities that properly belong with the states is not news to anybody who’s followed my career or knows anything about Congress,” said McConnell on Monday.
Scarborough did not let up his attacks after McConnell’s speech. In response, the MSNBC host tweeted out an altered image of McConnell in front of a Russian flag wearing a fur hat. Scarborough said, “Why do you keep doing Putin’s bidding, #MoscowMitch?”
McConnell made clear that he would not bear the charges any longer.
“I don’t normally take the time to respond to critics in the media when they have no clue what they’re talking about,” said McConnell. “But this modern-day McCarthyism is toxic and damaging because of the way it warps our entire public discourse. Facts matter. Details matter. History matters. And if our nation is losing the ability to debate public policy without screaming about treason — that really matters.”
This story has been updated.