Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellScarborough calls McConnell 'Moscow Mitch,' says lack of action on Russian meddling is 'un-American' Democrats seize on Mueller hearings in election security push Overnight Health Care: Senate panel advances drug pricing bill amid GOP blowback | House panel grills Juul executives | Trump gives boost to state drug import plans | Officials say new migrant kids' shelter to remain open but empty 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) Swan MuellerDemocrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony Kellyanne Conway: 'I'd like to know' if Mueller read his own report Graham: Mueller was 'pretty much a figurehead' of investigation MORE warned that foreign governments will interfere in the 2020 elections.
“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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerCollins says she hasn't decided on 2020 run, criticizes 'dark money groups' Ocasio-Cortez about as well known as top Democrats: poll On The Money: Trump, Congress reach two-year budget, debt limit deal | What we know | Deal gets pushback from conservatives | Equifax to pay up to 0M in data breach settlement | Warren warns another 'crash' is coming MORE (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor.
Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocrats seize on Mueller hearings in election security push Senators vow to bring transparency to drug pricing Senate panel advances bipartisan bill to lower drug prices amid GOP blowback MORE (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called McConnell “Russia's biggest ally” in its meddling efforts, while Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGraham threatens to change committee rules to pass asylum bill GOP pushback puts Trump judicial nominee at risk Democrats paint McConnell as 'lead opponent' to election security in new report 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 John TrumpTrump to host 9/11 first responders at victim fund bill signing next week Turkey is not the center of the world — but it has our attention Photo of Mexican National Guard halting crying migrant mother and child goes viral 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.
McConnell’s blockade went viral Friday after MSNBC host and former GOP lawmaker Joe ScarboroughCharles (Joe) Joseph ScarboroughScarborough calls McConnell 'Moscow Mitch,' says lack of action on Russian meddling is 'un-American' Scarborough implores Democrats: Go hard after Trump or he'll win in 2020 Scarborough during Mueller hearing: 'Jesus, forgive me for ever being a Republican' 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 BluntHouse lawmakers to introduce bill banning facial recognition tech in public housing GOP wants commitment that Trump will sign budget deal Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator 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 BarrassoPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator EPA hails Trump's work on reducing air pollution House passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals' 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 WarnerDemocrats seize on Mueller hearings in election security push Hillicon Valley: Senate Intel releases election security report | GOP blocks votes on election security bills | Gabbard sues Google over alleged censorship | Barr meets state AGs on tech antitrust concerns Senate Intel finds 'extensive' Russian election interference going back to 2014 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 Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters he believes there is “some bipartisan space” on the topic, but 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 LankfordRomney to vote against budget deal: Agreement 'perpetuates fiscal recklessness' Overnight Defense: House approves 3 billion defense bill | Liberal sweeteners draw progressive votes | Bill includes measure blocking Trump from military action on Iran Senators urge Trump to sanction Turkey for accepting Russian missile shipment MORE (R-Okla.) has been negotiating with the White House and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharCNN announces climate town hall with 2020 Democrats Hillicon Valley: FTC fines Facebook B in privacy settlement | Critics pan settlement as weak | Facebook also faces FTC antitrust probe | Senate panel advances 'deepfakes' legislation | House passes anti-robocall bill 2020 Democrats double down on Trump attacks after Mueller 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 BlackburnGOP blocks election security bills after Mueller testimony GOP pushback puts Trump judicial nominee at risk Overnight Defense: Esper sworn in as Pentagon chief | Confirmed in 90-8 vote | Takes helm as Trump juggles foreign policy challenges | Senators meet with woman accusing defense nominee of sexual assault MORE (R-Tenn.) blocked election legislation last month, Trump praised the freshman senator “for fighting obstructionist Democrats led by Cryin' Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerCollins says she hasn't decided on 2020 run, criticizes 'dark money groups' Ocasio-Cortez about as well known as top Democrats: poll On The Money: Trump, Congress reach two-year budget, debt limit deal | What we know | Deal gets pushback from conservatives | Equifax to pay up to 0M in data breach settlement | Warren warns another 'crash' is coming MORE.”
Asked about moving election security legislation, Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenators vow to bring transparency to drug pricing Senate panel advances bipartisan bill to lower drug prices amid GOP blowback Trump meets with pharma executives amid drug pricing push 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?”