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‘Moscow Mitch’ sells out to the Kremlin: Same old voter access debate with Russian dressing

‘Moscow Mitch’ sells out to the Kremlin: Same old voter access debate with Russian dressing
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been labeled a “Russian asset,” and “Moscow Mitch” after he blocked a raft of election security bills, which in fact contain old partisan sticking points.

Those following the mainstream news in recent days would be forgiven for thinking that Mitch McConnell had donned his ushanka and laid out a caviar reception for Vladimir Putin on Capitol Hill. Last week, the Republican leader blocked three election security bills which, he claimed, were “partisan” and would do little to actually bolster election security. 

Two bills brought before the Senate on Wednesday promised a few crowd-pleasing anti-meddling overtures, like a requirement to report offers of foreign assistance to the FBI and a crackdown on foreign donations. Perhaps hoping to rush the bills through Congress in the wake of Mueller’s testimony earlier that day, Senate Democrats met a brick wall in the form of McConnell, who once described himself as a “Grim Reaper,” mercilessly slaying Democratic legislation.

When the Kentucky Republican killed another bill on Friday – this time aimed at providing federal grants to standardize voting machines and procedures in certain states – the media turned on McConnell. “Mitch McConnell is a Russian asset,” read a Washington Post headline. Accusing McConnell of “aiding and abetting” Vladimir Putin, liberal MSNBC host Joe Scarborough christened the Senate leader “Moscow Mitch.”

By Tuesday, #MoscowMitchMcTreason was trending on Twitter, complete with memes depicting the ruddy-faced senator standing in Red Square in Soviet military dress, because of course.

McConnell had already fired back at his critics in the media on Monday, calling them “hyperventilating hacks,” and defending his party’s work to beef up election security.

“I’m not going to let Democrats and their water carriers in the media use Russia’s attack on our democracy as a Trojan horse for partisan wish list items that would not actually make our elections any safer,” McConnell said. 

McConnell’s opposition was likely based more on old partisan arguments with Democrats and on concern about his party’s election prospects than a desire to further the supposed interests of the Kremlin. 

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Friday’s bill contained provisions that Republicans had long opposed, and drew extensively from HR 1, or the For the People Act of 2019, a sweeping anti-corruption bill passed by House Democrats in January that tacked on some anti-Trump and politically divisive provisions for good measure.

These included a requirement for presidential candidates to submit ten years’ worth of tax returns and turn their financial interests over to a blind trust upon taking office. 

Other measures were bundled in, aimed at keeping felons on the voter rolls, and shielding non-citizens from prosecution should they be caught voting. The bill also proposed redrawing Congressional districts –described by McConnell as a Democratic “power grab”– and granting statehood to Washington DC, a move that would have almost certainly created another Democratic stronghold.

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While HR 1 was obviously disregarded by Republicans, Friday’s bill met a similar fate, both due to what it included and to what it left out. The text required states to use federally-approved and audited voting machines, and keep paper ballots as a backup, something Republicans consider federal overreach into individual states’ voting systems. 

McConnell had already vowed earlier this year to "defend" against any federalization of the electoral process, unless that legislation included a provision clamping down on illegal ballot harvesting – the collection and returning of other people’s mail-in votes by campaign staff. Ballot harvesting is legal in 19 states, and the GOP has repeatedly called for its abolition, along with the imposition of stricter voter ID laws. 

Democrats, on the other hand, argue that any moves towards abolishing the practice or passing voter ID legislation are GOP efforts to disenfranchise voters.

However, election maneuvering doesn’t grab headlines like “Moscow Mitch” does. With the media busy drumming up new nicknames and insults, the same homegrown efforts to influence elections continue unimpeded behind the scenes. 

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