Senator Mitch McConnell is usually impervious to criticism, even celebrating the nasty nicknames critics bestow on him. But Mr. McConnell, the Senate majority leader, is incensed by the name “Moscow Mitch,” and even more miffed that he has been called a “Russian asset” by critics who accuse him of single-handedly blocking stronger election security measures after Russia’s interference in 2016.
Democrats had been making the case for months, but it was supercharged last week by the testimony of Robert S. Mueller III, the former special counsel, who told the House Intelligence Committee that the Russians were back at it “as we sit here.”
Mr. McConnell cites several reasons for his opposition — a longstanding resistance to federal control over state elections, newly enacted security improvements that were shown to have worked in the 2018 voting and his suspicion that Democrats are trying to gain partisan advantage with a host of proposals.
Republican colleagues say that Mr. McConnell, a longtime foe of tougher campaign finance restrictions and disclosure requirements, is leery of even entering into legislative negotiation that could touch on fund-raising and campaign spending.
“Democrats want more aggressive legislation to protect America’s elections after Robert Mueller’s stark warning about Russian interference,” began one report aired on a Louisville television station last week. “Mitch McConnell blocked it.”
Even President Trump felt compelled to come to his defense — as only he could.
“Mitch McConnell is a man that knows less about Russia and Russian influence than even Donald Trump,” the president told reporters Tuesday as he was leaving for a speech in Jamestown, Va. “And I know nothing.”
That did not relieve the heat on the majority leader, who on Monday had appeared to open the door ever so slightly to doing more on election preparedness.
“I’m sure all of us will be open to discussing further steps Congress, the executive branch, the states and the private sector might take to defend our elections against foreign interference,” he said as he seethed on the Senate floor over what he described as McCarthy-style attacks on his integrity and distortions of both his position on election security and his hawkish history of challenging Russia.
Throughout his political career, Mr. McConnell has made opposition to the Kremlin a hallmark of his foreign policy stands.
For once, Democrats seemed to be getting to a man who has embraced his portrayal as Darth Vader and the Grim Reaper overseeing a Senate graveyard for legislation that he opposes. When an unsubstantiated West Virginia Senate campaign ad in 2018 called him “Cocaine Mitch,” he began answering his Senate telephone with that identifier.
“Moscow Mitch”? Not so much: “I was called unpatriotic, un-American and essentially treasonous,” he fumed on the Senate floor.
Democrats pressed their advantage. And why not? The hashtag #MoscowMitchMcTraitor was trending on Twitter, and Senate Republicans of all stripes were being asked about the blockade.
“So long as the Senate Republicans prevent legislation from reaching the floor, so long as they oppose additional appropriations to the states, so long as they malign election security provisions as, quote, partisan wish lists, the critics are right to say Leader McConnell and Republican senators are blocking election security,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said on the floor Tuesday.
Mr. Schumer has in the past suggested that another potential reason behind Mr. McConnell’s position is the thought that interference emanating from Russia could aid Republicans. “I hope it’s not because he thinks it will benefit him, because Putin could turn around in a minute, and then do things that he doesn’t like,” Mr. Schumer said in June.
Lawmakers in both parties have election security proposals waiting on the sidelines, and the furor has caused some to step up demands for Congress to take up their bills.
Senators Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, and Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, wrote on Monday to colleagues reconciling the annual House and Senate military policy bill to request that they include stalled sanctions legislation meant to deter Russia or other foreign actors from interfering in American elections. House lawmakers included a similar provision in their military policy bill, but the senators want to see it strengthened to slap Russia’s economy with intense sanctions if it is found to interfere in a future election.
“This conference committee represents this Congress’ best — potentially last — opportunity to enact meaningful legislation aimed at deterring Russia from a repeat performance of its 2016 presidential election interference,” the senators wrote. “We ask that you seize this opportunity and include the provisions outlined above in the final conference report.”
On Tuesday, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, signed on to a measure by Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the committee’s top Democrat, that would require campaign officials to report to federal authorities any offers of campaign assistance from foreign entities.
“Russia’s efforts to interfere in our elections remain relentless,” said Ms. Collins, who is also up for re-election next year, in a statement.
Mr. McConnell’s opposition to any and all election legislation has bottled up the bills in the Senate Rules Committee. The panel’s chairman, Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, has hesitated to advance any of the measures since they would go nowhere on the floor.
Mr. Blunt said he repeatedly had been assured by the F.B.I., the Department of Homeland Security and the federal intelligence agencies that they were not lacking resources to combat election interference.
“They always say, ‘No, we don’t need anything,’” Mr. Blunt said Tuesday. A former state elections official himself, Mr. Blunt said he agreed with Mr. McConnell that the federal government should not gain more authority over state elections.
“Mitch would not want to see us further federalize the process and that’s where I am, too,” Mr. Blunt said.
Proponents of the bills say they are devised to keep the states in the lead. A Democratic measure approved by the House would send more than $1 billion to state and local governments to tighten election security, but would also demand that states use the money for machines with backup paper ballots and require a national strategy to protect American democratic institutions against cyberattacks. States would be required to spend federal funds only on federally certified “election infrastructure vendors.”
A bipartisan measure in both chambers would require internet companies like Facebook to disclose the purchasers of political ads. Another bipartisan Senate proposal would codify cyberinformation-sharing initiatives between federal intelligence services and state election officials, speed up the granting of security clearances to state officials and provide federal incentives for states to adopt backup paper ballots.
Backup paper ballots got an endorsement Tuesday from an unlikely source: Mr. Trump. He took to Twitter to call for “Paper Ballots as backup (old fashioned but true!).”
We should immediately pass Voter ID @Voteridplease to insure the safety and sanctity of our voting system. Also, Paper Ballots as backup (old fashioned but true!). Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2019
With the focus on the issue intensifying, Mr. McConnell and Senate Republicans will face more pressure to act.
If they do, the most likely result would not be advancing stand-alone bills but instead using the annual spending bills that must pass this fall to funnel more money to states to secure their elections and to make certain they have a paper-ballot trail that can be audited if questions arise about the legitimacy of an outcome. Ten states now lack full capacity to do so, according to the Rules Committee.
Mr. Schumer encouraged that idea Tuesday. “If McConnell wants to address election security in the appropriations process, we would welcome his support on an amendment to send more funding to the states,” he said. “We want to get something done on election security because this is not about party, this is a matter of national security.
Mr. McConnell said Monday that he would not be intimidated into acting on election interference.
He also will probably not be answering his phone “Moscow Mitch.”
The Senate majority leader has become one of the few unambiguous winners of the Trump presidency so We look at whether his gains have come with a cost.
.. Over the past decade, the Senate Republican leader has emerged as a skilled legislative warrior, obstructing President Barack Obama’s agenda and enabling President Trump’s. But what does Mitch McConnell himself actually believe in?
.. Background reading:
“McConnell aspires to be not the bloody and maybe tragic hero in a revolutionary drama but one among a short list of undisputed masters of the machinery of American government,” Charles Homans writes his profile of the senator for The New York Times Magazine.
Mr. Homans interviewed Mr. McConnell for several hours over the course of two months, and also spoke to dozens of staff members, senators and cabinet members from the Obama and Trump administrations. Here are six takeaways from his reporting.
- [Paul von Hindenburg]
Even when the Facebook leaders understood the problem, they tried to hide it.
Right after the election Zuckerburg was dismissive of the idea that Fake News influenced the election.
People within the company thought he was out of touch.
At the time Facebook was under pressure.
Trump had won the election using social media, but Facebook was dismissive.
Facebook employees saw the tip of the iceberg . They had been following Russian
Mark wanted to find a technical fix.
Sheryl was thinking about the legal risk and was wondering whether they would find out things they didn’t want to know. Sheryl was thinking about what the consequences would be.
Sheryl yelled at the security team for investigating Russian interference without formal approval.
The leadership was concerned that Washington was controlled by conservatives who would have an adverse reaction to an investigation or efforts to curb this activity. Conservatives already think Silicon Valley is a bunch of hippies.
There was pressure within Facebook not to publish anything linking activity back to Russia. Sheryl(?) also signed off on a policy not to take down the Russian troll accounts.
Mark Zuckerburg was traveling the country, milking cows, and acting as though he wanted to run for President.
Sheryl Sandberg was running her own “Lean-In” brand.
Alex Stamos (Security Chief) briefs the audit committee and the board’s response is to yell at Mark(?) and Sheryl(?)
The leadership holds a big meeting and Sheryl yells at Alex Stamos for
- not briefing her fully
- admitting that they hadn’t fully got a grip on the situation
- suggesting that Russia would likely do this again in the future
Alex has gotten in trouble in the past for being too transparent
The Cambridge Analytical Scandal illustrates:
- The consequences of surveillance capitalism
- The potential of Facebook to influence elections
Apple CEO Tim Cook castigates Facebook for their business model.
Facebook conducts an advertising campaign and privately goes on attack using the Washington PR opposition research campaign, which uses the NTK network which publishes propaganda.
Confronted with a Propaganda Scandal, they turn to a PR campaign to create their own Propaganda.
Attacks Apple and Tim Cook. Attack George Soros, arguing the Facebook’s criticism was masterminded by George Soros. In taking on Soros they are getting into the smear and conspiracy business.
In its latest futile gesture, the House Freedom Caucus sets its sights on ousting the man overseeing Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation...their public relations assault is not actually about his refusing to turn over this or that document related to the Russia investigation. It’s not really even about the lawmakers’ loathing of the broader investigation, though certainly President Trump’s congressional lackeys — Mr. Meadows and Mr. Jordan most definitely included — are increasingly desperate to derail it... For Freedom Caucus leaders, this impeachment resolution is about something at once much broader and far pettier: the need to make a huge, disruptive, polarizing political stink just as members head home for the long hot August recess. Especially with a critical midterm election coming, it never hurts to have some extra well-marbled meat to throw the voters. And it is unlikely a coincidence that, less than 24 hours after filing, Mr. Jordan — who, lest anyone forget, is multiply accused of overlooking rampant sexual abuse while an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University — formally announced his candidacy for House speaker.Not to make Mr. Rosenstein feel any less special, but this is the fourth year in a row that Freedom Caucusers have pulled a summer-break stunt so nakedly self-serving that it would be comic if it weren’t so odious in its quest to erode public faith in government and in democratic institutions more broadly. Indeed, for all those wondering how the Republican Party reached the point where Donald Trump could swallow it whole with his furious everything-is-awful-and-everyone-is-out-to-get-you brand of demagogy, look no further than the nihilists in the Freedom Caucus... In 2015, Mr. Meadows became an overnight political celebrity when, on the day before break, he filed a motion aimed at overthrowing the House speaker, John Boehner. That effort eventually bore fruit... In 2016, Freedom Caucus members filed a pre-break motion to force a vote on the impeachment of the Internal Revenue Service commissioner, John Koskinen. (Impeachment is all the rage with these guys.)And last summer, they filed a discharge petition demanding a vote on a repeal of Obamacare... it has only nine co-sponsors, and Republican leaders, including Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the oversight committee, have expressed a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the effort... Mr. Meadows didn’t even attempt to file a “privileged motion,” as he and his colleagues did against Mr. Koskinen two years ago, which would have forced a vote before members decamped on Thursday... the issue won’t get taken up until lawmakers return from break in September, if then. (That’s the beauty of pre-recess antics: They cannot fail before members get to spend several weeks touting them back home.)
There is vanishingly little chance that House leadership will let this toxic nonsense advance — Speaker Paul Ryan already has publicly smacked down the effort — and
zero chance that the motion could amass anywhere close to the two-thirds support required for the Senate to actually remove Mr. Rosenstein.
.. This stunt is in fact so ridiculous, so unfounded, so poisonous to the Republic that Attorney General Jeff Sessions felt compelled not only to publicly defend his deputy, but also to suggest that the lawmakers involved find a better use of their time.
.. Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general who was fired in January 2017 for refusing to defend President Trump’s travel ban, tweeted a warning about the long-term damage of “using the Department of Justice as a prop for political theater.”
.. It’s not that the Freedom Caucus members don’t recognize the damage they’re doing — or even that they don’t care. It is that delegitimizing government is at the heart of their movement.
.. Conflict and obstructionism have always been their purpose, fueled by their relentless message that
- government is always the problem, that
- all experts are idiots, that
- cultural and coastal elites hate Real Americans and that
- all of Washington is corrupt and broken beyond repair.
.. As has often been noted, Mr. Trump did not invent the apocalyptic message that he has used to dazzle the Republican base. He merely distilled it to its essence. But the base had been groomed for his arrival for years, in no small part by lawmakers like Mr. Meadows and Mr. Jordan, who have repeatedly proved eager to tear down democratic institutions in the service of their own political aims.
.. So while the Freedom Caucus’s pitiful effort to oust Mr. Rosenstein should not be taken seriously on practical grounds, it is a tragic reminder of the bleak path down which the Republican Party has been slouching in recent years. The rot was there long before Mr. Trump showed up to exploit it, and it is likely to remain long after he is gone.