Byline: Joseph Marks
WASHINGTON - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., smacked back at critics who have accused him of leaving the 2020 election vulnerable to Russian hackers, accusing them of "modern-day McCarthyism."
McConnell offered an impassioned 25-minute defense of his election security record on the Senate floor as Democrats accuse him of consistently blocking their bills from coming up to a vote. "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. "I'm not going to do that."
His stance ensures that election security will play a major role in Senate campaigns that are ramping up now -- and Democrats are already seizing the moment to make McConnell look like the face of obstruction.
Within minutes of the speech, Amy McGrath, a Kentucky Democrat and retired Marine lieutenant colonel who's seeking McConnell's seat, slammed the majority leader on Twitter.
McGrath rattled off a list of election security provisions Democrats have sought to mandate, such as paper ballots and security audits for voting machines before asking: "Tell me again how that is partisan, @senatemajldr? Oh right, you can't."
Dan Baer, a former Obama administration official who's in the Democratic race to unseat Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., also went on the offensive --accusing the Republican of standing with McConnell to oppose election security bills.
The Senate Democrats' campaign arm was also fundraising yesterday on a pledge to oust vulnerable Senate Republicans who oppose election security bills.
Even a group of Republicans opposed to President Donald Trump announced it would run ads criticizing McConnell's opposition to election security legislation in Washington and Kentucky.
After testimony from former special counsel Robert Mueller, Democrats sought to force votes on election security bills that many Republicans oppose, including ones that would give states an influx of cash to upgrade voting systems and require candidates to report offers of hacker material from foreign nationals.
Yet McConnell argues that imposing federal mandates on election security - even if security experts say they're best practices - would violate states' rights to run their own elections.
"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," McConnell said.
Democrats counter that state and local election officials aren't equipped to defend themselves against the sort of top-notch cyber pros from Russia's intelligence services who probed the election infrastructure in numerous states in 2016 and ran a hacking and influence campaign aimed at helping the Trump campaign and hurting Hillary Clinton.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who has led the fight to pressure McConnell to consider election security bills, criticized McConnell after he spoke.
One of the main pundits McConnell in his speech targeted as part of the "outrage industrial complex" was Post columnist Dana Milbank, who published an opinion column Friday headlined "Mitch McConnell is a Russian asset."
"Fred Hiatt, The Post's editorial page editor, defended Milbank's column and criticized the GOP leader for invoking McCarthyism," my colleague Paul Kane reported.
"Dana Milbank's column was a legitimate exercise in commentary, making the argument that Sen. McConnell's blocking of elections-security legislation will harm the United States and work to Russia's advantage. Of course it's equally legitimate for Mr. McConnell to express a contrary view, but the Milbank argument has nothing to do with McCarthyism," Hiatt said in a statement.