Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday introduced an amendment that would give $250 million to the states to beef up their voting systems after months of criticism that he was standing in the way of attempts to strengthen election security.
The amendment was successfully added to an annual spending bill by a bipartisan voice vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee, which the Kentucky Republican sits on.
McConnell and other Republicans repeatedly blocked previous efforts from Democrats to strengthen election security. In August 2018, for example, nearly every Republican voted against adding $250 million to election security funding ahead of the midterms that year, maintaining that funds Congress previously allocated for the effort had not yet been spent.
Democrats also sought to pass additional election security bills in June following special counsel Robert Mueller’s warning that Russia was laying the groundwork to interfere in the 2020 election. But McConnell blocked those as well, earning him the nickname “Moscow Mitch” from MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. The moniker seemed to hit a nerve with McConnell, who later condemned it as “modern-day McCarthyism” and an “over the top” smear on his career.
McConnell maintained he was broadly opposed to all Democratic legislation concerning election security ― in addition to a major bill the Democratic-controlled House passed last year ― because of his concern it would give the federal government too much power over state election systems. He echoed that argument again on Thursday.
“The Trump Administration has made enormous strides to help states secure their elections without giving Washington new power to push the states around. That’s how we continue the progress we saw in 2018 and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” McConnell said on the floor Thursday after announcing his support for the amendment.
Even though House Democrats are requesting an additional $600 million in election security funding, their Senate counterparts welcomed the news that McConnell had moved closer to their position on the matter.
“Thank God, he’s seen the light,” Senate Minority Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a speech on the floor. “Maybe, just maybe, Republicans are starting to come around to our view.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, offered a more pithy response when informed by reporters of McConnell’s announcement.
“No more invitations to the Kremlin for him,” Durbin quipped.