Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s consistent, outright refusal to address Russia’s continuing threat to America’s election system is a bizarre reversal of the Republican Party’s traditional obsession with national security. Some commentators have gone so far as to suggest that the nation’s top senator has become, wittingly or otherwise, a Russian asset. The hashtag “#MoscowMitch” is trending on Twitter — which might be funny if the stakes were less astronomical.
In truth, McConnell’s infuriating aversion to lifting a finger in the face of this undeniably real threat isn’t about aiding Russian leader Vladimir Putin. It’s about protecting President Donald Trump. That’s no excuse, though. This situation goes beyond partisanship, to the very core of this country’s democracy, and McConnell’s shortsighted, politically motivated intransigence is unacceptable. Why aren’t Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri and other prominent Republicans telling him that?
There is no question — none — that Russia interfered in America’s 2016 presidential elections with the goal of aiding Trump, including hacking attempts into the voting systems of all 50 states. It’s conceivable that Moscow’s sophisticated social-media disinformation campaigns did in fact deny victory to Hillary Clinton, who garnered significantly more votes nationally than Trump but narrowly lost in a few key states that cost her the Electoral College.
It’s since been established that then-President Barack Obama wanted to speak out publicly before the election about Russian interference that U.S. intelligence knew even then was happening, but he didn’t because McConnell refused to sign a bipartisan statement on the issue. Every time McConnell and his congressional lieutenants try to blame Obama for not speaking out in 2016, they define hypocrisy for the ages.
Trump’s delusionary denials notwithstanding, the experts are unanimous in their warnings that Putin will meddle again next year. The Democrat-controlled House approved a measure to address disinformation campaigns and prod states toward more secure ballot systems. But McConnell won’t even allow a Senate vote on it, saying it would constitute an improper federal incursion into state-run election systems.
That’s a ridiculous excuse on its face. This is a national threat that requires a national response. But McConnell apparently understands it wouldn’t go over well to admit that stopping Russian interference could hurt Trump’s reelection chances and call his presidential legitimacy into question. Even acknowledging the issue in legislation would prompt an angry Trump rant against McConnell, who is up for reelection next year.
McConnell frequently demonstrates his instinct toward consolidating partisan power above all else, but Blunt and others with McConnell’s ear have a duty to move him on this. The threat Trump represents to the career of any Republican who crosses him is real — but so is the threat that Russia poses to American democracy. If this isn’t a matter of getting priorities straight, what is?