Moscow Mitch blinked.
For more than a year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., went eyeball to eyeball against those demanding the United States protect its elections from ongoing Russian tampering. Repeatedly, McConnell blocked all meaningful attempts to fortify U.S. defenses, and when critics pointed out that he was making things easier for the Kremlin, he howled about "modern-day McCarthyism."
But the pressure did not recede, and last Thursday, McConnell strode onto the Senate floor and surrendered. "I'm proud," he said, that a forthcoming spending bill "will include a bipartisan amendment providing another $250 million for the administration and security of their elections. … I am proud to have helped develop this amendment and to co-sponsor it in committee."
When a journalist observed that McConnell had made the reversal "under fire," McConnell's communications director, David Popp, replied on Twitter: "He's not under fire from anyone. He pounced at the opportunity to seize the moment and help secure this important funding."
Right. Like a drowning man pounces on a life raft.
In August 2018, McConnell led the Senate GOP in blocking a proposal to spend $250 million on election security -- the same amount he's now "proud" to support. In July, he was still resistant to further legislation, claiming the "absence" of election problems.
The amount McConnell finally allowed, even combined with the $380 million approved in early 2018, is a fraction of the more than $2 billion needed. McConnell also continues to block related efforts to fortify U.S. defenses, such as requiring paper-ballot backup, post-election audits and campaigns to tell the FBI about offers of foreign assistance.
Still, after exhausting all other possibilities, he finally did the right thing. He did it because he was forced.
There is a lesson in this for Democrats and others seeking to counter the worst abuses of the Trump age. McConnell may leap to appease President Trump, but ultimately he will succumb to political pressure. McConnell speaks one language: cold, ruthless power.
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Democrats should keep that in mind as they try to get action in the Senate on gun safety and other proposals. McConnell is, by reputation, a legislative mastermind, but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) have beaten him several times by putting pressure on him.
On the matter of hurricane-recovery funding for devastated Puerto Rico, for example, McConnell did his utmost to honor Trump's wishes that the U.S. territory, a frequent target of the president's hostility, not receive additional funding this year. In March, McConnell used procedural steps to block amendments to a massive disaster aid bill, thereby preventing Puerto Rico aid from being added.
Democrats responded in the only way that would get McConnell's attention: They stuck together and blocked the overall $13.5 billion disaster-aid bill, leaving the Senate without a way to deal with hurricane damage to the mainland United States, Midwest floods and California wildfires. By May, McConnell had relented, and the overall relief package, with $900 million for Puerto Rico, sailed through the Senate.
Legislation providing funds to care for 9/11 victims followed a similar pattern. McConnell had long been the main obstacle to providing help for stricken first responders. In late 2015, a bipartisan agreement on renewing the program was ready to go when McConnell rejected it, leaving the deal "in tatters," The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis reported at the time. Under pressure from comedian Jon Stewart and others, McConnell eventually accepted a temporary renewal.
This year, with the program again expiring, advocates again tried for a permanent renewal -- and McConnell, again, declined to commit to action, apparently seeking to do some horse trading. But under enormous pressure from Stewart, 9/11 heroes and Democrats, McConnell in June relented and allowed a permanent renewal to be enacted.
McConnell's behavior on Trump's border wall fits the pattern, too. Schumer and Pelosi late last year offered $1.3 billion for border security, but McConnell, trying to honor Trump's demand for $5 billion for a border wall, indicated he would only go along with what the president wanted.
Against McConnell's wishes, Trump invited a 34-day government shutdown over the matter. Republicans faced intense pressure to end the shutdown, and in the end, McConnell and his fellow Republicans agreed to something much like the Democrats' original offer.
Now, we see it again on election security. In July, McConnell called election-security legislation a "Trojan horse for partisan wish-list items that would not actually make our elections safer." Now he's "proud" to beef up election security.
He didn't see the light or yield to persuasion. He was bulldozed. Democrats: Remember this.