Several administration officials, including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and FBI Director Christopher Wray, went to Capitol Hill yesterday to brief lawmakers on election-security issues, including unspecified “active threats” ahead of the 2020 cycle.
As Politico reported soon after, House Democrats and Senate Republicans “may have attended similar classified briefings on election security Wednesday, but they left with opposite conclusions.”
Evidently, Democratic lawmakers believed the briefing pointed to a serious threat that Congress should address with new election safeguards, while Republicans left the briefing satisfied that Donald Trump’s team has everything under control – so lawmakers can safely focus their attention elsewhere.
But of particular interest was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) taking the time to defend his passivity on the issue.
In a floor speech earlier Wednesday, McConnell (R-Ky.) said that while Congress will continue to “assess whether future legislative steps might be needed,” he accused Democrats of making election security a political issue.
“We need to make sure this conversation is clear-eyed and sober and serious,” he said. “It’s interesting that some of our colleagues across the aisle seem to have already made up their minds before we hear from the experts later today. Their brand-new sweeping Washington intervention is just what the doctor ordered.”
In the same remarks, McConnell went on to complain about “the election interference that happened on the Obama administration’s watch.”
The Republican leader’s posture wasn’t exactly surprising. By all appearances, McConnell is less concerned with what “the experts” have to say about election security and more concerned with blocking any and all federal efforts to protect elections from interference. This is, after all, the same senator who condemned a proposal to end partisan gerrymandering and create a system of automatic voter registration as a “half-baked socialist proposal.”
But surprising or not, what amazed me was the irony of watching McConnell, of all people, whine on the subject.
To the extent that reality still has any meaning, Democratic efforts to improve election security, such as the recently passed “Securing America’s Federal Elections Act” (or SAFE Act), are politically neutral. To require voting systems to use backup paper ballots and mandating tech safeguards is not part of a partisan or ideological agenda.
By any fair measure, to reflexively ignore proposals like these, regardless of their merit, because of a misguided fear of a “federal takeover” of local elections procedures, is to actually politicize election security.
But even if we put this aside, McConnell’s indifference to Russia’s election attack while it was ongoing in 2016 has rendered his opinions on the matter permanently irrelevant.
The Republican Senate leader shouldn’t have the luxury of politicizing election security and then warning about the dangers of politicizing election security.