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After 'Moscow Mitch' push, McConnell backs down on security funding

Mitch McConnell tends to brush off criticisms with a degree of blithe indifference. "Moscow Mitch" was different.
Image: President Trump attends Republican policy luncheon at the US Capitol
epa06286986 US President Donald J. Trump (R) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (L) walk in the Ohio Clock Corridor, through Russian flags with...

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is accustomed to criticism, which the longtime GOP lawmaker tends to brush off with a degree of blithe indifference. But by all appearances, the "Moscow Mitch" label seemed to actually bother him.

The line of criticism took root over the summer, as Democratic lawmakers pushed a series of measures intended to protect U.S. elections from another Russian attack, only to have McConnell block each of the efforts for flimsy reasons. It led Dana Milbank to refer to the Senate's top Republican as "a Russian asset" who was "doing Russian President Vladimir Putin's bidding."

McConnell made little effort to hide his disgust with the criticisms. At the same time, however, they appear to have had an effect.

In a surprise development, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his support on Thursday for additional money to bolster the country's election system ahead of the 2020 vote, a move that counters his earlier position resisting calls for more funding.McConnell, R-Ky., said he is co-sponsoring an amendment to an appropriations bill that would provide $250 million for election security.

Keep in mind, when Democrats brought up a measure last year to provide $250 million in election-security assistance to states, McConnell and his conference balked. Now, it's a different story.

Stepping back, it's been exasperating over the years to see McConnell shrug his shoulders in response to criticisms, no matter how fierce or widespread. From the Kentucky Republican's perspective, he's acted as if he's immune -- because for the most part, McConnell was.

The GOP leader has long been aware of the condemnations of his maximalist tactics, but he was unfazed because he's never seen a reason to care. McConnell expected to win re-election anyway and was confident his far-right conference would reward him.

But once in a great while, McConnell -- who's up for re-election next year -- not only feels political pressure, but he's affected by it, too. In this case, it seems he didn't want to hear another round of "Moscow Mitch" talk, so he took a step to make the basis for the complaint go away.

To be sure, it's a step in a constructive direction, but the basis for the "Moscow Mitch" offensive wasn't just about election-security funding. There are a variety of other election-related measures, championed by Democrats, that would bolster American defenses against another round of Russian attacks against our elections. There's nothing to suggest McConnell has changed his mind about these other bills.

But progress is progress, and it looks like the Republican leader's opponents now know what to say and do the next time they want to pressure him on election security.