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What Mitch McConnell sees as the Democrats' 'big lie'

As Republicans approve anti-voting measures, Mitch McConnell likes to pretend that the voter-suppression campaign isn't happening at all.

As Republican officials at the state level got to work last year making it harder for voters to cast ballots, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell responded with a specific strategy: The Kentucky Republican pretended the efforts didn't exist.

"States are not engaging in trying to suppress voters whatsoever," the GOP senator told reporters in March. Three months later, he added, "The biggest lie being told in American politics in recent weeks has been that the states are involved in a systematic effort to suppress the vote."

Yesterday, as much of the Senate Democratic majority desperately searches for ways to protect voting rights, McConnell again pretended reality isn't real:

"The Voting Rights Act is still intact, so it's appropriate to ask the question, what's going on here? Well, there's been a lot of talk about big lies. Well, the big lie on the other side is that state legislatures are controlled by Republicans are busily at work trying to make it difficult for people to vote."

First, the Voting Rights Act is not still intact. As the senator surely knows, in the Shelby County v. Holder decision, Republican-appointed justices gutted the landmark civil rights legislation, clearing the way for far-right voting opponents to target the franchise.

Second, those far-right voting opponents have acted with unnerving vigor. The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law issued a report in the fall explaining that too many state legislatures "have proposed and enacted legislation to make it harder for Americans to vote, justifying these measures with falsehoods steeped in racism about election irregularities and breaches of election security."

In all, against a backdrop of Donald Trump's Big Lie, 19 states approved 33 laws that make it harder for Americans to participate in their own democracy in 2021. As we discussed last month, many Republicans intend to continue the anti-voting campaign in 2022.

And yet, there was McConnell yesterday, pretending that none of this is happening.

As offensive as this was, the Senate minority leader wasn't done. At the same Capitol Hill press conference, he added:

"[Democrats] assume that people who get elected to legislatures are idiots. They get elected by the people, too. Why would any legislature in America want to overturn the counting of votes? They have to get elected by those people, too. The notion that some state legislature would be crazy enough to say to their own voters, 'We're not going to honor the results of the election' is ridiculous on its face."

The idea that state legislators would reject their own state's election results may be outlandish, but in the wake of Donald Trump's defeat, it's a course many Republicans pursued. Indeed, perhaps McConnell missed the news about the GOP officials who wanted to send bogus slates of electors after local voters had the audacity to support the Democratic Party's 2020 ticket.

As for Democratic efforts to create an exception to the Senate's filibuster rules in order to protect voting rights, the Senate Republicans' leader added:

"There's no such thing as a narrow exception.... Make no mistake about it, this is genuine radicalism. They want to turn the Senate into the House. They want to make it easy to fundamentally change the country."

Putting aside the obvious fact that there is such a thing as a narrow exception to the Senate filibuster rules — McConnell and his members created one in 2017 — there's nothing especially revolutionary about the Democrats' plan. What Democratic leaders want to do is pass legislation by majority rule to protect voting rights.

If McConnell is looking for examples of genuine radicalism, I'd encourage him to consider the routinization of 60-vote supermajorities and the national crusade to put new barriers between Americans and ballot boxes.