Despite universal assurance from both the intelligence community and the investigation conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller that Russia engaged in efforts to manipulate our elections and will likely do so again, Republicans have been disinterested in strengthening election security.
Chief among the Republican opposition to strengthening America’s electoral system against foreign intervention is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). Despite a years-long effort by the intelligence community to limit Russia’s ability to intervene in American elections, McConnell has been a bulwark against any attempt to thwart Russia’s aspirations.
It was known long before the 2018 midterm elections that Russia intended to probe our electoral system for weaknesses. But McConnell refused to allow Congress’ efforts to resist Russian election intervention to even come to a vote. Every single state’s election system was targeted by Russian hackers in 2018, according to a Joint Intelligence Bulletin issued in April by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.
This resistance to defending the integrity of future elections has continued well into 2019. Despite multiple plans to strengthen the next election advancing through the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, McConnell is still using his power as majority leader to deny those measures a full floor vote.
To be fair, McConnell is not the only Republican opposed to strengthening America’s electoral system. House Republicans actually tried to weaken election security before they were ousted from the majority in the 2018 midterms. But as Senate Majority Leader, McConnell is in an especially powerful place to curtail any effort to resist Russian involvement in American elections.
McConnell has ample ties to Russian interests and has taken pro-Russia positions in the past. McConnell helped ease sanctions on Russian aluminum baron Oleg Deripaska, whose company Rusal later invested in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky. Federal campaign finance records show McConnell has also benefited from generous campaign donations from businesses associated with Len Blavatnik, another Rusal-affiliated mogul with connections to Vladimir Putin.
Part of McConnell’s obstruction might stem from President Trump’s vehement opposition to even acknowledging Russian interests in disrupting American elections, and the president’s tendency to conflate election security with impugning the validity of his 2016 victory. Famously, during the most recent federal government shutdown, McConnell had taken a position of not allowing anything to the Senate floor that didn’t have Trump’s direct approval.
There’s also a serious contingent of Republican voters who would actually support Russian intervention in elections if it benefited Trump’s agenda. Some have accused McConnell of being among that number.
The dangers McConnell has refused to address in America’s elections are part of the broader narrative of McConnell’s place as a serious threat to democracy, which has been expressed by an increasing number of political commentators.
McConnell is up for re-election in the 2020 elections he refuses to protect.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.