Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., remained steadfast in his decades-long commitment to alternative facts, bandying falsehoods this week about the civil rights history behind the filibuster, H.R. 1, and his contact with President Biden.
McConnell delivered his first lie when he argued during a Tuesday press conference that the filibuster “has no racial history at all. None.” He added, “There’s no dispute among historians about that.”
There’s not much dispute because McConnell’s claim is flat-out untrue. Historians broadly agree that the filibuster is deeply rooted in the legislative tradition of obstructing civil rights for Black people. According to a study conducted by The Washington Post, of the 30 measures derailed by the filibuster between 1917 and 1994, “exactly half addressed civil rights — including measures to authorize federal investigation and prosecution of lynching, to ban the imposition of poll taxes and to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race in housing sales and rentals.”
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In fact, one of the key factors in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the defeat of the filibuster routinely employed by segregationist senators, which is why former President Barack Obama once called the maneuver a “Jim Crow relic.”
McConnell doubled down on the untruths on Wednesday morning when he alleged that the Biden administration has thus far made “no effort whatsoever” to work with Republicans. The minority leader specifically claimed the had not been invited to the White House and had not spoken to President Biden since he took office.
“I don’t believe I’ve spoken with him since he was sworn in,” McConnell told reporters. “We had a couple of conversations before then.”
According to The Washington Post, McConnell in fact spoke with Biden twice in early February. On one occasion, the minority leader himself claimed the two had spoken about the status of the coronavirus relief bill. On another, McConnell claimed he “spoke with both President Biden and Secretary (of State Antony) Blinken yesterday about the situation in Burma.”
McConnell’s office later acknowledged those conversations had in fact occurred.
In the past, Biden and McConnell have been on comparatively amicable terms. As Obama’s administration came to a close, McConnell praised Biden’s work as Obama’s vice president. “He doesn’t waste time telling me why I am wrong,” McConnell said of Biden at the time. “He gets down to brass tacks, and he keeps in sight the stakes. There’s a reason ‘Get Joe on the phone’ is shorthand for ‘Time to get serious’ in my office.”
In a December interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal, the senator referred to his relationship with the president as a “friendship.” McConnell was the only Senate Republican who attended the funeral of Biden’s son, Beau.
Last week, however, McConnell decried the Biden administration’s “left-wing” tendencies, but said he had expected them all along. “I’m not surprised that he’s not a moderate. He just seemed moderate,” said the senator. “So I’m not surprised there’s a left wing administration. I anticipated it.”
He concluded, “And that’s why it’s going to be very difficult to craft bipartisan agreements, because they want to jam things through their way, hard left, which I don’t think the American people expect any bipartisanship to support.”
McConnell’s third lie of the week came when he claimed during a hearing that the Democratic-backed voting rights bill, H.R. 1 or the For the People Act, is a wholly unnecessary piece of legislation because “states are not engaging in trying to suppress voters whatsoever.”
That’s a stark contrast with reality, which has seen an intense Republican-backed push for state-level voter restrictions across the nation. More than 150 Republican-sponsored proposals in at least 33 state legislatures are currently under consideration — all of which aim to restrict voting rights by limiting mail-in ballots, heightening voter ID requirements, closing alternative registration options and other tactics.
In Georgia, voting rights activist Stacey Abrams made headlines this month when she called the state’s new voting bill “a redux of Jim Crow in a suit and tie.” The bill, if signed into law, would repeal no-excuse absentee voting for Georgia residents, 1.3 million of whom used the method to cast ballots in last year’s general election.
In South Carolina, one bill under consideration would mandate signature matching for all absentee ballots. A Texas proposal would require the Department of Public Safety to verify each voters’ citizenship.
The For the People Act, meanwhile, aims to set national standards in voting rights by establishing independent redistricting commissions, prohibiting campaign spending by foreign nationals, reforming the Federal Election Commission and more. McConnell has forcefully argued against the bill, labeling it a partisan Democratic power-grab. “This is clearly an effort by one party to rewrite the rules of our political system,” he said on the Senate floor, “But even more immediately, it would create an implementation nightmare … that would drown state and local officials who run elections.”
McConnell also claimed in a Tuesday podcast that Democrats want to turn the FEC into a “prosecutor” in issues of campaign finance.
“We had record turnouts last year…. So this is not to drive up turnout,” McConnell said of the bill, “Turnout’s already driven up.” In fact, despite record turnout, there were numerous reports of voter-suppression tactics in 2020.
The Senate minority leader also described the Democrats’ plan to reduce the FEC board from six to five members — two from each party and one unaffiliated member — as yet another partisan power grab. It could better be described as an effort to break partisan gridlock. As Salon reported in November, Republicans themselves have tried to pack the FEC board with members of their own party, and left it without a viable voting quorum for 14 months under the Trump administration.