WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell came out Thursday in support of providing states with $250 million more in election security funding, an abrupt turnaround after more than a year of opposition by the Republican from Kentucky.
McConnell announced his position in remarks on the Senate floor Thursday morning, saying he was “proud to have helped develop this amendment,” which was co-sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and cleared a Senate committee on Thursday.
Last August, Senate Republicans voted down an effort to direct an extra $250 million toward election security ahead of the 2018 midterms. At that time, only one Republican, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, voted for the additional funds.
Senate Republicans, including McConnell, have also repeatedly blocked Democratic efforts to bring election security legislation to the floor, including measures that would have authorized funding to update voting equipment.
McConnell has defended Republican moves to block the bills by arguing that Congress and the Trump administration have already taken steps to combat foreign interference. Last year, for instance, Congress approved $380 million to improve election security systems. The Senate also passed legislation to bar people who have interfered with U.S. elections from obtaining visas to enter the United States.
Those efforts have fallen fall short of the $600 million in election security funding in a House-passed bill. McConnell hasn’t advanced an election security bill backed by Collins in July to require presidential campaigns contacted by foreign nationals offering campaign contributions, information or services to report those contacts to the FBI and election regulators.
Current and former Trump administration officials have continued to sound the alarm that more needs to be done: In his testimony before Congress in July, former special counsel Robert Mueller warned that foreign election interference efforts were happening “as we sit.”
On Thursday, the office of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said it was “significant” that McConnell and Republicans had “finally backed down” on the issue.
The Senate’s top Democrat warned that the $250 million is far from enough, saying it is “not a substitute for passing the comprehensive bipartisan election security legislation that experts say is desperately needed.”
Eric Rosenbach, a former Pentagon chief of staff who now directs Harvard’s Defending Digital Democracy program, also praised the turnaround from McConnell, saying the initial funding was insufficient to arm states against possible intrusions from nation-state actors.
“It’s a sign that even Mitch McConnell believes this is a serious issue,” Rosenbach said in an interview, attributing the move less to pressure from Democratic lawmakers than to what he described as the plain fact that the nation’s election infrastructure is insufficiently resilient.
McConnell, meanwhile, argued the Trump administration “has made enormous strides to help states secure their elections without giving Washington new power to push the states around.”
Washington Post writers Paul Kane and Isaac Stanley-Becker and BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.