McConnell Denounces Dangerous Rise of "Modern-Day McCarthyism"

'American pundits calling an American official treasonous because of a policy disagreement. If anything is an asset to the Russians, it is disgusting behavior like that.'

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor regarding election security:

“I’d like to welcome all members back to the Senate for a busy week. But first, there’s something I need to address. Over the last several days, I was called unpatriotic, ‘un-American,’ and essentially treasonous by a couple of left-wing pundits on the basis of boldfaced lies. I was accused of ‘aiding and abetting’ the very man I’ve singled out as our adversary and opposed for nearly 20 years: Vladimir Putin. This was less than 24 hours after the Outrage-Industrial Complex was disappointed yet again by Special Counsel Mueller.

“Partisan Democrats and their media allies were crushed a few months ago when Mueller’s report cleared the president of conspiring with Russia during the 2016 campaign. And now, their frantic hyping of the Special Counsel’s congressional testimony had fallen flat once again. But the conspiracy theories and reckless accusations had to continue. Too many people had invested too much in the hysterical echo chamber to simply wind it down and join the rest of us in the real world. 

“The Outrage-Industrial Complex needed a new target. And that’s where I come in. Mitch McConnell, the hawkish foreign policy conservative who’s spent decades pushing back on Russia every way I can think of, was accused of what amounts to treason by multiple media outlets within a couple of hours. These absurd smears weren’t thrown out there by anonymous Twitter accounts or fringe bloggers. Oh, no. This modern-day McCarthyism was pushed by big-time outlets. The smear that I am, quote, a ‘Russian asset’ ran in the opinion pages of The Washington Post. The accusation that I am, quote, ‘un-American’ was broadcast on MSNBC.

“This is the state of left-wing politics in 2019. It’s like an inflationary crisis, but with outrage instead of dollars. These people have worn out the volume knobs so badly that they have nothing left but the most unhinged smears. Welcome to the modern-day McCarthyism. McCarthy-like tactics out in the open, for everyone to see. In Dana Milbank’s column in The Washington Post and on a major cable channel run by NBC.

“So, what started all this? Here was my crime. Bless me, for I have sinned. Here it is: Last week, I stopped Democrats from passing an election law bill through the Senate by unanimous consent. A bill that was so partisan that it only received one single Republican vote in the House. My Democratic friends asked for unanimous consent to pass a bill that everyone knows isn’t unanimous, and never will be unanimous. So I objected.

“These theatrical requests happen all the time in the Senate. I promise that nobody involved, including my friend the Democratic Leader who made the request, actually thought he’d get a Republican Senate to instantly unanimously pass a bill that only got one Republican vote in the House. This kind of objection is a routine occurrence in the Senate. It doesn’t make Republicans traitors or un-American. It makes us policymakers with a different opinion. But the Outrage Industrial Complex doesn’t let a little thing like reality get in their way. They saw the perfect opportunity to distort, and tell lies, and fuel the flames of partisan hatred. And so they did.

“It started with the angry lies on MSNBC. The host lied and said that I’ve dismissed Russia’s interference in our 2016 election as, quote, a ‘hoax.’ Of course I’ve never said any such thing. I’ve spoken extensively and often about Russia’s unacceptable interference in 2016. I constantly discuss all we’ve been doing to correct the Obama Administration’s failures to respond more assertively to the Russian threat, including on election security.

“So, let me make this crystal-clear for the hyperventilating hacks who haven’t actually followed this issue: Every single member of the Senate agrees that Russian meddling was real and is real. We all agree that the federal government, state governments, and the private sector all have obligations to take this threat seriously and bolster our defenses. Claims to the contrary – claims that anybody here denies what Russia did on President Obama’s watch – are just lies. Not partisan distortion, not clever spin; just total fabrications. 

“Now, at least this show is honest about what it offers. And it isn’t journalism. Immediately after the host finished his angry string of false claims and called me ‘un-American,’ another panelist chimed in to applaud the remarks. Here’s what he said – quote -- ‘We are at war. It's time for the Democrats to wake up.’ And ‘we're not going to necessarily play fair.’ I should say not. Let’s remember how deep MSNBC waded into the conspiratorial fever swamp over the past two years.

“They gave airtime to individuals like one guest who has publicly tweeted, among other things, that a former White House advisor was close to being executed for espionage and that Chief Justice Roberts had sent the Marshal of the Supreme Court to the White House to threaten the president. Utter nonsense. They hosted these kinds of conspiratorial voices. Just a few days ago, one former host at the network pointed out, quote, ‘MSNBC built segment after segment, show after show on building anticipation for a big reveal.’ But then, the Mueller Report took some of their most unhinged stories off the table. And then, just last week, the Special Counsel’s in-person testimony disappointed the political left yet again. So the conspiracy theories needed a new target.

“A few hours later came The Washington Post column. It was authored by Dana Milbank, a pundit who spent much of the Obama Administration carrying water for its failed foreign policies and excusing President Obama’s weakness on Russia. Here was the headline: ‘Mitch McConnell is a Russian asset.’ A shameful smear. And it was based on more lies. Mr. Milbank repeatedly claims that I’ve blocked all efforts to raise our defenses against Russian meddling.

“The truth is that I’ve championed the coordinated work between Congress, the administration, and the states, which are primarily responsible for elections. And the Senate has passed several major provisions on this subject just this year. And I’ve spoken frequently on the floor about the need to keep up the progress and stay vigilant. What’s more, one of the specific pieces of legislation he claims I have blocked is something I literally have never opposed (S. 1454). His online column links directly to the bill, and it is something I’ve never opposed.

“You’d think a columnist leveling these kinds of smears would at least consult a fact-checker before accusing an elected official of ‘aiding and abetting’ Vladimir Putin.  But, alas. It’s not even a competent hit piece. Just sloppy work. Ironically, Mr. Milbank has frequently written pieces lecturing Republicans who he feels have impugned others’ patriotism. In 2013, the same guy wrote a piece insisting that, quote, ‘in America, a political opponent is not the enemy.’  In 2015, he criticized ‘nutters’ for questioning the president’s patriotism and said that ‘such beyond-the-pale-rhetoric’ had to be thrown out ‘to have a civilized debate.’

“So, you get the picture. See, when a liberal politician is being criticized, these left-wing pundits become choirboys calling for civility and decency and high-mindedness. But when it’s time to smear someone on the other side, they are delighted to lead the charge. As recently as 2017 this very columnist wrote, quote, ‘let’s pause to remember: We are all the American people. And we all love our country.’ End quote.

“As all of our colleagues know, I’ve spoken at length about Russia’s attack on American democracy. I worked to ensure Congress sent hundreds of millions of dollars to the states to improve their defenses, and applauded the whole-of-government efforts that the administration continues to carry out with states and localities. Good news may not sell newspapers, boost ratings, or help with Democrat fundraising. But the facts are the facts. And the facts are that this administration has made huge strides on election security since 2016. They made a noticeable impact in securing the 2018 election and are vigilant and proactive as we head into 2020.

“A few weeks ago, every Senator had the opportunity to attend an all-members classified briefing that I helped organize detailing the major work that’s been underway since 2016. I’ve been in a lot of classified briefings. It’s not exactly common for members to break out into spontaneous applause -- let alone bipartisan applause. But that’s exactly what happened. Behind closed doors, Democrats joined Republicans in applauding the progress made since 2016.

“This administration -- thanks in large part to our friend and former colleague DNI Dan Coats, whom I was very sorry to hear is stepping down -- has increased and improved our intelligence collection on these threats. It has built better and more functional relationships with state election authorities. It has enlisted more help from the private sector to identify and counter foreign influence campaigns. It has worked more closely with foreign allies and partners who face similar threats from Russia. It has imposed real costs on Russia for its misdeeds and cut down on the ability of Russian intelligence to operate inside our country.

“In particular, the Department of Homeland Security has deployed special capabilities in all 50 states for detecting malign cyber activity. It’s deployed cybersecurity advisors across the country. It operates a National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center and supports an Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center. Among its many offerings to the states, DHS offers cybersecurity assessments, detection and prevention tools, training, and career development for election officials, all free of charge. And using the hundreds of millions of dollars Congress sent to the states -- which I proudly voted for and supported -- the authorities who actually conduct our elections on the front lines have gotten themselves better prepared.

“This is a long list of significant achievements. Achievements that my Democratic colleagues applauded and cheered behind closed doors when the administration briefed us a few weeks ago. But in public, in front of the cameras, some of my colleagues quickly pivoted right back into hysterical accusations that only fan the flames of this modern-day McCarthyism. These pundits are lying when they dismiss the work that has been done. They’re lying when they insist I have personally blocked actions which, in fact, I championed and the Senate has passed. They are lying when they suggest that either party is against defending our democracy.

“This work is essential and it needs to continue. Over two years ago, I asked Chairman Burr and the Intelligence Committee take a hard, bipartisan look at all aspects of the Russian threat in 2016 and the steps the Obama Administration took, or failed to take, to defend against it.  Here was the headline in December 2016, from NBC News: ‘McConnell Backs Senate Investigations of Russian Hacking.’ We wanted a serious, detailed investigation, not a political sideshow. I am impressed and grateful for the nonpartisan work of the Committee staff under the leadership of Chairman Burr and Vice Chairman Warner.

“The Committee’s reports on the various aspects of the threat are now being released. They will add vital context and analysis and inform what to do about this ongoing threat. I’m sure all of us will be open to discussing further steps Congress, the executive branch, the states, and the private sector might take to defend our elections against foreign interference. Any further legislation must be informed by this detailed report and by all the steps the government has already taken.

“At the same time, you can be sure that I’ve spoken out against Democrats’ efforts to seize on the crisis and use it to advance their other, long-held partisan goals for the political process. Some of these are changes they’ve sought since long before the 2016 meddling. So, no, I am not going to let Democrats and their water-carriers in the media use Russia’s attack on our democracy as a Trojan horse for partisan wish-list items that would not actually make our elections safer.

“My opposition to nationalizing election authorities that properly belong with the states is not news to anybody who’s followed my career or knows anything about Congress. Even the New York Times editorial board noted over the weekend that while they certainly don’t agree with all my views, they are principles going back decades. And the Times had to admit the Democrats are ‘playing politics’ by introducing legislation with ‘no chance of passing the Senate [that] serves only to harden partisan divisions.’ That’s the New York Times this weekend.

“My differences with Democrats on complicated matters of election law are the kind of disagreements we used to be able to have without mainstream media outlets screaming that one side is traitorous. This Congress, this entire country, only works when we refuse to let baseless smears displace real debate. Benjamin Franklin said we have this Republic if we can keep it. And, among other things, keeping our republic means we can’t let modern-day McCarthyism win. So here is my commitment: No matter how much they lie, no matter how much they bully, I will not be intimidated.

“For decades I have used my Senate seat to stand up to Russia and protect the United States of America. I am proud of my record. I’m proud that it’s right there, in black and white, and liars cannot gaslight it away. In the 1980s, as a freshman Senator, I proudly stood with President Reagan on missile defense and other aspects of his Soviet policy. While the liberal media was shrieking that the Reagan-Bush foreign policy wouldn’t work, I was honored to support it with my vote and then watch Soviet communism crumble.

“Then, in the 1990s, I used my place on the State and Foreign Ops Subcommittee to sound the alarm when President Clinton was too soft on Russia. Here’s the Wall Street Journal, December 1994: ‘Kentucky Senator, Handed Keys to Foreign Aid, to be Most Potent Foe of Clinton’s Russian Policy.’ Here’s what that article said: ‘The real challenge to the administration’s policy is [McConnell’s] plan to attach stiff political conditions to that aid… threatening a cutoff unless Russia stops meddling in its neighbors’ affairs.’ Let me say that again: As early as the 1990s I was on the record as laser-focused on Russia’s meddling beyond its borders and making sure the Russians were held accountable. I ask consent that this article be placed in the Record.

“On the other end of the Clinton Administration, I used hearings to grill Democratic officials who were soft on President Yeltsin and optimistic about President-elect Putin. I didn’t share Democrats’ faith that Putin would be our friend. I ask consent that two excerpts of my committee statement from April 4, 2000 -- calling for a tougher stance on Russia’s foreign meddling and expressing skepticism about Vladimir Putin -- appear in today’s Record.

“Regardless of who was in the White House, regardless of which way the political winds were blowing, I’ve consistently treated Russia like the threat it is. Even under a Republican administration, I spoke out when I was afraid the U.S. wasn’t doing enough to stop the erosion of democracy and the rule of law in Russia.

“A conference report that I co-authored in December 2003 stated, quote, ‘‘The managers remain gravely concerned with the deterioration and systematic dismantling of democracy and the rule of law’ in Russia.’ We pushed President Bush’s administration -- a Republican administration -- to do more. And of course, I helped lead the charge against the Obama Administration’s feckless Russia policies. President Obama mocked his 2012 opponent for taking Russia too seriously. His administration sought a naïve ‘reset’ with the Kremlin. And for eight years, I helped lead the charge against that weakness.

“In 2010, I stood with John McCain and Jon Kyl to oppose the New START treaty -- a watered-down placeholder for the sort of tough stance we knew was necessary. As Vladimir Putin was building up his missile arsenal, we even had to push President Obama to commit to deploying capable missile defenses to Europe. In 2012, I firmly supported sweeping legislation to authorize heavy sanctions following the killing of Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison. The Obama Administration flinched, and tried to tiptoe around our legislation to avoid messing up their charm offensive -- but we backed them into a corner and the president signed the bill into law.

“In 2014, I and other Republicans constantly pressed President Obama to get tougher on Russia with respect to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine. I ask consent that this news article dated March 5, 2014 entitled ‘McConnell: Obama’s Passive Foreign Policy Is A Mistake’ appear in the Record. And since 2017, I’ve continued reminding everyone that Putin is not our friend, that Russia is going to continue trying to meddle, that we need a comprehensive strategy to contest Russian aggression, and that alliances like NATO are critical for standing up to our adversaries. Once more, for good measure -- I ask consent that this news article dated August 15, 2018 entitled ‘US Senate’s top Republican likens Russia to ‘old Soviet Union’’ be included in the Record.

“So, I don’t normally take the time to respond to critics in the media when they have no clue what they’re talking about. But this modern-day McCarthyism is toxic and damaging because of the way it warps our entire public discourse. Facts matter. Details matter. History matters. And if our nation is losing the ability to debate public policy without screaming about treason -- that really matters.

“In the middle of the 20th century, the original McCarthyism hurt American strength and diminished our standing in the Cold War by dividing us against ourselves and letting lies, innuendo, and baseless accusations crowd out reasonable politics. The frenetic, politicized witch hunt distracted from legitimate efforts to contest the Soviet Union, including more sober efforts to root out real Soviet agents in our midst. In short, McCarthyism did the Russians’ work for them.

“Now here we are in 2019. Again, Putin and the Russians seek to provoke fear and division in our country. To undermine faith in our institutions. To exacerbate our political differences until we tear ourselves apart. And, once again, it seems there are some who blindly take the bait. American pundits calling an American official treasonous because of a policy disagreement. If anything is an asset to the Russians, it is disgusting behavior like that.”