McConnell responds to uproar over voter comments

Piper Hudspeth Blackburn
Associated Press

Louisville, Ky. — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed back Friday against the uproar over a comment he made about African American voters, calling the criticism directed his way “outrageous.”

“I’ve never been accused of this sort of thing before, and it’s hurtful and offensive,” he said. “And I think some of the critics know it’s totally nonsense.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to a reporter at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022.

Following a speech at the Kentuckians for Better Transportation’s annual conference in Louisville, the Republican leader said he misspoke at a news conference in Washington on Wednesday when he uttered words that caused an outcry on social media. The timing was also notable, coming the same day that McConnell engineered a filibuster to block voting legislation that Democrats and civil rights leaders say is vital to protecting democracy.

He had said that "African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans.” Instead, McConnell explained, he should have said the word “all” before “Americans.”

On Friday, McConnell also defended his record on race by noting that he attended Rev. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington. He also helped organize a civil rights march at Kentucky’s state Capitol and was present when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

When asked what he would say to those who had been offended by his words, McConnell said he would discuss his record relating to voting rights, and brought up his role as a mentor to Kentucky’s Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who is Black and one of many Republicans who came to the minority leader's defense this week.

“I think he would confirm with you that I recruited him to run. I’ve supported him, and I’m proud of him,” he said. “I have had African American speechwriters, schedulers, office managers over the years.”

McConnell rebuffed concerns among Democrats that state legislatures across the country are seeking to disenfranchise minority voters by pointing towards record-high turnout for all voters in the 2020 election.

Federal legislation like the kind he and other GOP lawmakers blocked on Wednesday also wasn't necessary, he said, because the Voting Rights Act was still law and concerns over specific state voting laws could be worked out through the court system.

“They co-opted Congressman Lewis’ name, stuck it on a bill that really was not related to the Voting Rights Act … in order to try to achieve a partisan advantage by federalizing election laws,” McConnell said.

He was referencing the late former U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a veteran of the civil rights movement who remained a fierce advocate for voting rights for more than 30 years in Congress before his death in 2020.