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McConnell steps out of the shadows and becomes top Democratic enemy

Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Democrats' new congressional Enemy No. 1, thanks to his opposition to the party's effort to expand voting rights for everyone: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

It's a new role for the Kentucky Republican. While Democrats blast away at President Donald Trump, and Republicans try to demonize House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, McConnell was mostly left alone in partisan ads and tweets. The public just didn't know him well enough.

Not anymore. Democrats who took control of the House last month are pushing a sweeping ethics and voting rights package. McConnell declared it dead in his chamber even before it was formally introduced, and went to the Senate floor on four different days to call the proposal a "power grab."

So Democrats are fighting back hard.

McConnell got ripped at a House committee hearing on the legislation as Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., noted how the senator calls the bill that aims to make it easier for citizens to register and vote a "power grab" by Democrats.

"He's right about one thing. It is a power grab, but it is not by Democrats," said Cummings, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "It is by American citizens who voted for reform in this last election and sent a clear message that they want to exercise their constitutional right to vote without interference."

 

McConnell, though not by name, also was a target of former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who delivered the Democratic response to Trump's State of the Union address last week. Abrams, who narrowly lost the November election, has started an organization, Fair Fight, to advocate for voting rights.

"We must reject the cynicism that says allowing every eligible vote to be cast and counted is a 'power grab,'" Abrams said.

Democrats also maintain that McConnell is inadvertently helping the cause politically, even as he wields the power to block the measure.

"In some ways his opposition could strengthen the demand for change because it reflects so many of the things the public is angry about, that there's a group of insiders who get to whisper in the ear of lawmakers," said Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., one of the bill's prime movers. "He's embraced the idea of trying to stop it from seeing the light of day and we're undeterred by that."

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