WASHINGTON -- Under fire from the left and the right, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday he'll back a measure to give states another $250 million to upgrade their voting systems to fend off foreign intervention.
McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who has maintained for months that Democratic election security proposals are largely a sham, announced the move on the Senate floor on Thursday, saying he was "proud" to have helped develop the amendment to a federal spending bill.
"The Trump administration has made enormous strides to help states secure their elections without giving Washington new power to push the states around," McConnell said. "That's how we continue the progress we saw in 2018 and that's exactly what we're doing."
But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the money is "not a substitute" for passing more sweeping election security measures.
He called it a start, noting that is similar to an amendment Democrats offered last year to help states harden their election systems against foreign government interference.
"Maybe, just maybe, they are starting to come around to our view that election security is necessary; that if Americans don't believe their elections are on the up-and-up, woe is us as a country and as a democracy," Schumer said. "It is not all the money we requested, and it doesn't include a single solitary reform that virtually everyone knows we need, but it's a start."
The turnabout comes after critics began calling McConnell "Moscow Mitch" for his opposition. Thursday, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., quipped his surprise: "No more invitations to the Kremlin for him."
Republicans and Democrats in Congress largely agree that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, but McConnell has been reluctant to take up any election-related legislation.
Other Republicans have blamed Democrats for overreaching when the House, which Democrats control, passed a sweeping election bill that McConnell said would federalize elections. The Senate has not taken up the bill.
But conservative groups have begun sounding the alarm, with a Republican-affiliated group last month increasing pressure on McConnell to put election security legislation up for a vote in the Senate. Republicans for the Rule of Law ran ads that targeted McConnell, who faces reelection next year, and four other Republican senators in their home states.