Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell lashed out Monday after he was accused by media outlets of treason and being a “Russian asset,” calling himself a victim of “modern-day McCarthyism.”
The Kentucky Republican said “hyperventilating hacks” at MSNBC and The Washington Post took a normal policy fight over how to combat Russian election-meddling and blew it out of proportion.
“These people have worn out the volume knob so badly that they have nothing left but unhinged smears. Welcome to modern-day McCarthyism,” Mr. McConnell said. “It was my time. Bless me for I have sinned.”
What got under Mr. McConnell’s skin was coverage of Democrats’ attempt last week to force passage of a bill to require campaigns to report to the FBI on contacts between campaign personnel and foreign nationals.
Mr. McConnell rejected speedy passage, saying the bill was partisan and gained only a single GOP vote when a version cleared the House earlier this year.
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough said Mr. McConnell was “aiding and abetting” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempts to interfere with U.S. elections, while Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank said Mr. McConnell was doing “Putin’s bidding.”
“This doesn’t mean he’s a spy, but neither is it a flip accusation,” wrote Mr. Milbank, who said Mr. McConnell has stood in the way “each time we try to raise our defenses” against Russia.
Mr. McConnell said Mr. Milbank’s work was not only overheated, but also had errors.
“It’s not even a competent hit piece. Just sloppy work,” he chided.
Mr. McConnell, up for reelection next year, is fresh off another media battle with comic Jon Stewart, who suggested the Republican leader was slow-walking a bill to compensate first responders who suffered health consequences from the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Mr. McConnell insisted the bill would eventually pass, and it did. President Trump signed it into law Monday.
The attacks over Russia, with the attendant accusations of treasonous behavior, appear to have struck a nerve with the senator. Mr. McConnell said he has a long history of urging President Barack Obama to take a tougher stand on Russian aggression, and said in recent weeks he arranged a classified briefing for senators to learn about the latest efforts by the Trump administration to combat Russian activities.
“It’s not exactly common for members to break out in spontaneous applause, let alone bipartisan applause, but that’s exactly what happened in that classified briefing,” Mr. McConnell said. “Democrats joined Republicans in applauding the progress made.” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the chamber’s top Democrat, said Mr. McConnell could silence the carping by passing Democrats’ legislation.
“Here’s an easy way for Leader McConnell to silence critics: stop blocking it,” Mr. Schumer said.
He said he’s not sure what’s behind Mr. McConnell’s decision-making, but speculated it could be an attempt to protect Mr. Trump, who has at times said he doubts Russia’s interference.
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