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Jan. 22, 2022, 2:23 p.m. EST

Black lawmakers rebuke McConnell over comments on voting rights: ‘We are American’

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By Weston Blasi

Black lawmakers in the U.S. are criticizing a comment this week from Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell about the voting rights of people of color in the United States.

“The concern is misplaced because, if you look at the statistics, African-American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans,” McConnell said this week, appearing to many to draw a distinction between African-Americans and Americans.

Rep. Donald McEachin, a Virginia Democrat, seemingly responded to the comment from McConnell on Twitter with a photo of himself and his wife, Colette, posed in front of the American flag with the caption, “We are American” and the irreverent hashtag #mitchplease.

See: Alabama football coach Nick Saban and other sports legends with ties to West Virginia urge Joe Manchin to step up for voting-rights bill

Rep. Bobby L. Rush, an Illinois Democrat, also posted a response on Twitter /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR -1.12% , explicitly spelling out the observation that “African Americans ARE Americans.”

Charles Booker, who is running for the other seat in the U.S. Senate from McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, also had a thought on McConnell’s comment, writing, “I am no less American than Mitch McConnell.”

McConnell responded to the criticism on Thursday by saying, “I have consistently pointed to the record-high turnout for all voters in the 2020 election, including African-Americans.”

He later went on to call his original remarks an “ inadvertent omission .” 

The McConnell remark came as the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act was falling short of passage in the Senate this week. Provisions of the bill included making Election Day a national holiday, widening access to early voting and mail-in ballots, and enabling the Justice Department to intervene in states with histories of voting-rights interference.

Attracting no votes from McConnell’s caucus, the bill was doomed by Senate filibuster rules , with two Democrats, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, both supporters of the legislation, unwilling to entertain a voting-rights exception to the 60-vote requirement.

The 50-50 split in the current Senate, with independents Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont joining the Democrats with whom they are typically aligned, represents the barest majority for Democrats, as Vice President Kamala Harris can cast a tiebreaking vote.

See: Democrats more drawn to fine-tuning Electoral Count Act of 1887 after failure this week of ambitious voting-rights legislation

Voting rights have emerged as a point of concern for Democrats, as Republican-led state legislatures in the wake of Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election enact new ballot restrictions and seek to place additional levers of elections-administration power in partisan hands.

From the archives (March 2021): Voting rights intensify as partisan battleground, with Democrats pushing H.R. 1 and Republicans altering election procedures at state level

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