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Following backlash, McConnell says he misspoke

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he mispoke Wednesday night.
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he mispoke Wednesday night.

After backlash to comments earlier in the week, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he misspoke. 

Senate Republicans blocked a floor vote of two voting rights bills Wednesday, including the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. In response to a reporter’s question about worries from voters of color about their voting access, McConnell responded, “Well, the concern is misplaced because if you look at the statistics African American voters are voting at just as high of a percentage as Americans.”

At a press conference Friday, McConnell said that he meant to say “all Americans.”

“This outrageous mischaracterization of my record as a result of leaving one word out inadvertently the other day, which I just now have supplied to you, is deeply offensive.”

He didn’t, however, back down from the stance that voting rights aren’t an issue for voters of color in the U.S.

“The Voting Rights Act is still the law,” McConnell said. 

He believes that laws that violate the Voting Rights Act will be struck down in court.

McConnell says Democrats who say otherwise want to nationalize voting.

“They co-opted Congressman Lewis' name, stuck it on a bill that really was not related to voting rights, which doesn’t expire for a number of years, and hasn’t been struck down,” McConnell said.

Former Kentucky State Rep. and current U.S. Senate candidate Charles Booker, a Democrat from Louisville, responded to McConnell’s statement on Twitter.

"Being Black doesn’t make you less of an American, no matter what this craven man thinks," Booker said in the tweet.

In an interview Thursday, Booker said that the vote and McConnell’s remarks afterward show that he does not see people in the U.S. and Kentucky as a priority. 

“He does not see the agency of Black people, very specifically,” Booker said. “Mitch McConnell still thinks I’m three-fifths of a person.”

NAACP Louisville chapter president Raoul Cunningham agreed.

“To me, he is saying that African Americans aren't Americans,” Cunningham said.

McConnell staunchly denied accusations of racism. He says he has a long-standing record of supporting voting rights.

“He has supported, in the past, voting rights and the extension of the very bill he has blocked,” Cunningham said of McConnell’s record. “Why now the change?”

Cunningham said he believes McConnell is trying to play to the Republican base and supporters of former President Donald Trump.

On the same night the Voting Rights Advancement Act failed to make it to the U.S. Senate floor, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed redistricting maps passed by the Republican-led state House of Representatives. 

“One look at the map reveals what those who drafted it in secret were trying to hide: The redistricting plan is a political gerrymander,” Beshear said.

For Cunningham, the state and national moments highlight a long-standing effort from conservatives.

“It seems to be a pattern among the conservatives to limit and deny voting rights,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham was in college when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was initially passed and worked since then at the local, state and national level on civil rights issues.

“It’s disheartening,” Cunningham said. “It’s almost unbelievable that in 60 years you’re still going back to the same problems.”

Booker believes what happened at the state and national level Wednesday are connected.

“This whole conversation is about making sure that the people are heard and making sure everyone has fair and just representation,” Booker said. “It shouldn’t be hard for us to be heard in a government and in a democracy that is supposed to be accountable for us.”

Cunningham said the necessary work to address social injustices continues. He spoke about a day there will be no need for organizations like the NAACP to exist.

“I would relish that time when that would occur.”

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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