Mitch McConnell caused many jaws to drop on Twitter when he responded to a question from a journalist about concerns of voters of colour.
The Senate minority leader was speaking alongside members of Republican leadership at a press conference on Wednesday evening when he was asked by Latino Rebels correspondent Pablo Manriquez about his message to voters afraid that without voting access protections that would be in place if the Democrats’ voting rights legislation were to pass, they will be unable to vote.
His response elicited a wave of criticism on Twitter for a choice of words that appeared to establish a difference between “African-Americans” and “Americans”, referring to white people.
“Well, the concern is misplaced, because if you look at the statistics, African-American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans,” the Republican leader remarked to reporters.
At a press conference on Friday in his home state of Kentucky, Mr McConnell addressed the controversy directly, and said that he had mistakenly omitted the word “all” before “Americans” in his remark. He added that the criticism he had received online as a result of the comment was an “outrageous mischaracterisation of my record”.
“I’ve never been accused of this sort of thing before. It’s hurtful and offensive. And I think some of the critics know it’s totally nonsense,” he said.
The reaction from Twitter was immediate and furious, with many people quipping that the Kentucky senator had just “said the quiet part out loud”, and supposedly revealed underlying beliefs about what an American looks like.
“Holy s**t,” wrote Mary Trump, former President Donald Trump’s niece and one of his most vocal critics of late, who quoted author Toni Morrison, adding: “In this country, American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”
Mitch McConnell: “African-American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as American voters.”
Toni Morrison: “In this country, American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”
— Mary L Trump (@MaryLTrump) January 20, 2022
Scott Huffman, a Democrat running for the House in North Carolina, added: “Tell me African-Americans aren’t Americans without telling me you’re a racist @LeaderMcConnell”.
The Independent has reached out to Mr McConnell’s office for comment.
The remark came as the Democrats’ push to change the Senate filibuster rules failed, with two senators (Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin) joining with Republicans to defeat the effort. The vote likely dooms the current iteration of the legislation for voter rights being pushed by Democrats, the Freedom to Vote: John Lewis Act.
Supporters had ramped up a major campaign of activism in recent weeks with the hopes that Ms Sinema and Mr Manchin could be moved on their stubborn opposition to filibuster reform, but their efforts failed to convince the pair.
Now, voter-rights legislation looks to be another dead end for Democrats unless the White House and/or congressional Democratic leaders can broker a deal with moderate Republicans such as Mitt Romney, a senator who has expressed interest in working on the issue, though it remains unclear whether enough Republican senators are interested to form a coalition that could break the 60-vote threshold.