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Mitch McConnell Talks About “Americans” & “African Americans” as if They’re Mutually Exclusive

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks during a press conference

Thanks to Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema’s decision to join with Republicans in voting down changes to the filibuster, the voting rights legislation Democrats had been working to pass essentially died in the Senate Wednesday.

Ahead of that vote, McConnell was asked at a press conference if he had a message to voters of color going into this year’s midterm elections if the Senate killed the John Lews Voting Rights Act (which they did) and put their ability to vote in jeopardy.

McConnell’s reply was predictably awful.

“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,” McConnell said. “A recent survey, 94% of Americans thought it was easy to vote. This is not a problem. Turn out is up.”

This should not have to be said but McConnell has made it necessary by once again saying the quiet part out loud: “African American voters” and “American” voters are not two distinct groups.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley tweeted a video of McConnell’s statement, writing, “After centuries of building this nation, Republicans still don’t consider Black voters to be Americans.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar wrote, “The othering of Americans who aren’t White was never a ‘quiet part’, it has always been loud and painful for everyone who has experienced it.”

Virginia Democratic Rep. Donald McEachin wrote a letter to McConnell condemning his statement, saying it “insinuated that African Americans are somehow not American citizens.”

“This is 2022 and being American is not synonymous with looking or thinking like you. African Americans are, in fact, American citizens deserving of our recognition, respect, and equal protections under the law,” McEachin wrote.

CNN asked McConnell’s office whether he had left out a word in his comments and a rep said the senator meant to say “other Americans” rather than just “Americans.”

Whether that’s true or not doesn’t really matter. Was McConnell’s othering of Black voters intentional or unconscious? Either way, his mind separated Black Americans and regular Americans as two distinct groups and he made that known.

At the heart of McConnell’s statement is an idea that white is the default for American voters, and Black is separate.

It should also be noted that this question about voting rights was asked by Pablo Manríquez of Latino Rebels, but McConnell clearly doesn’t even care enough about voters of color to think beyond a Black/white binary.

On top of all of this, McConnell’s comments about high voter turnout among Black Americans don’t make any sense in this context.

McConnell’s claims that voter turnout among Black Americans is “just as high” as for white voters are false, according to a New York Times fact-checking report. But even if it were true, it wouldn’t address the issue at hand: that Republicans in a growing number of states are actively working to make it harder for people of color to vote.

As the Times writes, “high voter turnout and perceptions that voting was easy in past elections do not prove that concerns about voting access in future elections are ‘misplaced,’ as Mr. McConnell suggested. At least 19 states passed laws in 2021 restricting voting access. Georgia’s efforts in particular may have an outsize impact on Black voters.”

The report continues:

And the high turnout in 2020 was fueled in part by unusually high voter engagement. In a Pew poll conducted in July and August 2020, 83 percent of respondents said it really matters who wins the presidency, the highest percentage to give that response in the survey’s 20-year history.

“More people were voting in 2020 because more people were interested in voting. That is not a measure of how many were impacted because of voting restrictions,” said Wendy Weiser, the director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “It can’t be that we are satisfied with disenfranchising 10 percent of the population because 60 percent of the population showed up.”

2020 had record-high voter turnout, with the result of a Democrat-led White House, House, and Senate, and McConnell is still doing everything possible to deny rob voters of their power—both by limiting their access to voting in the first place and then by doing things like shamelessly abusing the outdated filibuster rules in order to weaken the power of the lawmakers they chose to elect.

(image: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.