LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is drawing criticism for comments he made shortly before the GOP blocked a federal elections bill, when he said that “African American” voters cast ballots at similar rates to “Americans.”
The minority leader made the remark at a news conference in Washington on Wednesday, when he was asked about concerns that people of color have about voting rights.
“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.
The comment implied that Black voters are somehow not American and underscored the concerns of voting rights advocates that Republicans in state legislatures across the country are explicitly seeking to disenfranchise Black voters. The timing was also notable, coming the same day that McConnell engineered a filibuster to block voting legislation that Democrats and civil rights leaders say is vital to protecting democracy.
In follow-up remarks Thursday, McConnell said: “I have consistently pointed to the record-high turnout for all voters in the 2020 election, including African Americans.”
Back home in Kentucky, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Charles Booker tweeted, “Being Black doesn’t make you less of an American, no matter what this craven man thinks.” Booker, who is Black, unsuccessfully ran for McConnell’s seat in 2020 and is challenging GOP Sen. Rand Paul this year.
“Hey @LeaderMcConnell,” tweeted Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison, who is Black, “...for your information, I’m also an American!”
McConnell's supporters called it an unfair attack, saying he simply left out a word and meant to say that Black people vote at similar rates to “all” Americans. Black voters do cast ballots at about the same rate as all voters, falling in between Latinos, who are less likely to go to the polls than African Americans, and whites, who are more likely to go to the polls.
In 2016 and 2020, white voters turned out at higher rates than Black voters, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The census shows that 71% of eligible white voters cast a ballot in 2020, compared with 63% of eligible African Americans. In 2016, 65% of white voters cast a ballot, versus 60% of Black voters.
Scott Jennings, a former adviser to President George W. Bush who has close ties to McConnell, said attacks on the senator’s remarks were “ridiculous.”
“McConnell was clearly stating that African American voting rates are similar to the entire electorate as a whole, to point out how easy and fair our system of voting is for everyone,” he said.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who is Black, also came to the senator’s defense, saying the “faux outrage” over McConnell’s remarks was “absurd.” Cameron, a Republican, is McConnell’s former legal counsel. Cameron also said that McConnell was “making a point that Black voting rates are similar to the entire electorate as a whole.”
Two Democratic senators joined all 50 Republicans in refusing to change Senate rules to overcome the GOP filibuster on Wednesday. Democrats could not persuade holdout Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia to change Senate procedures on that bill and allow a simple majority to advance it.
Sadiqa Reynolds, president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League in Kentucky, said McConnell’s comments were particularly frustrating to hear after the voting legislation failed in the Senate.
Reynolds, who is Black, said the lack of support for the legislation from McConnell and other lawmakers showed African Americans that they are “still not seen as Americans worthy of having our voice heard at the ballot box.”
“Our patriotism, our citizens status, should never be questioned,” Reynolds said. "... And we are owed an apology, not just for Freudian slips, but for failures to honor the role that we have played in building this great country.”
Associated Press writers Piper Hudspeth Blackburn in Louisville, Ky., and Nicholas Riccardi in Denver contributed to this report.