Tuesday on the Senate floor, Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) criticized Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for saying it was “case closed” on Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
SCHUMER: So, Madam President, I have just listened to my friend, the Majority Leader, engage in an astounding bit of whitewashing. Not unexpected, but entirely unconvincing. Yes, the Mueller investigation took two years, and yes, it produced a stunning document in the end. Not only a damning appraisal of our election security and just how willing a major presidential campaign was to accept and amplify the disinformation of a foreign adversary, but also through an examination of the behavior of a lawless president who at least on 11 occasions, according to the report, may have obstructed a federal investigation.
So while my friend, the Majority Leader, wants to say case closed, I don’t blame him, 375 former federal prosecutors looked at the Mueller report and said publicly the conduct of the president amounts to felony obstruction of justice, and that in any other case were he not president, those prosecutors would recommend bringing charges.
So our leader says let’s move on. It’s sort of like Richard Nixon saying let’s move on at the height of the investigation of his wrongdoing. Of course, he wants to move on. He wants to cover up. He wants to silence on one of the most serious issues we face, whether a foreign power can manipulate our elections, the wellspring of our democracy.
If the leader is sincere, then put election security on the floor. Let’s debate it. Put sanctions on Russia on the floor. Let’s debate it. He doesn’t want to move on. He wants to run away from these awful facts that relate to the wellspring of our democracy. Foreign interference in our election and a president who is lawless. That’s what he wants to push under the rug. Of course, he would say this is all done. It’s not done. If Russia interferes in 2020, it’s not done. If this president or future presidents believe that they can avoid the law and even break the law, at least according to 375 prosecutors, it is not done. This is very serious stuff.
The leader bemoans breathless conspiracy theorizing. For a moment, I thought he was referring to the president and to those House and Senate Republicans who for two years intentionally sought to undercut Mueller’s investigation by peddling far-fetched conspiracy theories about deep-state coups, unmasking scandals, and Uranium purchases to muddy the waters.
I guess he meant something about Democrats, but I don’t remember the Republican leader bemoaning those breathless conspiracies, nor do I remember the Republican leader or the Republican senators having such a distaste for Congressional oversight during the Obama administration on things far less serious. They were relentless in wanting investigations, and now they say never mind. When the wellspring of our democracy is at stake, foreign interference in our elections, a president who just disobeys the law.
And the leader sure acted differently two years back. What I remember is that from the very beginning, the Republican leader has not taken the threat of Russia’s election interference as seriously as he should. In the run-up to the 2016 election when the Obama administration sought to warn state election officials about foreign meddling and designate election systems as, quote, critical infrastructure, Leader McConnell reportedly delayed for weeks, watered down the letter from congressional leaders and pushed back against the designation.
Yeah, I would want to sweep this under the rug if I had done that. I wouldn’t want to keep talking about it. Despite two years in charge of the Senate since the 2016 election, Leader McConnell has pursued additional election security only after being prodded by Democrats, and it’s been half baked at that. Leader McConnell thwarted the rules committee for marking up the bipartisan legislation designed to enhance election security.
At the beginning of the year, 42 Republicans, including leader McConnell, essentially voted in favor of the administration’s proposal to weaken sanctions against Russia. In the last round of negotiations, Senate Republicans blocked our attempt to fund additional efforts to make our election safe in 2020. And now, despite a preponderance of testimony from our intelligence officials, not politicians, intelligence officials who are in charge of our security and well-being, and they testified that foreign powers are ramping up to interfere in our next election. The Senate has done nothing, nothing to grapple with the problem.
Even as minimal a request as I made to the leader, an all-senators classified briefing from our defense and intelligence leaders so the Senate understands what we need to do to protect America and beyond. I have been asking for two weeks. We still haven’t gotten action. Let’s bring the bipartisan Secure Elections Act to the floor and debate and amend. Let’s strengthen sanctions against Putin and any other adversary who dared interfere with the sanctity of our elections.
Regardless of what you believe about the president’s conduct, we should all, every single Democrat, every single Republican, be working to ensure that what happened in 2016 never happens again. You can debate how much of an effect it had, but we sure don’t want it to be worse, whatever it was in 2020 than it was in 2016, and the leader sits on his hands, does nothing, creates a legislative graveyard for these and every other issue, and then says let’s move on.
No way. No way. We can do both.
We can make our elections more secure. We can examine what happened so we can make them more secure and do other issues. So far Leader McConnell is doing neither. What we have here, Mr. President, is very simple. What we have here is a concerted effort to circle the wagons, to protect the president from accountability, to whitewash his reprehensible conduct by simply declaring it irrelevant. In that effort, the leader and Senate Republicans are falling down drastically on their constitutional duty to provide oversight, and I fear to defend the national interest as well.