Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is catching heat for making a distinction between “Americans” and “African-American” voters.
In a presser with the Kentucky senator, journalist Pablo Manriquez asked, “Leader McConnell, what’s your message for voters of color who are concerned that, without the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Act, they’re not going to be able to vote in the midterms?”
McConnell replied, “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 video of the response, which was shared on Twitter, garnered widespread criticism and over 4 million views.
Never mind that Manriquez asked about “voters of color” more broadly, and not “African American” voters. But Black people were somehow at the forefront of McConnell’s mind.
The senator’s answer was akin to the distinction Meet the Press host Chuck Todd made between “parents” and “parents of color” in an interview with ESSENCE cover star Nikole Hannah-Jones.
Hannah-Jones, like other critics of McConnell’s comments, have called out the way white people and their issues become the default, while everyone else is othered.
While comments like these may seem like innocuous missteps, for McConnell, it’s not the first time his words, and actions, have revealed his worldview.
1. Mitch McConnell posing in front of the Confederate flag
Although McConnell has since called for the removal of Confederate symbols, the senator embraced the flag before. A descendant of a Confederate soldier and slaveholders, McConnell was seen posing in front of the flag while at a Sons of Confederate Veterans event in Kentucky, reportedly in the early 1990s.
2. He refused to hear Coretta Scott King’s criticisms of Jeff Sessions, which Senator Warren tried to read in 2017.
In 1986, when former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was just being considered for a federal judicial appointment, Coretta Scott King wrote a letter against Sessions’ appointment. “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge,” she wrote. “From his politically-motivated voting fraud prosecutions to his indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights law, indicates that he lacks the temperament, fairness and judgment to be a federal judge,” she said.
Senator Elizabeth Warren attempted to read this same letter when Sessions was being considered for the AG appointment, which was ultimately approved. McConnell blocked Senator Warren from reading the letter, calling it an “attack” on Sessions.
3. His remarks that “My party does really good with white people and I’m proud of that.”
4. He said 1619— the year enslaved Africans arrived on U.S. shores and changed the course of the country’s history— was not one of America’s important dates worthy of being taught in schools’ core curricula.
5. That time he said poor kids are just as bright as white kids, oops no, that was President Joe Biden. Either way, McConnell’s ties are proven to be with the wealthy, not everyday Americans, including Black people.
Whatever McConnell’s statements about race, his refusal to support legislation that could improve the lives of many working class, poor, and middle class families— basically anyone who isn’t rich— affects Black Americans the most.
It’s no surprise he has discouraged his colleagues to pass Build Back Better in the Senate. Blocking the legislation has no material impact on his life, even though it could mean a great deal for the families the legislation would invest in.
The senator is reportedly worth over $34 million, perhaps much of which is owed to his spouse, Elaine Chao. According to Forbes, the couple “received a multimillion-dollar gift from Elaine’s father, James Chao, in memory of her mother, who had died a year earlier.”
McConnell’s wealth shields him from the urgency and pain many families have experienced these past two years, so even if his tweets never went viral, his voting record and policy failures say more than enough.