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Bill Straub: ‘Moscow Mitch’ has a ring (of truth) to it, but what’s one more notch in McConnell’s belt?

One of the items on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s massive to-do list, before he left office in May, was to determine the extent of Russia’s finagling in the 2016 election that landed President Extremely Stable Genius in the White House and just how effective those efforts might have been.

Mueller found that the Kremlin was, indeed, involved up to its eyeballs in the campaign. asserting in his report to Attorney General William Barr that Moscow got embroiled “in sweeping and systematic fashion” to the benefit of ESG. The Russian Bear is gearing up to do it again in 2020 unless the federal government takes steps necessary to thwart what is nothing less than an invasion by a rival power.

“It wasn’t a single attempt,” Mueller told the House Intelligence Committee last week. “They’re doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.”

Now such a revelation should make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The very notion that the Kremlin has any say in determining the current and future president of the United States is revolting. Using social media and hacking into various Democratic email accounts, then releasing privileged information through Wikileaks, Russia carried significant influence on the outcome, perhaps swinging the election ESG’s way.

Now unless you favor granting Vladimir Putin the franchise, it might behoove Congress to step forward and do its job, placing some barriers in place to dodge an instant replay. The House has adopted several ideas to ensure election security, common sense notions like providing additional funds to state election agencies, supporting back-up paper ballots to assure the integrity of the vote and requiring candidates contacted by foreign governments to report such interaction to the FBI.

But none of these measures have become law. In fact, the Senate has failed during this 116th Congress to so much as consider an election security bill open to amendment. Efforts to try an end-run around the process and force votes have died on the vine. So, basically, the U.S. is operating under the same troubled and exposed the electoral system that was in place almost three years ago.

Why you ask? Because of Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch’’ McConnell, of Louisville, hereinafter referred to in what W.C. Fields would refer to as the euphonious appellation of Moscow Mitch, a nickname that has sent our boy into a tizzy.

Moscow Mitch is sitting on every election reform proposal passed by the House and at least one that had its origin in the upper chamber. He is determined to not give any of them the time of day on the Senate floor, even though they could be amended to conform to his addled tastes. What’s more, he has thus far failed to propose his own package of election reforms to call up for consideration, apparently pleased with the current state of affairs despite dire warnings from Mueller and other cognoscenti.

This one is a little hard to digest. Moscow Mitch, in a rambling and unctuous Senate floor speech supposedly explaining his hatred for all things Russia, up to and including, one would assume, borscht, insists the proposals emanating from the House are “partisan’’ and infringe on the authority of the 50 states to conduct elections.

Thin gruel. For one thing, one of the measures is being co-sponsored by a Democrat, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, and a Republican, Sen. James Lankford, of Oklahoma. It would require states to use machines that produce a paper record and to conduct post-election audits. Sen. Roy Blount, R-MO, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, was ready to clear it for a floor vote several weeks ago until it was nixed by Moscow Mitch. The measure, by the way, carries the support of Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Regardless, you couldn’t find partisanship in any of the proposals if you studied them under an electron microscope.

And it seems only proper that the federal government have some say in how members of Congress and the president are elected. The Constitution sets some standards regarding qualifications. Requiring candidates to report illicit foreign contacts to the FBI instead of, say, the Ludlow Police Department, seems rather well placed.

So the rationales are as phony as a three-dollar bill. But that hasn’t kept Moscow Mitch from taking great umbrage regarding his new alliterative moniker and claims he is serving as an asset for the Kremlin. He maintains – get ready for it — he is the victim of a new McCarthyism.

Poor baby. Want a cookie?

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, has a reasonable solution to kiss the booboo where it hurts – call the bills up and give every member of the Senate an opportunity to amend them. The GOP, after all, holds the majority in the upper chamber.

“If Leader McConnell doesn’t like being challenged on election security, I challenge him: Let’s debate it on the floor with amendments,’’ Schumer said on the floor after Moscow Mitch’s own sad-sack speech. “I challenge him: Support additional appropriations for states to harden their election systems. In both cases, Leader McConnell has not done that. In fact, he has said he opposes more money for the states.”

Schumer said the whole rigamarole shouldn’t be a political issue. Regardless of political allegiances “you should despise the fact, any American should despise the fact, that Russia has interfered in our elections and is attempting to do so again.”

The question of the hour, of course, is why? This can’t possibly be a popular position for Moscow Mitch and the Republican Party to take. Even those on the far outside of the political scale, right or left, can’t possibly come up with a rationale for providing Russia with an opportunity to sway American elections. And here’s Moscow Mitch handing it to them on a silver platter. Even he, a man whose legislative acumen has long been overrated, can see that.

A Monmouth University poll conducted in May found that only 28 percent of those questioned believe that the federal government is doing enough to halt Kremlin interference. A whopping 60 percent assert it’s not enough.

Nevertheless, he persisted.

A few possibilities exist. Let’s immediately drop the notion that Moscow Mitch is some kind of Russian agent, an American Kim Philby. It can be opined that, as a result of his dereliction of duty, he can accurately be described as a Russian asset. But any idea that Moscow Mitch is on the Kremlin payroll is pretty far-fetched. Perhaps he’s just doing their bidding because, well, that’s the kind of guy he is.

So what are we left with? For one thing, he might be acting at the request of his boss.

For most of the past two-and-a-half years Moscow Mitch has been playing Waylon Smithers to President ESG’s Charles Montgomery Burns, and it has been a performance worthy of an Academy Award.

It’s important to ESG, a malignant narcissist, that those who claim he won the 2016 election against the Democrat, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as a result of Russian interference rather than his own magical abilities should be ground into pulp. Advancing legislation essentially recognizing the Kremlin’s role in the campaign affects his legitimacy, something he can’t abide. Accepting legislation to repel Russian interference would be tantamount to acknowledging Putin and his boys helped put him in the White House. ESG wants nothing to do with that and Moscow Mitch, a reliable cocker spaniel, just wants to make his master happy.

There also is the thought that since ESG and the Republicans benefitted from Russian interference in 2016 they might just be able to take advantage of it once again, for old time’s sake, in 2020. Moscow Mitch, being a man who consistently has placed party over country in so many ways it’s no longer possible to make a list, would certainly be susceptible to that argument.

Perhaps underplayed is the idea that Moscow Mitch took a wrong step back in 2016, opening the door for Kremlin interference, and addressing the situation at this stage would attract unwanted attention.

You’ll remember that in June 2016, then-President Barack Obama and administration officials became convinced that Russia was meddling in the election. A meeting was convened involving the administration’s national security team and 12 members of Congress, including Moscow Mitch. The situation was laid out and the administration team sought a united, bipartisan front to warn the public.

Moscow Mitch nixed the idea, probably because it came from Obama who, for whatever reason, drew Moscow Mitch’s animus like a moth to a lightbulb. The GOP leader did everything he could during Obama’s eight years in office to undercut anything he offered. The Washington Post reported that Moscow Mitch voiced skepticism at the meeting about the underlying intelligence. Joe Biden, Obama’s vice president now a Democratic presidential candidate, went further, claiming that Moscow Mitch “wanted no part of having a bipartisan commitment saying, essentially, ‘Russia’s doing this. Stop.'”

At that point, Biden added, he felt that “the die had been cast” and that “this was all about the political play.”

A statement was released, eventually warning about outside interference but no mention was made of Russia. Passing legislation now to prevent the follies of the past in the future would certainly establish that he was on the wrong side, playing politics to spite Obama, which makes him a very small man.

So, yeah, Moscow Mitch has a certain ring to it. He has consistently been on the wrong side of history. What’s one more notch on his belt?

NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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