WASHINGTON — Senator Mitch McConnell has lengthy been a pre-eminent defender of a task in politics for company America, welcoming its participation and, most significantly, its cash. So it astounded many this week when he cried foul over Major League Baseball and corporations like Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines leaping into the fray towards Georgia’s new voting restrictions.
“If I were running a major corporation, I’d stay out of politics,” Mr. McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and minority chief, mentioned whereas warning of “consequences” for the non-public sector if it sided with Democrats and “far-left mobs” opposing new limits to poll entry.
Democrats rapidly roasted Mr. McConnell, noting that he has personally flourished by advantage of undisclosed, limitless company donations to Republican political efforts.
“He has no problem with all of them weighing in in support of the Trump tax cuts,” mentioned Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, who has lengthy battled Mr. McConnell over disclosure of donations. “He has no problem with them weighing in with laws to discourage unions. When they weigh in on behalf of voters, that crosses a line.”
On Wednesday, Mr. McConnell conceded a failure to speak.
“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday,” he mentioned at an occasion in Paducah, Ky., the place he insisted that company critics have been misinformed and performing on distorted portrayals of the Georgia legislation offered by no much less a determine than President Biden. “They are certainly entitled to be involved in politics,” he mentioned. “So my complaint about the C.E.O.s: Read the damn bill.”
His misstep apart, it needs to be no shock that Mr. McConnell, who has constructed his political picture on preventing marketing campaign finance restrictions, is embracing a task because the No. 1 foe of a marketing campaign spending overhaul and voting rights enlargement invoice being pushed by Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats.
In conferences with colleagues, speeches and media appearances, he has been blistering the wide-ranging plan he views as an existential menace to his celebration’s future, one he claims is predicated on a “big lie” that Republicans in Georgia and different states are using racist techniques harking back to the Jim Crow period to restrict voting.
The phrase — the identical one Democrats have used to explain former President Donald J. Trump’s false claims of a stolen election — means that Mr. McConnell is planning a full-scale effort to outline the voting rights invoice as corrupt and a blatant energy seize.
“Our challenge, of course, is they are going to make this about race somehow, they are going to make this about turnout somehow,” Mr. McConnell mentioned in an interview. “It is about neither. It is about a partisan effort to rewrite the rules in a way they think benefits them.”
The Democratic laws in Congress is geared toward countering statutes like Georgia’s and proposals in different Republican-led states to tighten voter eligibility and poll entry after Mr. Trump’s loss. Many Republicans attribute his defeat to pandemic-imposed adjustments final yr, together with simpler voting by mail and prolonged early voting, and to a failure to implement strict voter verification. They are racing to clamp down to forestall a repeat.
Mr. McConnell referred to as the scope of the voting rights invoice transferring by Congress — which might alter how native elections are performed, restrict undisclosed cash, stiffen marketing campaign legislation enforcement and assert Washington jurisdiction over statewide redistricting, amongst different basic adjustments — “jaw-droppingly audacious.”
“To give them credit,” he mentioned of Democrats, “they didn’t leave out a single thing they thought would advantage them and disadvantage us.”
Mr. McConnell’s obsession with marketing campaign legislation dates to earlier than he was in Congress, when he taught a course on political science on the University of Louisville within the Nineteen Seventies. In the years since, he has carved out a place because the celebration’s main and typically lonely voice towards tighter marketing campaign legal guidelines.
Many fellow Republicans shared his views however weren’t prepared to be as public as Mr. McConnell on a matter some thought of politically problematic. His work on marketing campaign guidelines helped him rise to Senate chief.
“It is something I feel strongly about,” he mentioned. “I’ve had an interest in this for most of my life before I even came to the Senate.”
He celebrated the truth that his opponents in previous marketing campaign finance fights had referred to as him Darth Vader — the darkish drive against a extra accountable system. He took Senator John McCain, his Republican colleague from Arizona, all the best way to the Supreme Court in 2003 in a shedding struggle to overturn the legislation that bore Mr. McCain’s title. But Mr. McConnell felt vindicated when the make-up of the court docket modified and far of the legislation was overturned within the 2010 Citizens United determination.
Mr. McConnell says the battle is about defending speech and First Amendment rights beneath the Constitution. But to his opponents — and there are various — that is about political would possibly, and Mr. McConnell making that certain the cash he is dependent upon retains flowing to guard his place within the Senate.
“He has been very focused on maintaining power,” mentioned Russ Feingold, the Democratic former senator from Wisconsin who shared high billing on the so-called McCain-Feingold marketing campaign laws that Mr. McConnell fiercely opposed. “He would tell you that he cares about this on First Amendment grounds, but the truth is he likes access to as much undisclosed contributions as possible to maintain his position as majority leader.”
Democrats say Mr. McConnell finds himself taking part in protection this time, as proven by the truth that a few of his standard company allies are deserting him.
“For once in his political life, corporations are on the opposite side of an issue from him,” Mr. Van Hollen mentioned.
In distinction from previous showdowns, nonetheless, Mr. McConnell appears to benefit from the full assist of his Republican colleagues, who’re collectively outraged in regards to the Democratic initiative.
“He is highly engaged in this,” mentioned Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, the highest Republican on the Rules Committee, which is contemplating the Democratic invoice. “He understands the constitutional and structural danger and irreversible potential of these kinds of changes.”
With momentum for motion in Washington rising out of what Democrats see as an unwarranted Republican crackdown within the states, Mr. McConnell and Mr. Blunt are taking intention at what they consider are distortions and exaggerations in regards to the Georgia legislation. Mr. McConnell is keen to level out that truth checkers faulted Mr. Biden for getting features of the Georgia legislation fallacious.
“If you look at the actual law, it actually expands voting rights,” mentioned Mr. McConnell, who additionally famous that Georgians would have extra alternative to vote beneath the brand new statute than residents of many different states that aren’t seeing company boycotts.
While there are disagreements in regards to the impact of particular provisions of the voting adjustments in Georgia and proposals being superior elsewhere, Democrats and impartial election consultants say the efforts being undertaken within the title of election integrity are geared toward holding down voting alternatives, notably for minorities who are likely to favor Democrats.
Mr. McConnell disputed that concept.
“People are not being denied the right to vote anywhere in America,” mentioned Mr. McConnell, who famous that presidential turnout final yr was the very best since 1900. “Nobody should buy this notion that this is somehow about voter suppression. They are also playing the race card, which shows how desperate they are to shame people into voting for this monstrosity.”
For all his opposition, Mr. McConnell isn’t ruling out that Democrats might advance the initiative, which might require a guidelines change to beat a Republican filibuster and its 60-vote requirement to maneuver ahead. Even if it someway turned legislation, Mr. McConnell indicated that he can be first in line to attempt to overturn it earlier than a extra sympathetic viewers.
“Hopefully political speech and the First Amendment will prevail in a more neutral format — in court,” he mentioned. “We’ve fortunately have had good judgment, I think, on the whole by the court system over the years that have kept us restrained from doing the kinds of things they are trying to do.”