Outrage is growing in the US after Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said “African Americans” cast ballots at similar rates to “Americans”, as his party blocked a federal election bill this week.
The minority leader made the remark at a news conference in Washington on Wednesday, when he was asked about concerns that people of colour 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,” Mr McConnell said.
Many have criticised the comments for implying that black voters are somehow not American and underscored many of the exact 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 Mr McConnell engineered a filibuster to block voting legislation that Democrats and civil rights leaders say is vital to protecting democracy.
In follow-up remarks on Thursday, McConnell said: “I have consistently pointed to the record-high turnout for all voters in the 2020 election, including African Americans.”
Democratic US Senate candidate for Kentucky, Charles Booker, tweeted, “Being Black doesn’t make you less of an American, no matter what this craven man thinks”.
Mr Booker, who is black, unsuccessfully ran for Mr McConnell’s seat in 2020 and is challenging GOP Senator Rand Paul this year.
“Hey @LeaderMcConnell,” tweeted Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison, who is black, “…for your information, I’m also an American!”
Hundreds of people of colour shared pictures of themselves on social media saying they too are American, alongside the hashtag #MitchPlease.
However, Mr McConnell’s allies have dismissed the outrage as “ridiculous”.
Scott Jennings, a former adviser to president George W Bush who has close ties to Mr 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 defence, saying the “faux outrage” over McConnell’s remarks was “absurd”.
Mr Cameron, a Republican, is Mr McConnell’s former legal counsel. Mr Cameron also said Mr McConnell was “making a point that Black voting rates are similar to the entire electorate as a whole”.
Sadiqa Reynolds, president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League in Kentucky, said Mr McConnell’s comments were particularly frustrating to hear after the voting legislation failed in the Senate this week.
The blocked bill would have expanded early and postal voting and made US Election Day a national federal holiday among other measures proponents argue make it easier for people to vote.
Republicans filibustered the measure before all 50 Republicans and two holdout Democrats blocked a vote to circumvent the stalling and to allow the bill to pass with a simple majority.
Agencies contributed to this report