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McConnell defends civil rights record after ‘inadvertent’ comment sparks backlash

<i>Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images</i><br/>Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) responded that he would again discuss his history of voting rights and defended his record of hiring of Black staff.
Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) responded that he would again discuss his history of voting rights and defended his record of hiring of Black staff.

By Ali Zaslav and Ted Barrett, CNN

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell defended himself against what he called a “deeply offensive” and “outrageous mischaracterization” of his record on voting rights and race relations, after he had “inadvertently” omitted a word in a comment earlier this week, which sparked a massive backlash on social media.

“This outrageous mischaracterization of my record as a result of leaving one word out inadvertently the other day, which I just now supplied to you, is deeply offensive,” the Kentucky Republican said Friday in Louisville.

On Wednesday, at his weekly policy news conference at the US Capitol, McConnell was asked whether voters of color would be hurt if Democrats’ election legislation did not pass, and he replied: “The concern is misplaced, because if you look at the statistics, African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans.”

He again misspoke on Friday and incorrectly stated what the omitted word had been and had to come back to the mics to clean it up again. At first he said he had meant to say the word “almost” before Americans in his comment. At the end of his news conference, he returned to the mics after consulting with an aide, who seemed to tell him he had misstated it again, clarifying he had meant to say the omitted word was “all.”

Earlier this week, McConnell’s office told CNN the senator had meant to say “other” Americans.

McConnell said Friday that in terms of his life and career, “I was there for Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in the audience. When I was a student at (University of Louisville), I helped organize the March on Frankfort, the first state public accommodation law. Thanks to my role model, John Sherman Cooper, I was actually there when President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in the Capitol in 1965.”

He was asked by a reporter about how omitting that one word, depending on who was listening, had changed the meaning of the sentence, whether he sees that point of view and what he would say to those who had been offended.

McConnell responded that he would again discuss his history of voting rights and defended his record of hiring of Black staff, as well as the promotion of Daniel Cameron as state attorney general.

“We have a new attorney general of Kentucky. He was a McConnell scholar at University of Louisville,” he said. “I think he would confirm with you that I recruited him to run, supported him and am proud of him. I have had African American speechwriters, schedulers, office managers over the years.”

In his remarks at an event called the “Kentuckians for Better Transportation’s annual conference,” McConnell also touted the bipartisan infrastructure law on Friday, saying how it’s “a big deal” for his state, and reiterated how “proud” he is of his vote for the legislation, despite taking “a little heat for it” from former President Donald Trump.

McConnell said that “regretfully” he was the only Republican in the Kentucky delegation who voted for the infrastructure bill. “It became, in my view, needlessly politicized over in the House,” he said. “So you ended up having very few House Republicans … who voted for it.”

“I’m proud of my vote. I took a little heat for it from somebody who used to be president, but I’m proud of my vote,” he added. “I think it was the right thing to do for America, the right thing to do for the country.”

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CNN’s Manu Raju contributed to this report.

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