Mitch McConnell says bill to make Election Day a federal holiday is a “power grab” by Democrats

By Grace Segers

/ CBS News

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called efforts by House Democrats to make Election Day a federal holiday a "power grab" by Democrats. McConnell was criticizing H.R. 1, the far-reaching bill that Democrats have made the center of their agenda since taking the House. The bill is focused on voting, campaign finance and ethics reform.

The bill would make Election Day a holiday for federal workers, and would encourage private employers to do the same. McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday that Democrats "want taxpayers on the hook for generous new benefits for federal bureaucrats and government employees," including a "new paid holiday for government workers." These comments were made the week after 800,000 federal employees across the country were finally back to work after 35 days of having been furloughed or forced to work without pay during the government shutdown.

The bill also attempts to dismantle barriers to voting with measures such as automatic voter registration and re-enfranchising felons who have completed their sentences. It would also allow federal workers six days off to work at polling places, which McConnell particularly criticized.

"Just what America needs, a bunch of government workers being paid to go out and work for I assume…our colleagues on the other side, on their campaigns," McConnell theorized, though he cited no evidence. The text of H.R. 1 does not mention campaigns, but allows workers the days off to "provide election administration assistance to a State or unit of local government at a polling place on the date of any election for public office."

McConnell's comments provoked immediate backlash from Democrats, who condemned the Republican leader for expressing opposition to a bill that would allow greater access to the polls.

"Voting is a power grab. By citizens," Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, wrote on Twitter in response. "Voting should be easy," he wrote in another tweet.

┳┻|
┻┳|
┳┻|
┻┳|
┳┻|
┻┳|
┳┻|
┻┳|
┳┻| _
┻┳| •.•)
┳┻|⊂ノ
┻┳| voting should be easy

— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) January 30, 2019

Some on the left also believed that McConnell was admitting that making voting easier would help Democrats. Liberal commentator David Corn called it a "naked admission," asking, "What does this say about the GOP and its strategy for hanging on to power?"

Walter Shaub, a former director of the Office of Government Ethics, wrote on Twitter that Veterans Day and Election Day could be combined, since many government workers are veterans.

"A 'power grab' to let people vote?" Shaub said in a tweet. "He also says it's just a holiday for bureaucrats, almost ⅓ of whom are veterans. How about McConnell compromises by moving Veterans Day to the 1st Tuesday in November? What better way to honor veterans than by making it easier for them to vote?"

Although H.R. 1 is likely to pass in the House, McConnell could decide not to bring it to the Senate floor for a vote.

First published on January 30, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Grace Segers

Grace Segers is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.

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