Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has sparked outrage by appearing to refer to African Americans and Americans as two separate groups in comments about Black voters that have since gone viral.
The Kentucky Republican was speaking after Republican senators once again blocked Democrats' voting rights legislation on Capitol Hill on Wednesday evening.
Speaking to reporters after the bill failed and the Senate rejected a change to the filibuster rule that could facilitate its passage, McConnell was asked for his message to voters in minority communities who are concerned that voting restrictions being enacted in many states will keep them from the ballot box without new federal laws.
“The concern is misplaced, because if you look at the statistics, African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans,” McConnell said.
In fact, studies indicate that voting restrictions, like those passed by 19 states in the past year, disproportionately impact voters of colour.
Democratic Illinois congressman Bobby Rush swiftly called out McConnell's comment, saying in a tweet: "African Americans ARE Americans. #MitchPlease."
One of Rush's Democratic colleagues, Diana DeGette of Colorado, echoed that assessment, describing McConnell's comment as "disgusting". "African-American voters ARE AMERICANS & to suggest otherwise is about as racist as it gets," DeGette said in a tweet.
Former Kentucky state senator Charles Booker, who is campaigning for the US senate against Republican Rand Paul, tweeted: "I am no less American than Mitch McConnell" and also said: "I need you to understand that this is who Mitch McConnell is. Being Black doesn't make you less of an American, no matter what this craven man thinks."
Pastor and activist Talbert Swan quipped that he “can’t qwhite put my finger on” what distinction McConnell might be drawing, tweeting: “I wonder what’s the difference he sees between ‘African-American voters’ and ‘Americans’”.
And Malcolm Kenyatta, a Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, argued that McConnell's words were not a slip of the tongue but were instead an accurate reflection of the Republican party's mindset toward Black voters.
“Mitch McConnell’s comments suggesting African Americans aren’t fully American wasn’t a Freudian slip – it was a dog whistle. The same one he has blown for years,” Mr Kenyatta said. –Guardian