On the eve of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees, congressional Democrats pressed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to bring election security legislation to a vote.
“Leader McConnell has not brought one election security bill to the floor,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., co-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, despite agreement among members of the intelligence community (IC) and law enforcement, as well as Mueller, that Russia attacked the U.S. election in 2016 and “will be back in force” in 2020 even though President Trump “seems incapable of accepting” the intelligence findings.
On Thursday the House of Representatives passed the Securing America’s Federal Elections (SAFE) Act 225-184 that would authorize $600 million for states’ election security spending along with $175 million biannually to help sustain election infrastructure.
The deliberateness of the timing is twofold – to press McConnell to take action while all eyes are on Mueller who most surely will reiterate the Russia efforts to interfere with U.S. elections and to expedite the adoption of safe election measures so that states can take action by the fall when they need to have plans underway to meet the threats of the 2020 presidential election head-on.
In his only public appearance after releasing his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential collusion with the Trump campaign, Mueller began and ended his 10-minute remarks on the same note, “Russia attacked us, said Warner.
The lawmakers expressed frustration with McConnell’s refusal to debate and vote on bipartisan measures with wide bipartisan support that Warner referred to as “low-hanging fruit,” including requiring paper ballots, identifying political ads paid for by a nation-states (HONEST tk), readying sanctions if Russia attacks again and requiring political campaigns to report any entreaties by foreign operatives (Duty to Report Act).
“I do not understand why, when we have bipartisan legislation, we don’t bring it to a vote,” said Warner.
“Why hasn’t Mitch McConnell allowed us to have a debate?” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., who contended that Russia had shown “an interest” in Maryland’s voter registration systems. “We don’t want the Senate to be a graveyard,” said Cardin, referring to McConnell’s self-reference as the Grim Reaper bent on killing Democrats’ legislative initiatives.
Presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., painted McConnell as an obstructionist who is “looking out for the interests of his own party” and accused the White House of interfering with the Senate’s work, noting that former White House lawyer Don McGahn with a few phone calls stopped one election security bill from making it through markup in committee.
“When it comes to election security, McConnell is not afraid of Russia, he’s afraid of the United States Senate,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., whose claimed his state was the “first to be hit by Russians” in 2016.
Concern over Russia – and other nation-state – efforts to interfere and manipulate the 2020 election have grown with FBI Christopher Wray and members of the intelligence community warning of coming attacks that Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said would “make 2016 look like very small potatoes.”
The lawmakers said deep fakes, compromised personal devices and algorithms are some of the points of vulnerability going forward. Leaving securing elections up to the states would be folly so Congress needs to act. “You wouldn’t expect a sheriff in a small town to defend against the Russian military,” said Wyden. By the same token, when it comes to election “we’ve got to attack on the federal level.”
The senator said the lawmakers would take their pitch on the road, and “fan out all over the country and explain what the risk is to this 250-year-old experiment.”