McConnell And Senate Republicans Block Election Security Bills

The evidence is clear that Russia interfered in the election in 2016 and intends to do so again. Despite this, Mitch McConnell is blocking legislation designed to enhance election security.

Just hours after former Special Counsel Robert Mueller had finished testifying about his investigation and confirming yet again the fact that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and intended to do so again, Senate Republicans led by Mitch McConnell were blocking election security legislation designed to combat such interference:

WASHINGTON — A raft of legislation intended to better secure United States election systems after what the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, called a “sweeping and systematic” Russian attack in 2016 is running into a one-man roadblock in the form of the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

The bills include a Democratic measure that would send more than $1 billion to state and local governments to tighten election security, but would also demand a national strategy to protect American democratic institutions against cyberattacks and require that states spend federal funds only on federally certified “election infrastructure vendors.” A bipartisan measure in both chambers would require internet companies like Facebook to disclose the purchasers of political ads.

Another bipartisan Senate proposal would codify cyberinformation-sharing initiatives between federal intelligence services and state election officials, speed up the granting of security clearances to state officials and provide federal incentives for states to adopt paper ballots.

But even bipartisan coalitions have begun to crumble in the face of the majority leader’s blockade. Mr. McConnell, long the Senate’s leading ideological opponent to federal regulation of elections, has told colleagues in recent months that he has no plans to consider stand-alone legislation on the matter this term, despite clamoring from members of his own conference and the growing pressure from Democrats who also sense a political advantage in trying to make the Republican response to Russia’s election attack look anemic.

Mr. McConnell has long been an implacable foe of legislation that mandates disclosure or limits on political donors. Critics charge that he may have another reason to stay on the sidelines: not wanting to enrage President Trump, who views almost any talk of Russia’s success as questioning the legitimacy of his 2016 victory.

“No, I don’t think there is any likelihood that we are going to move a bill that federalizes more of the election process,” Senator Roy Blunt, a member of Republican leadership and a former top elections official in his home state, Missouri, said on Wednesday. “Our focus will be on being sure that we are supporting the state and local governments that have run and will be the best people to run elections.”

As Mr. McConnell and his allies see it, the federal government is already doing enough — through executive branch initiatives, a 2017 package of Russia sanctions, $380 million in grants Congress allocated to states last year — to satisfy that obligation. A spokesman for Mr. McConnell, Doug Andres, declined to comment.

But in his speech last month declaring the “case closed” on the 2016 election investigation, Mr. McConnell noted, “We just had the 2018 midterm elections. Thanks to this administration’s leadership, all 50 states and more than 1,400 local election jurisdictions focused on election security like never before,” adding, “Thanks to efforts across the federal government, in 2018, we were ready.”

“These threats and challenges are real,” he concluded. “Our responsibility to strengthen America is serious.”

Advocates for congressional action in both parties are not giving up.

“Leader McConnell would just like the issue to go away,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said this week in an interview. “We’re not going to let that happen.”

Mr. Schumer and others point to continued warnings from the American law enforcement and intelligence officials monitoring Russia and other foreign adversaries — including Mr. Mueller — who say the threat against the American political process may only be growing. Adding to concerns are reports that Mr. Trump’s sensitivity around Russia might be hindering the executive branch’s response and surveys that show more than a dozen states still do not have auditable paper-ballot backup systems. Dozens more say they lack the funds to replace aging and potentially vulnerable election technology.

“We have 8,000 different election jurisdictions, and the idea that all of them are going to have the resources, the knowledge, the skills and the ability to independently safeguard our system against foreign powers is just not realistic,” said Lawrence Norden, who has surveyed state election officials for the Brennan Center for Justice. “We need somebody to be leading on this. In some cases, individual states are. But given the threat, the idea that Congress is not going to have a role here for ideological purity, to me is insane.”

(…)

Daniel Savickas, who lobbies Congress on election-related issues for the conservative FreedomWorks, blasted the Senate majority leader for letting legislation languish: “Unfortunately, all Senator McConnell wants to do is judges these days,” he said.

FreedomWorks has advocated a more limited federal footprint, but Mr. Savickas said that “there is a role for Congress” to provide money for states to transition to paper ballot backups and to conduct “risk-limiting audits” after elections.

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, continues to push his Defending Elections From Threats by Establishing Redlines Act, written with Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, that would impose mandatory sanctions on anyone who attacks an American election. Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Cory Gardner of Colorado, both Republicans, together with a handful of Democrats, are pressing for crippling new sanctions on Russia to increase the penalty for its past aggression.

None of that appears to be moving.

Nor does the Secure Elections Act, written by Senators James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, and Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, which codifies cyberinformation-sharing initiatives between federal intelligence services and state election officials, speeds up the process of granting state officials security clearances and provides incentives for states to adopt the use of paper ballots. The coalition behind it is fraying in the face of a reluctant White House and a balking Mr. McConnell.

“Many of the things we have in the Secure Elections Act, D.H.S. is already doing,” Mr. Lankford said in an interview, referring to the Department of Homeland Security. “We are trying to codify it, to say we can’t forget. We get to 2022, 2024, 2026 — no one can become complacent and think the Russians or the North Koreans or the Chinese are not going to try to engage in these kind of activities.”

McConnell has not really offered any explanation for why he is so opposed to these election security bills, although some Republicans who support him have argued that this is an issue that the Constitution largely leaves to the states and that Congress should not interfere in what is supposed to be a state matter. While there is some merit to this argument given the fact that Constitution does leave to the states broad authority over how elections are to be conducted, it seems clear that there are some circumstances in which it is appropriate for the Federal Government to get involved even if it’s just on a limited basis. This is especially true in a case such as this where a foreign power is engaging in efforts to interfere in our elections on a nationwide basis. This makes it not just a matter impacting one state, but a matter of national security. Failing to act isn’t just irresponsible politics, it is a clear and present threat to our national security.

Another suggestion for why McConnell and some other Republicans have been reluctant to act on this issue is that they don’t want to arouse the ire of Donald Trump, who apparently sees an acknowledgment of the reality of what happened as an attack on the legitimacy of his victory. Over the past two and a half years, Trump has made no secret of the fact that he does not believe the reports of his own intelligence agency heads that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and that they intend on attempting to do so again if they’re able to get away with it. Over the past two years, his Administration has done nothing to prepare the nation for the possibility of such interference in the coming elections. And, most importantly, he failed to confront the Russian President, whom he has long expressed open admiration for in the past, regarding that interference when he had the chance to do at face-to-face meetings both when they have met at the G-20 Summit and at their summit meeting in Helsinki. Each time he’s been given the opportunity to confront Putin directly over this issue, the President has backed away and instead continued to make his claims that the entire Russia investigation is “Fake News” and a “witch hunt.” As a result, polls have shown that Republican voters tend to doubt that any such interference ever happened. Given the extent to which the Republican Party has become a Trumpidian cult of personality, it’s not at all surprising that the party as a whole would come to mimic his remarks even as many of them allegedly say off the record how horrible what he’s doing might be. Talking off the record or only anonymously isn’t enough, though, and it certainly isn’t going to stop this President from behaving the way that he has for the past two and a half years.

It is, of course, encouraging that some Senators, such as Senators Rubio and Lankford, appear to be interested in trying to work across the aisle to work on legislation that would improve election security. As long as McConnell continues to block any attempt to address it though and the rest of the GOP Caucus supports him, though, those efforts will likely prove to be insufficient. In any case, at this point, it is clear that the nation’s election infrastructure is going to be targeted again, perhaps not just by Russia but also by other potential rivals such as North Korea and China. Failure to act to properly prepare for that probability isn’t just a matter of politics it’s a threat to our national security and to the core of our democratic system.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Tenth Amendment, U.S. Constitution
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Joe says:

    I am no McConnell fan and I have no idea of his motivation for this, but I am troubled by any move to homogenize how states handle elections because, no matter how well protected it is, it only needs to be compromised once to compromise everyone. I would rather lose a couple of states than the whole union.

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  2. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    It’s obvious that McConnell knows Trump cannot win without Russia’s help.

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  3. Kathy says:

    They’re kind of trying to confuse effect with cause. You know, “Only sick people take medicine. I don’t take medicine, therefore I’m not sick.” Or, “Only vulnerable electoral systems take measures to safeguard their elections. We’re not taking such measures, therefore our system is not vulnerable.”

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Joe:

    I would rather lose a couple of states than the whole union.

    Losing a couple of states (77,744 votes in MI, WI, and PA) is how we got trump to begin with.

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  5. Kathy says:

    What would a Russian style disinformation campaign against Trump look like?

    Asking for a friend.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kathy: It would show how

    – Trump is still a Putin stooge and a traitor.
    – Trump is still a con man who among other things ran a phony charity.
    – Trump is still a racist hate-monger.
    – Trump is still a sexual creep.
    – Trump is still a serial adulterer.
    – Trump’s National Security Advisor, Campaign Manager, Deputy Campaign Manager, Foreign Policy Advisor and personal attorney, are still confessed/convicted criminals.
    – Trump’s SecDef and SecState still describe him as, ‘a moron.’
    – Trump is still corrupt to his bones.
    – Trump is still a liar.

    Also it would show how
    – The people who still support Trump are still racist, misogynist creeps and losers.

    Oh wait a minute, seeing as all that is true it would be an information operation against trump. It would also be Micheal Reynolds from whom I stole it. 😉

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  7. Jax says:

    @Kathy: I’ve often wondered the same thing, but came to the conclusion that it would not be disinformation, per se…..but the truth. Release his hacked taxes showing how he’s not actually a billionaire, and actually in debt to the Russian mob. Release the pee tapes. Everything Trump has spent his life trying to hide from public view. We all know they probably have all that by now.

    Or maybe plant a live boy and a dead girl in his suite at Mar-a-Lago? Wouldn’t put that past Vlad, either.

    If they are well and truly trying to sow chaos within the United States, coming down on the side of Trump’s opponent would be a logical move, knowing full well how rabid his base is.

  8. Teve says:

    A few people have suggested, and I think one or two have even suggested to congressional committees, that just because Russia wanted to help create chaos by getting Trump elected in 2016, doesn’t mean they’re necessarily going to support him this time, they could decide it would be even more chaotic to put Kamala Harris in the office, given how badly Obama’s skin caused the racists to lose their shit.

    ETA Dangit, Jax best me by mere seconds.

  9. Gustopher says:

    Over the past two and a half years, Trump has made no secret of the fact that he does not believe the reports of his own intelligence agency heads that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and that they intend on attempting to do so again if they’re able to get away with it.

    You are assuming that Trump is telling the truth here. Generally not a good bet.

    He believes the intelligence, and e is ok with the results.

  10. Moosebreath says:

    The evidence is clear that Russia interfered in the election in 2016 on behalf of Trump and intends to do so again. Despite this, Mitch McConnell is blocking legislation designed to enhance election security because he expects that to happen again.

    FTFY.

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  11. Kathy says:

    @Jax:
    @Teve:

    Maybe Putin’s intent was to sow chaos, but he has to be well pleased with how his Orange Pet is working out. Kamala Harris will try to heal the rift between the US and her allies, not widen it further. This rift must be the most beneficial aspect for Putin.

    Besides, if chaos is still the objective, what better agent of it can there be but Dennison? He’s both impulsive and ignorant, not to mention unwilling to learn. Do you think his Twitter storms will keep turning the news cycle once he’s out of office?

    I think Putin will move heaven and earth to keep El Cheeto where he is.

  12. Teve says:

    @Kathy: oh I 100% believe that Putin’s aware he has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams and will throw their weight behind Trump again. It’s just conceivable that he would switch sides for some reason, and of course if he does then expect all the Trumper Republicans to become not just indignant but demanding impeachment of the Democratic president if it goes the other way. They’ll suddenly be shocked, shocked to learn that gambling is going on here.

  13. Kathy says:

    @Teve:

    The other thing to consider is that other countries no doubt have learned from the Russian meddling, and are likely prepared to meddle against Trump. China and Iran might want him out, for instance. Maybe nominally friendly countries might meddle as well. Think Israel, Johnson’s UK, the Saudis, the UAE.

  14. Jax says:

    It’s the kind of day where I have 3-4 OTB tabs open all day, just so I can keep up with the comments and not have to scroll. All hail OTB! 😉

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  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    It’s not “despite this;” it’s because Russian interference costs the GOP nothing while enabling the GOP to devote its efforts to keeping n—-rs minorities out of the voting booth. It’s a win-win.

  16. Teve says:

    @Jax: I’m in favor of a Recent Comments feature here, to make just that problem easier to deal with. I was going to mention it on tomorrow’s open thread.

  17. Kathy says:

    @Teve:

    Second!

  18. Teve says:

    @Kathy: if half a dozen countries are going to be attacking US voting systems digitally, and Republicans in government are going to deliberately stop us from securing elections, then we’re about to enter a world where nobody actually knows who won Federal elections.

    And that could get ugly and dangerous.

  19. PJ says:

    Traitors.

  20. Tyrell says:

    Any election security measures and reforms need to be field tested in Chicago. I remember seeing tv coverage of the Democrat’s conventions. Mayor Richard Daley was always sitting there giving orders. No other mayor of this country has ever had that kind of power.
    Think about these:
    “The Chicago elections are so corrupt the citizens are begging Russia to run them”
    “The Pope, Richard Nixon, and Mayor Daley are in a lifeboat adrift in the ocean. They only have enough drinking water for one person. So they vote to see who gets it. Daley wins 6 -2.”
    “You know Elvis is dead because he is registered to vote in Chicago”
    “In Chicago elections, if you are losing you can always go out and dig up some more votes”
    “Day of the Dead – another name for election day in Chicago”
    See – Newsweek: “Top Five Rigged US Presidential Elections” (Fred Lucas). It seems that in Chicago there were fifty six people who voted and they all lived at the same address: a gutted house that had burned down. That was the 1960 presidential election – a fixed election if there ever was one (do Sam Giancana and the Mafia ring a bell?)
    Maybe Representative Nadler should investigate that one. He might actually find something.

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  21. SenyorDave says:

    @Tyrell: Let’s see, he died in 1976, so that certainly would be relevant.

  22. Kathy says:

    @Teve:

    We don’t know for sure who will meddle and how. But one way to encourage meddling is not to act decisively against meddlers. Therefore not acting against Russia encourages China, Iran, and others who may want to undertake the effort. For that matter, what about non-state actors like ISIS?

    The nightmare scenario, or one of them, is if someone hacks voting machines and changes the results. What happens then if Dennison should lose?

  23. Teve says:

    @Kathy: multiple hacks across multiple states by multiple actors. No idea who won. Trump declares victory plus State of Emergency. Thousands of armed hillbillies show up in DC to protect Trump against the Deep State…

    This whole thing could turn into a bad Gerard Butler movie and I will have a 50 pound bag of popcorn kernels in the pantry.

  24. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy:

    The nightmare scenario, or one of them, is if someone hacks voting machines and changes the results. What happens then if Dennison should lose?

    Ou could get a lot more confusion than that: what would happen if someone hacked Alabama’s voting machines and counters, so the reported results were a 97% Trump victory. A clear indicator that the election results cannot be trusted, without necessarily affecting the results at the electoral college level.

    If Trump wins, watch the Republicans close ranks to protect him, an watch the rest of the nation protest. If Trump loses, watch as Democrats squirm and Republicans fume, and enjoy a second Election Day with paper ballots, and a massive police presence and attempts to verify ids in non-verify-id states.

    I’m guessing that non-battleground states might be more vulnerable, since who would bother messing with them?

  25. Jax says:

    @Kathy: Looking at Mitch McConnell, Sir Turtle Face, First of His Name, King of the Black Lung’s, Grey Scale, Unsecured Elections and all things Creepy Crawly. 😉
    @Teve: Russia will make the power go out, because we’re not really protected against that, either. It wouldn’t take much to get our tottering power grid down for the long haul.

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  26. I think that this talk of “russian interference” is potentially confuse, mixing things like “disseminating pro-Trump propaganda at social networks” with things like “hacking voting machines”; for what I know, there is much more evidence about the former than about the later – however, this proposal seems to be about the later.

  27. Teve says:
  28. Barry says:

    @Teve: “oh I 100% believe that Putin’s aware he has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams and will throw their weight behind Trump again.”

    I’m assuming that Russian intelligence is collecting as much compromising material as possible (e.g., donations, deals, proof of hacking). Not only have they benefitted *immensely* from Trump and his GOP, but they’ll have the ability to destroy the GOP and compromise the US government whenever they feel like pressing the button. As well as the ability to blackmail the living sh*t out of the leadership of the GOP.

  29. mattBernius says:

    @Miguel Madeira:
    Just to be clear, while there is more evidence of the success of thier social hacking work, there is still significant evidence of thier attacks of voting infrastructure:

    https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/senate-report-all-50-states-were-targeted-by-russian-interference-ahead-of-2016-elections

    Including, in some states, gaining access to voter data with the ability to make changes:

    https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/2019/4/18/18619441/mueller-report-confirms-russians-compromised-illinois-state-board-of-elections

    Then there was also the hacking of both the Democrats and Republicans.

    So we need to protect infrastructure.

  30. DrDaveT says:

    @Kathy:

    Maybe Putin’s intent was to sow chaos, but he has to be well pleased with how his Orange Pet is working out.

    The recent Senate intelligence report floats the theory that the Russians deliberately left bootprints all through the various state election systems so they they could sow doubt about the validity of the election results. Since they knew Trump was going to lose, this would let them put Trump in the position of publicly undermining the legitimacy of Hillary’s election.

    If that’s true, they now realize they’ve hit the jackpot — the value of such a strategy is much, much higher when Trump is the incumbent, and the forces of “law and order” work for him. As noted above, if he loses there will be one kind of chaos as he calls the results Fake News, and if he wins by an implausible margin there will be a different kind of chaos as he suppresses any attempt to question the results.

    Either way, Russia wins bigtime. I’ve given up wondering whether Mitch thinks that’s a bug or a feature, or genuinely doesn’t care.