Republicans Are Doing a Good Job Blocking Efforts to Fight Russian Meddling in 2020
Former special counsel Robert Mueller issued several reminders during his testimony before Congress on Wednesday. Russia wanted to put in Trump in the White House in 2016, he said, which we already knew. We also knew that Trump’s campaign welcomed this help, that Trump made concerted efforts to impede the investigation into the matter, and that, three years later, Russia is still working to interfere in American elections. As Mueller put it Wednesday, it’s happening “as we sit here.”
On Thursday, we learned something new: Russia’s interference in the 2016 election involved efforts to hack into the election systems of all 50 states, not just 21, as had previously been reported. The revelation came in the first volume of a heavily redacted bipartisan report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which notes that the attempts to hack state election systems went mostly unnoticed by U.S. officials. The committee found no evidence that any votes were changed or that voting machines were manipulated, but wrote that the extent of Russia’s activity against state election infrastructure was “unprecedented.”
The report warns that many of the vulnerabilities that left American election systems open to exploitation in 2016 have not been addressed, and that more must be done to safeguard these systems ahead of the 2020 elections. FBI Director Christopher Wray agreed while speaking at the International Conference on Cyber Security earlier on Thursday. “We know our adversaries are relentless,” he said. “So are we.”
Yesterday Bob Mueller testified that Russia is working to undermine our elections “as we sit here.”
Today, the FBI Director is sounding the alarm about ongoing attacks against our election infrastructure: https://t.co/s7RiNSbONQ
— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) July 25, 2019
Not so relentless are Republicans in the Senate, who blocked two election security bills and another cybersecurity measure just hours after Mueller’s testimony concluded on Wednesday. The former former bills would require campaigns to notify the FBI and the Federal Election Commission if a foreign entity offered election assistance. In 2016, the Trump campaign did not alert authorities of such offers. In June, Trump told ABC that he wouldn’t necessarily alert authorities if his campaign received similar offers in 2020, and that he would be willing to accept foreign assistance.
When Democrats tried to pass the package of bills by unanimous consent, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) objected without offering an explanation. She later tweeted that the bills were partisan. “Senate Democrats try to push partisan election bills without going through regular order right after the House hearings w/Mueller,” she wrote. “Coincidence? Nope. Just more political theater instead of working together to secure US elections.”
A day later, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked an effort to pass a a House-approved bill that would authorize $775 million to strengthen the state election systems Russia tried to hack to an “unprecedented” degree in 2016, per the Senate report. McConnell said the bill, which has already been passed by the House of Representatives, is “not a serious effort,” complaining that it came from the party that spent two years “hyping” Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia.
Democrats’ patience is wearing thin. “No votes, no hearings, no negotiations, no nothing,” tweeted Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who serves on the Intelligence Committee and pushed the bills blocked by Senate Republicans. “We’ve got bipartisan support for vital election security reforms, but GOP leadership is blocking all of it.”
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who also pushed the bills and has been one of the chamber’s leading advocates for increasing election security, took his frustration out on the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which spent its Thursday afternoon tweeting about pizza preferences. “My opinion on pineapple pizza is Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump need to stop obstructing election security legislation,” he wrote.
My opinion on pineapple pizza is Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump need to stop obstructing election security legislation https://t.co/lymKOUMlFU
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) July 25, 2019
Warner was similarly blunt on Friday morning. “Election security is national security,” he tweeted.