Democratic lawmakers accused U.S. President Donald Trump and the Senate’s leading Republican of working to kill legislation designed to protect the upcoming U.S. presidential election from interference by Russia and others.
They also warned that because of Trump and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s efforts, time is running out to get improved security measures in place for the 2020 vote.
“It appears that the majority leader, at the behest of the White House, has made it his goal to kill any meaningful legislation,” Mark Warner, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters during a news conference Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
“Even this president’s top intelligence, law enforcement officials have all indicated that Russia, which successfully intervened in our election in 2016, will be back in force,” Warner added. “I do not understand when we have common sense, bipartisan legislation, why we can’t bring that to the floor of the Senate and let the Senate vote.”
Through aides, McConnell declined to respond directly to the latest allegations. But in remarks earlier this month, he slammed Democrats for using the issue of election security to pursue a partisan agenda.
“Many of the proposals labeled by Democrats to be ‘election security’ measures are indeed election reform measures that are part of the left’s wish list,” he said. “They ignore the great work this administration has done and sweep under the rug the necessary measures this chamber has passed.”
The allegations by Democratic lawmakers come a day before U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, charged with investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, is set to testify before two House committees.
Mueller’s report concluded Russia conducted what investigators described as a concerted campaign using hackers and disinformation to impact the outcome of the 2016 elections.
“There were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election,” Mueller said in a statement he read to reporters in late May.
But rather than settle political differences, the report has further polarized Democrats and Republicans, who continue to argue over how to interpret the report’s findings and over what action to take.
Last month, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill requiring paper ballots at all polling stations. However, almost all House Republicans opposed the measure, arguing that paper ballots are more susceptible to tampering.
Several Republican-controlled Senate committees have also been looking into election security issues, and the Judiciary Committee approved two election security bills in May.
But Democrats on Tuesday warned that the decision by McConnell to prevent any of the bills from getting a vote was threatening the country’s democracy.
“Hostile foreign actors are going to interfere in the 2020 election in a way that makes what happened in 2016 look like very small potatoes,” said Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “It is not just going to be the Russians.”
Earlier Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray repeated warnings that the country’s upcoming elections would again be targeted.
“The Russians are absolutely intent on trying to interfere,” he told lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying efforts to stop Moscow have failed to have much of an impact.
“My view is until they stop, they haven’t been deterred enough,” Wray said.
This past December, a report by U.S. intelligence agencies concluded Russia, along with China and Iran, targeted the 2018 Congressional elections with influence campaigns.
Under an executive order signed by Trump last year, all three countries could have faced sanctions and other punitive measures.
But a subsequent report by the Justice Department found “no evidence to date that any identified activities of a foreign government or foreign agent had a material impact on the integrity or security of election infrastructure or political/campaign infrastructure.”
Warner and other Democrats said Tuesday said they would continue to push for a series of what they described as common sense, bipartisan measures to improve election security.
In addition to requiring paper ballots at all polling stations, the bills would require social media companies to provide information on who is paying for political ads and require mandatory sanctions for any country found trying to interfere.
A fourth bill would require candidates and campaigns to notify the FBI if any foreign country or entity reaches out to them with “dirt,” or damaging information, on their opponents.
“The response ought to not be to say, ‘Thank you,”’ Warner said. “The response ought to be to tell law enforcement.”