Friday, May 24, 2019
While the issue of Russian collusion is very clearly politically charged, concerns about election security and foreign interference have historically been more bipartisan. As Mitch McConnell has made clear, however, that's no longer the case. Although several Republican-controlled Senate committees are still trying to address potential meddling by foreign adversaries -- the Judiciary Committee approved two election security bills last week -- the Senate majority leader now says he won't even bring election security bills up for a vote. It's a position McConnell took last year, and one he's standing by as pressure has ramped up to consider reinforcing US defenses ahead of 2020.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), chair of the Senate Rules Committee, which oversees aspects of election administration, laid out McConnell's opposition during a hearing last week. "I think the majority leader just is of the view that this debate reaches no conclusion," Blunt said, noting that he didn't see the point in considering any election security bills in committee if they simply weren't going to go anywhere.
McConnell's decision is likely driven by a few factors: He's acknowledging Trump's aversion to the subject -- which the president sees as too closely tied to questions about the outcome of the 2016 election -- and he's, once again, taking the heat for his caucus. What's more, McConnell has argued that election security bills could get the federal government too involved in states' efforts.
Blunt last week also tried to shift the blame to House Democrats, explaining that the "extreme" nature of HR 1 -- a sweeping anti-corruption bill championed by Democrats that contains tenets on election security -- made it even less likely that McConnell would consider such measures. In an interview with McClatchy in April, Blunt noted that his party was concerned Democrats would use an election security bill to introduce additional amendments addressing issues raised in HR 1, such as voting rights.
McConnell's unwillingness to tackle election security isn't just sending a political message, however; it also has massive consequences.
As a result of this inaction, the US Senate -- which allocated $380 million in election security funds last year -- is now effectively promoting a do-nothing approach to a subject that special counsel Robert Mueller and countless national security officials have raised as a serious threat that requires additional action. While US intelligence agencies and other bodies are doing what they can to bolster American defenses before the 2020 election, Republican leadership appears content to sit idly by despite numerous warnings about the need for more resources to prevent potential breaches.
As Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) explicitly stated during a hearing with Attorney General Bill Barr in May, it's a cue that's been coming directly from the White House. "It was Don McGahn," Klobuchar said during the hearing while discussing the forces that blocked a bipartisan election security bill she's co-sponsored with Sen. James Lankford (R-OK). "He called Republicans about the bill, didn't want them to do it. And McConnell also didn't want the bill to move forward. So it was a double-edged thing."
President Trump's position on such bills -- and McConnell's longstanding resistance to advancing them -- could mean that they'll remain stalled.
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