Senators unveil bipartisan push to deter future election interference

Senators unveil bipartisan push to deter future election interference
© Greg Nash

A pair of senators from each party is introducing legislation meant to deter foreign governments from interfering in future American elections. 

The bill represents the latest push on Capitol Hill to address Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and counter potential threats ahead of the 2018 midterms. 

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Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate rejects effort to boost Congress's national security oversight The Memo: Summit gives Trump political boost — with risks The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump, Kim make history with summit MORE (R-Fla.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenMerkley leads Dem lawmakers to border amid migrant policy outcry Overnight Defense: Trump defends summit results | GOP chairman tries to clarify canceled war games | House panel advances 4.6B defense bill | Saudis begin Yemen offensive GOP senator fails to kill provision blocking Trump's ZTE deal MORE (D-Md.) on Tuesday introduced the “Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act,” which lays out specific foreign actions against U.S. elections that would warrant penalties from the federal government. 

Van Hollen said in a statement to The Hill that the bill would send “an unequivocal message to Russia and any other foreign actor who may follow its example: if you attack us, the consequences will be severe.” 

Congress imposed additional sanctions on Moscow for its election interference last summer. However, fears have mounted over the potential for future foreign influence efforts, which some lawmakers have sought to address through legislation.

Under the bill introduced Tuesday, it would be up to the Trump administration to decide the retaliatory measures for potential election interference by China, Iran and North Korea, and any other nation that the administration singles out as a threat. The administration would be required to report to Congress within 90 days of the bill’s enactment on plans to counter potential election interference from each specific country. 

In the event of future interference specifically by Russia, the bill expands on penalties already imposed by the Countering America’s Adversaries Act of 2017. For instance, it mandates that the U.S. government immediately impose sanctions on Russia’s finance, energy and defense sectors. It would also blacklist senior Russian political figures or oligarchs identified under the law, preventing them from entering the United States and blocking their assets. 

Actions that would elicit retaliation include a foreign government or agent purchasing political advertisements to influence an election, using social media to spread false information, hacking and releasing or modifying election- or campaign-related information or hindering access to elections infrastructure, such as websites for polling places. 

“We cannot be a country where foreign intelligence agencies attempt to influence our political process without consequences,” Rubio said. “This bill will help to ensure the integrity of our electoral process by using key national security tools to dissuade foreign powers from meddling in our elections.” 

Under the legislation, the director of national intelligence would be required to report to Congress on any foreign efforts to interfere in an election within one month after each federal election.

Moscow’s 2016 influence campaign involved hacking and orchestrating the release of Democrats’ emails, propagating fake news through social media and probing state voter registration databases and other election-related systems. 

In December, a bipartisan cadre of lawmakers introduced legislation aimed at helping states bolster cybersecurity of their voting systems, including authorizing grants for state officials to upgrade outdated voting technology.