Senate Republicans: Executive order would solidify divide on cybersecurity

A group of Senate Republicans urged President Obama on Tuesday not to issue an executive order on cybersecurity, arguing that only congressional action can adequately protect the nation's computer systems.

Administration officials have said they began drafting an executive order after Senate Republicans blocked cybersecurity legislation in August. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a recent congressional hearing that the order is "close to completion." 

In Tuesday's letter, Sens. John McCainJohn McCainFox News bests major networks in convention ratings Meghan McCain: ‘I no longer recognize my party’ Why a bill about catfish will show whether Ryan's serious about regulatory reform MORE (R-Ariz.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Dan CoatsDan CoatsGOP rallies to Trump's 'law and order' message after Baton Rouge Indiana Republicans to pick Pence replacement next week Convention calendar: Parties and events MORE (R-Ind.), Saxby ChamblissSaxby ChamblissWyden hammers CIA chief over Senate spying Cruz is a liability Inside Paul Ryan’s brain trust MORE (R-Ga.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Roy BluntRoy BluntOvernight Energy: Officials close in on new global emissions deal 40 senators seek higher biodiesel mandate Top Dem Senate hopefuls to skip convention MORE (R-Mo.) said an executive order would fail to address the nation's cyber vulnerabilities.

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“An issue as far-reaching and complicated as cybersecurity requires all stakeholders to work together to develop an enduring legislative solution through formal consideration and approval by Congress," they wrote. "Yet, rather than build confidence and unity among key stakeholders, an Executive Order will solidify the present divide."

The Cybersecurity Act, which had the support of the White House and Senate Democrats, would have set voluntary cybersecurity standards for operators of critical infrastructure, such as gas pipelines and banks. The bill would have also authorized companies and the government to share information about cyber threats.

Republicans supported the information-sharing provisions, but they worried the security standards would have burdened businesses and done little to improve security. Democrats argued the standards were necessary to ensure that vital systems were safe from attack.

Many of the Republicans who signed Tuesday's letter had pushed for their own cybersecurity bill, the Secure IT Act, which would have focused only on information-sharing.

Of the six Republicans on the letter, only Coats voted for the Cybersecurity Act on the Senate floor.

According to officials familiar with the draft executive order, it would encourage companies to meet cybersecurity standards. Legal experts say that only Congress can enact the information-sharing provisions, which would change existing laws.

"We remain committed to this legislative process and urge you to work with Congress rather than act unilaterally through an Executive Order," the Republicans wrote.

A host of Democrats have urged President Obama to move ahead with the executive order.

Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Jay RockefellerJay RockefellerLobbying world Overnight Tech: Senators place holds on FCC commissioner Overnight Tech: Senate panel to vote on Dem FCC commissioner MORE (D-W.Va.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinHotel lobby cheers scrutiny on Airbnb GOP platform attempts middle ground on encryption debate Week ahead: Encryption fight poised to heat up MORE (D-Calif.), Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiSenate confirms first black female librarian of Congress Clinton pens tribute to feminist website The Toast Senate Appropriations speeds through spending bills MORE (D-Md.), Chris CoonsChris CoonsSenators ask IRS to issue guidance to help startups Senate Dems push Obama for more Iran transparency Overnight Tech: First on The Hill – Key senators team up against robocalls | Social media giants back revenge porn bill | Facebook's diversity numbers MORE (D-Del.) and Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalSenate Dems push Obama for more Iran transparency Congress sends first major opioid bill to Obama's desk Opioid package clears key Senate hurdle MORE (D-Conn.) have all called on the president to issue an order in the light of the Senate's inaction.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsThe Trail 2016: Words matter Lobbyists bolting Trump convention early GOP sen at convention: I'm not ruling out voting for Clinton MORE (R-Maine), a key co-sponsor of the Cybersecurity Act, has said she does not support an executive order, but she did not sign the GOP letter.