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 McCainTrump names McMaster new national security adviser How does placing sanctions on Russia help America? THE MEMO: Trump's wild first month MORE (R-Ariz.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Dan CoatsDan CoatsSenate Intel head in the dark about Trump intelligence review DNI confirmation hearing expected on Senate return Intelligence business: Trump must keep privacy protections for US firms 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 BluntJudiciary Committee wants briefing, documents on Flynn resignation Intel Dem: House GOP now open to investigating Flynn Dems: 'Crazy' to trust GOP to investigate Flynn 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.

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Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsPruitt sworn in as EPA chief Comey meets Intel senators amid uproar over Trump-Russia ties EPA breaks Twitter silence to congratulate new head 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.