GOP links cyber fight to defense bill
© Getty Images

Senators are hoping to tie a cybersecurity bill to annual defense policy legislation in the wake of an online attack that compromised the information of millions of federal workers.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFeehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds McConnell urges Trump to voice support for Hong Kong protesters Key GOP senator: 'We need a breakthrough' on spending talks MORE (R-Ky.) tied cybersecurity to the National Defense Authorization Act on Tuesday, saying that “the national defense of the country is extremely important given the cyber attacks that occurred earlier this week.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“We’ll be doing both the NDAA, National Defense Authorization Act, and cybersecurity in the course of this debate,” the Republican leader told reporters.

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy North Carolina poised to pass new congressional maps Saagar Enjeti claims Pelosi's impeachment strategy could hurt 2020 Democrats MORE (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, offered the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, or CISA, as an amendment to the annual defense bill early Tuesday evening.

Burr’s amendment seeks to increase the public-private sharing of information on cyber threats.

Democrats quickly balked at the Republicans’ maneuver. Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSenate aides met with tax return whistleblower: report Democratic senators introduce bill to block funding for border wall live stream Booker, Sanders propose new federal agency to control drug prices MORE (D-Ore.) said Senate Republicans “are trying to make a bad defense bill worse by adding a flawed cybersecurity bill.”

“If Senator McConnell insists on attaching the flawed CISA bill to unrelated legislation, I will be fighting to ensure the Senate has a full debate and a chance to offer amendments to add vital protections for American privacy and address the threats to our cybersecurity,” he said in a statement.

Burr quickly defended his bill against accusations that it would risk compromising privacy, saying it would address threats while also working to "ensure the personal privacy of all Americans." 

"We can no longer simply watch Americans’ personal information continue to be compromised. This bill is long needed and will help us combat threats to our country and our economy," he said in a statement.

Senators also unanimously passed on Tuesday evening an amendment to the defense policy bill that would require the Defense Department to develop a plan requiring Cyber Command, a component of the military, to aid in responding to cyber attacks by foreign powers against the United States or U.S. citizens.

The amendment, by Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), would require that the plan detail any actions required by Congress or the administration, what role the military, as well state, local, and federal governments would need to play, and how to coordinate across agencies and levels of government.

The Senate also passed an amendment to the defense bill from Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranSenate Democrats unveil priorities for federal privacy bill Microsoft embraces California law, shaking up privacy debate It's time for Congress to establish a national mental health crisis number MORE (R-Kansas) that requests that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter review any recommendations from the Council of Governors on the military’s cyber forces, as well as any proposals on better synchronizing cyber capabilities across the military.

The moves come after the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced last week that a hack had resulted in the theft of 4 million current and former employees’ records.

McConnell said Tuesday that the legislation “might or might not deal with every aspect of what apparently happened a few days ago, but Congress is going to act on cybersecurity on this bill in the very near future.”

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyMichelle Obama presents Lin-Manuel Miranda with National Portrait Award Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry MORE (D-Vt.) said the cyber bill "should not be considered as a last-minute amendment" to the Senate's defense bill, which has a closed committee process.
 
“The Intelligence Committee’s information sharing bill will affect the privacy rights of all Americans, yet it has been cloaked in secrecy," he said in a statement.  "I am deeply concerned that the Republican Leader now wants the Senate to pass this information sharing bill without any opportunity for the kind of public debate it needs.” 
 
- Updated at 6:45 p.m.