Democrats detail new strategy to pressure McConnell on election security bills
© Aaron Schwartz

Democrats are trying to increase pressure on Majority Leader Mitch Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial On The Money: Pelosi, Trump tout deal on new NAFTA | McConnell says no trade vote until impeachment trial wraps up | Lawmakers push spending deadline to Thursday McConnell: Senate impeachment trial will begin in January MORE (R-Ky.) to move election security bills, as the issue has remained at a stalemate in the Senate for months.  

Senate Democrats dedicated their weekly press conference to talking up their new strategy to try to force the GOP leader's hand, including plans to force votes either as part of a mammoth defense bill or as stand-alone legislation on the Senate floor. 

"Leader McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate have a simple choice. They can continue to ignore the problem, do nothing … while our democracy is under threat or they can join us and get serious about securing our elections. We will keep pushing Leader McConnell to act and secure elections," Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerKrystal Ball: Is this how Bernie Sanders will break the establishment? TikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments MORE (D-N.Y.) said.

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Schumer was flanked by Sens. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Watchdog report finds FBI not motivated by political bias in Trump probe Ex-Rep. Scott Taylor to seek old Virginia seat MORE (D-Va.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinHillicon Valley: Apple, Facebook defend encryption during Senate grilling | Tech legal shield makes it into trade deal | Impeachment controversy over phone records heats up | TikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings Apple, Facebook defend encryption during Senate grilling Houston police chief excoriates McConnell, Cornyn and Cruz on gun violence MORE (D-Calif.), the top Democrats on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, respectively, as well as Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Biden narrowly ahead in Iowa as Sanders surges, Warren drops: poll Overnight Defense: Dems unveil impeachment articles against Trump | Saudi military flight students grounded after shooting | Defense bill takes heat from progressives | Pentagon watchdog to probe use of personnel on border MORE (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who have worked on election security legislation.

The press conference was the second Schumer held on Tuesday to press the need for legislation. He also talked to reporters about next steps for his caucus earlier Tuesday morning.

The Senate Democratic strategy includes three prongs: Trying to get stand alone votes on the Senate floor, including election security bills in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and boosting election security funding as part of budget and appropriations talks.

"We're elevating it as you can see now," Schumer told reporters during the weekly leadership press conference." We're getting hearings. We're moving forward."

Blumenthal told reporters that he would try to get consent to add his Duty to Report Act to the NDAA, which would require campaigns alert the Federal Election Commission and the FBI if a foreign national tried to make an illegal contribution to a campaign.

"The reason we introduced this legislation … was the findings that were emerging from the Mueller investigation about the Trump campaign happily accepting and welcoming this kind of illegal information," Blumenthal said.

Klobuchar also wants to attach the Election Security Act of 2019 to the NDAA as an amendment. But the effort faces an uphill climb amid pushback from the White House, as well as a pledge from GOP leadership that they will not move election security legislation.

"It's very straightforward. It says back up paper ballots in every single state," Klobuchar told reporters. "If we have a close election in the general election in a presidential race and one state is out withstanding and their ballot box, their elections get hacked into we will have absolutely no back ups."

The push to attach election security legislation to the defense bill comes after two aides told The Hill on Friday that Klobuchar and Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordTrump to sign order penalizing colleges over perceived anti-Semitism on campus: report Trump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Israeli, Palestinian business leaders seek Trump boost for investment project MORE (R-Okla.) were still negotiating on a new version of the Secure Elections Act. Lankford has been in talks with the White House about the bill after opposition from the administration and GOP senators sunk the legislation during the previous Congress.

Klobuchar has also introduced legislation, known as the Honest Ads Act, that would require public disclosure of who is paying for internet and social media campaign ads, making them similar to ads for radio, television and print.

Klobuchar said on Tuesday that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' Hillicon Valley: Apple, Facebook defend encryption during Senate grilling | Tech legal shield makes it into trade deal | Impeachment controversy over phone records heats up | TikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings MORE (R-S.C.) has agreed to hold a hearing on the legislation. A spokesperson for Graham didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The renewed effort by Senate Democrats to pass election security legislation comes after special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE's report detailing Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

Trump also suggested during an ABC News interview last week that he was open to accepting information from a foreign government about his political opponents, sparking fears from Democrats that he was inviting further interference.

House Democrats passed a sweeping election and ethics reform bill earlier this year and are preparing to pass a new package of bills in an attempt to increase pressure on Senate Republicans to act.

But the legislation is likely to hit a wall in the GOP-controlled Senate. Though some GOP senators, including Graham and Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrGOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties North Carolina congressman says he won't seek reelection after redistricting Senate passes bipartisan bill to permanently fund historically black colleges MORE (R-N.C.), back addition legislation, it's been met with a cold reception from leadership. Rules Committee Chairman Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Senate braces for brawl on Trump impeachment rules Trump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans MORE (R-Mo.) says his panel will not mark up legislation.

Warner tried to pass legislation last week that would require campaigns to report contacts from foreign nationals to the FBI but was blocked by Sen. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnTikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Lawsuits pose new challenge for TikTok TikTok's leader to meet with lawmakers next week MORE (R-Tenn.). Trump later praised Blackburn in a tweet for "fighting obstructionist Democrats led by Cryin' Chuck Schumer.”

McConnell didn't rule out taking up legislation during a Fox News interview last week, but warned that he won't support legislation that took away control of elections from state and local governments.

“I’m open to considering legislation, but it has to be directed in a way that doesn’t undermine state and local control of elections. The Democrats … would like to nationalize everything. They want the federal government to take over broad swaths of the election process because they think that would somehow benefit them,” McConnell said.