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Democrats detail new strategy to pressure McConnell on election security bills

Democrats are trying to increase pressure on Majority Leader Mitch Mitch McConnell (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 Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

Schumer was flanked by Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrats on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, respectively, as well as Sens. Amy Klobuchar (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 Lankford (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 Graham (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 Mueller'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 Burr (R-N.C.), back addition legislation, it's been met with a cold reception from leadership. Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (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 Blackburn (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.