This week: Senate returns amid post-election uncertainty
GOP blocks election security bills after Mueller testimony
Senate Republicans blocked two election security bills and a cybersecurity measure on Wednesday in the wake of former special counsel Robert Mueller warning about meddling attempts during his public testimony before congressional lawmakers.
Democrats tried to get consent to pass two bills that would require campaigns to alert the FBI and Federal Election Commission about foreign offers of assistance, as well as a bill to let the Senate Sergeant at Arms offer voluntary cyber assistance for personal devices and accounts of senators and staff.
But Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) blocked each of the bills. She didn't give reason for her objections, or say if she was objecting on behalf of herself or the Senate GOP caucus.
Hyde-Smith, in a tweet on Thursday, accused Democrats of trying to pass "partisan" bills that had previously been blocked on the Senate floor.
"Senate Democrats try to push partisan election bills without going through regular order right after the House hearings w/Mueller. Coincidence? Nope. Just more political theater instead of working together to secure US elections," she tweeted.
Under Senate rules, any one senator can ask for consent to pass a bill, but any one senator is able to object.
The floor drama comes after Mueller warned about election interference during his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, saying Russia was laying the groundwork to interfere in the 2020 election "as we sit here."
"We are expecting them to do it again during the next campaign," Mueller said.
But election interference bills face an uphill climb in the Senate, where Republicans aren't expected to move legislation through the Rules Committee, the panel with primary jurisdiction, and have warned about attempts to "federalize" elections.
Democrats cited Mueller as they tried to get consent on Wednesday evening to pass their bills.
"Mr. Mueller's testimony should serve as a warning to every member of this body about what could happen in 2020, literally in our next elections," said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
He added that "unfortunately, in the nearly three years since we uncovered Russia's attack on our democracy, this body has not held a single vote on stand-alone legislation to protect our elections."
Warner tried to get consent to pass the Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections Act by unanimous consent. Under Warner's bill, campaign officials would have to report contacts with foreign nationals who are trying to make campaign donations or coordinate with the campaign to the Federal Election Commission, which would in turn notify the FBI.
"If a foreign adversary tries to offer assistance to your campaign, your response should not be 'thank you.' Your response should be a moral obligation to tell the FBI," he said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) tried to get consent to pass similar legislation that would require candidates, campaign officials and their family members to notify the FBI of assistance offers.
"It differs in some technical aspects [from the Warner bill] ... but it is the same idea because it codifies into law what is already a moral duty, a patriotic duty and basic common sense," Blumenthal said.
Hyde-Smith also objected to Blumenthal's bill.
She objected a third time when Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) tried to get consent to pass legislation he crafted with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) that would allow the Senate Sergeant at Arms to provide voluntary cybersecurity assistance for personal accounts and devices of senators and staff.
"I don't see how anyone can consider what I have proposed to be a partisan issue," Wyden said.
This story was updated on July 25 at 5:48 p.m.