House panel advances bill to protect elections from foreign interference

House panel advances bill to protect elections from foreign interference
© Greg Nash

The House Foreign Affairs Committee advanced legislation on Wednesday intended to safeguard elections from foreign interference, sending it to the House floor for a vote following a heated debate among lawmakers over the bill.

The Safeguard Our Elections and Combat Unlawful Interference in Our Democracy Act, or the SECURE Our Democracy Act, was approved by voice vote after an hour of back-and-forth between committee members regarding the scope of the bill. 

The legislation is meant to “expose and deter unlawful and subversive foreign interference” in elections. It would require the State Department to submit to Congress a list of persons prior to 2015 who were involved in interfering in U.S. elections. Those included on the list will be banned from entering the U.S. and from obtaining a visa, and it would revoke visas already issued for persons on the list.

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A major topic of contention was whether the bill would apply to foreign actors who interfered in the 2016 presidential election, with Republicans proposing an amendment that would have applied the measures only to those who interfere in future U.S. elections. That measure was voted down by the Democratic majority.

Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyCongress must enact a plan to keep government workers safe Trump's postmaster general is playing with political fire USAID appointee alleges 'rampant anti-Christian sentiment' at agency MORE (D-Va.), one of the sponsors of the overall bill, strongly pushed back against this proposed amendment, accusing Republican committee members of trying to “whitewash” what occurred during the 2016 presidential election.

The bill was previously introduced during the last Congress, with Connolly claiming that he and other sponsors had been told by former committee Chairman Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceGil Cisneros to face Young Kim in rematch of 2018 House race in California The most expensive congressional races of the last decade Mystery surrounds elusive sanctions on Russia MORE (R-Calif.) that the panel would consider it, but only if the bill’s language was changed to only address future elections.

Connolly and other sponsors refused this offer, with Connolly emphasizing that “if we don’t learn from the past, we are condemned to repeat our mistakes. We have to acknowledge what happened in 2016."

Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Esper confirms plans to drop below 5,000 troops in Afghanistan | State Department says it's cleared of wrongdoing in emergency arms sales before investigation's release State says it will be cleared by watchdog report US 'deeply concerned' over election in Belarus MORE (D-N.Y.), another sponsor of the bill, said the legislation was necessary because the Trump administration has not done enough to secure elections against foreign interference, saying President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrat calls on White House to withdraw ambassador to Belarus nominee TikTok collected data from mobile devices to track Android users: report Peterson wins Minnesota House primary in crucial swing district MORE was not “taking the problem seriously.”

“I think not enough has been done to punish those who stuck their noses in our elections in 2016,” Engel said. “The response so far simply doesn’t fit the crime, and every time the president is pressed on the issue, he shrugs it off.”

Engel cited Trump’s interaction with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinFauci: 'I seriously doubt' Russia's coronavirus vaccine is safe and effective Overnight Health Care: Russia claims it has coronavirus vaccine amid skepticism | Trump announces deal with Moderna for vaccine doses | Most states facing shortage of ICU doctors: research CNBC's Jim Cramer on 'Chernobyl II' Russian coronavirus vaccine: 'I'm gonna pass' MORE last month at the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Japan as an example of Trump not being focused on election security, with Trump grinning at Putin and telling him to not "meddle in the elections, please.”

Committee ranking member Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulUS 'deeply concerned' over election in Belarus The Global Fragility Act provides the tools to address long-term impacts of COVID House Republicans introduce legislation to give states 0 million for elections MORE (R-Texas) opposed the legislation due to it “seeming to ignore the substantial actions taken by both Congress and the administration, not to mention the millions of dollars spent investigating Russian interference” stemming from the 2016 elections.

Rep. Tim BurchettTimothy (Tim) Floyd BurchettCongress should encourage businesses, schools to reopen safely with liability protections Tennessee lawmaker tweets cellphone number, offers to talk to anyone 'overwhelmed' by pandemic House Republican: Tariffs are 'only way' to change US-China relationship MORE (R-Tenn.) said that by passing the bill, the committee would “send a message” to civil servants in the Department of Justice and in the Trump administration that the work done to bring indictments against those who interfered in the 2016 elections was “insufficient and half-hearted.”

One committee Republican cited the need for more to be done by the panel to address foreign interference in elections, with Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerLegal experts blast Trump floating election delay FEC commissioner to Trump: 'No. You don't have the power to move the election' GOP lawmaker says he will oppose any attempts to delay election MORE (R-Ill.) saying he “unfortunately” opposed the Republican amendment that would have meant the bill only applied to future elections. 

“I feel like we have not done enough to recognize the reality of what exists, and the more messages we can send, the stronger and the more bipartisan we can send those messages, the more that we can prevent this from happening in the future,” Kinzinger said. 

While the Democrat-controlled House is likely to pass the legislation if brought up on the floor, it will likely fail in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell warns control of Senate 'could go either way' in November On The Money: McConnell says it's time to restart coronavirus talks | New report finds majority of Americans support merger moratorium | Corporate bankruptcies on pace for 10-year high McConnell: Time to restart coronavirus talks MORE (R-Ky.) has refused to bring up election security legislation citing concerns around federalizing elections and that agencies have appropriate resources to address the risks.