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 Connolly'Liberated' Pelosi bashes Trump — and woos Democratic base Trump's best week ever? Trump set to confront his impeachment foes 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 RoyceThe most expensive congressional races of the last decade Mystery surrounds elusive sanctions on Russia Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp 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: Army says it isn't investigating Vindman | White House outlines legal justification for Soleimani strike | Service member dies in Africa Trump administration outlines legal justification for Soleimani strike Pompeo to testify on Iran in February 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 TrumpAdvisor: Sanders could beat Trump in Texas Bloomberg rips Sanders over Castro comments What coronavirus teaches us for preventing the next big bio threat 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 PutinBloomberg rips Sanders over Castro comments Glenn Greenwald: Interference from the national intelligence community is more dangerous than whatever Putin may be trying online Sanders: 'Unfair to simply say everything is bad' in Cuba under Castro 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 McCaulGun control group plans to spend million in Texas in 2020 Pelosi joins pressure campaign on Huawei Hillicon Valley: Judge approves T-Mobile, Sprint merger | FTC to review past Big Tech deals | State officials ask for more cybersecurity help | House nears draft bill on self-driving cars 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 BurchettHouse Republican: Tariffs are 'only way' to change US-China relationship GOP lawmaker on Iran tensions: Military should always be 'the last option' The Hill's Morning Report - Giuliani subpoenaed as Trump rages against Schiff, whistleblower 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 KinzingerBlagojevich calls himself a 'Trumpocrat,' praises Trump after release from prison Sanders slams Trump pardons as part of 'broken and racist criminal justice system' Illinois GOP House delegation blasts Blagojevich commutation: 'The face of public corruption' 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 McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders's momentum puts Democrats on edge House Freedom Caucus chairman endorses Collins's Georgia Senate bid This week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime 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.