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 ConnollyBiden struggles to rein in Saudi Arabia amid human rights concerns Trump company in late-stage talks to sell DC hotel: report Trump Hotel lost more than M during presidency, say documents 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 RoyceBottom line Bottom line California was key factor in House GOP's 2020 success 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 EngelLawmakers pay tribute to Colin Powell NYC snafu the latest flub from a broken elections agency Cynthia Nixon backs primary challenger to Rep. Carolyn Maloney 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 TrumpTrump goes after Cassidy after saying he wouldn't support him for president in 2024 Jan. 6 panel lays out criminal contempt case against Bannon Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Agencies sound alarm over ransomware targeting agriculture groups 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 PutinEquilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Altria — Hot mic catches Queen criticizing 'irritating' climate inaction Putin directs sexist remark at US anchor Navalny, Afghan women among those under consideration for EU human rights prize 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 McCaulPentagon, State Department square off on Afghanistan accountability Mike Siegel: Potential McConaughey candidacy a 'sideshow' in Texas governor race Biden signs bill to help victims of 'Havana syndrome' 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 BurchettGOP's Banks burnishes brand with Pelosi veto House bill targets US passport backlog Lawmakers spend more on personal security in wake of insurrection 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 KinzingerKinzinger defends not supporting voting rights act: 'Democrats have to quit playing politics' Sunday shows preview: Supply chain crisis threaten holiday sales; uncertainty over whether US can sustain nationwide downward trend in COVID-19 cases Illinois Democrats propose new 'maximized' congressional map 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 McConnellOn The Money — Democrats tee up Senate spending battles with GOP The Memo: Powell ended up on losing side of GOP fight Treasury to use extraordinary measures despite debt ceiling hike 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.