Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw

Election security legislation is hitting a wall on Capitol Hill despite special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' MORE's 448-page report detailing Russia’s attempts to interfere with the nation’s last presidential contest.

The standoff is frustrating Democrats, who say President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE’s remarks to ABC News that he would be open to accepting information on a political opponent invited more interference in the next election.

“I can’t believe Senator McConnell is not entertaining election security measures right now. ... We don’t have a lot of time left,” said Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Democratic senators introduce bill to push ICE to stop 'overuse' of solitary confinement Pentagon watchdog declines to investigate hold on Ukraine aid MORE (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat.

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The House passed a sweeping ethics and election reform bill that includes a paper ballot requirement and early voting standards. It also includes unrelated issues like tightening campaign finance laws, requiring a president and vice president to release their tax returns, and tapping independent commissions to draw redistricting maps. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy On The Money: Trump asks Supreme Court to block Dem subpoena for financial records | Kudlow 'very optimistic' for new NAFTA deal | House passes Ex-Im Bank bill opposed by Trump, McConnell Top House Democrats ask for review of DHS appointments MORE (R-Ky.) has vowed that it won't get a vote, referring to it as the “Democratic Politician Protection Act.” 

McConnell argued during an interview with Fox News’s Laura IngrahamLaura Anne IngrahamSessions vows to 'work for' Trump endorsement Biden town hall on CNN finishes third in cable news race Ex-Virginia governor rips Laura Ingraham's 'racist kind of talk' about state demographics MORE that he cared about election security but that the Senate wouldn’t be taking up legislation that tried to take oversight of elections away 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. “Election security I do care about, but we need to make sure the subject is election security.”

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiLouisiana governor wins re-election Dynamic scoring: Forward-thinking budgeting practices to grow our economy Pelosi: Trump tweets on Yovanovitch show his 'insecurity as an imposter' MORE (D-Calif.) announced in the wake of Trump’s comments that House Democrats will move a new package of election security bills, arguing the president has been "so cavalier to disregard, to be indifferent to law and any sense of ethics about who we are as a country to say he would invite foreign interventions."

The package, according to Pelosi, will include legislation that requires campaigns to report contact from foreign nationals to the FBI, requires states to use paper ballots and closes "foreign money loopholes."

The House Intelligence Committee is also expected to consider “targeted” legislation that would seek to counter Russian interference. And House Democrats are looking at sharpening language about what qualifies as a “thing of value.” Campaigns are currently barred from accepting money or some “other thing of value” from foreign nationals.

But those bills are unlikely to be taken up in the Senate.

Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day Microsoft embraces California law, shaking up privacy debate Google sparks new privacy fears over health care data MORE (D-Va.) tried to pass legislation this week to require a campaign to contact the Federal Election Commission and the FBI about attempts by foreign nationals to influence an election, including trying to make campaign donations or coordinate with the campaign.

But he was blocked by Sen. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnTrump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising On The Money: US paid record .1B in tariffs in September | Dems ramp up oversight of 'opportunity zones' | Judge hints at letting House lawsuit over Trump tax returns proceed MORE (R-Tenn.), who argued the bill was overly broad. She added in a follow-up statement that the effort to pass the bill by unanimous consent was a “blatant political stunt.”

The Senate will have an all-members briefing on election security, McConnell confirmed during a weekly press conference this week. But he sidestepped a question about whether the Senate will take up legislation. A spokesman said Friday that he didn’t have any announcements on that front.

Trying to bring up legislation could spark backlash from Trump, who praised Blackburn on Friday “for fighting obstructionist Democrats led by Cryin' Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary Schumer blocks drug pricing measure during Senate fight, seeking larger action MORE.”

The New York Times reported earlier this year that acting chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyNew witness claims firsthand account of Trump's push for Ukraine probes Trump files to dismiss lawsuit from Bolton aide on impeachment testimony OMB official to testify in impeachment probe if subpoenaed after others refused MORE warned former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenWhite House backs Stephen Miller amid white nationalist allegations Top House Democrats ask for review of DHS appointments Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary MORE not to brief Trump on possible interference in the upcoming election. Another official told CNN that it was like "pulling teeth" to try to get the White House to gear up for potential interference in the 2020 election.

But several Republican senators have backed moving legislation to bolster the country’s election infrastructure, prevent future meddling or penalize interference attempts.

“I would hope we as we get closer to the election cycle — I mean, we need to do it irrespective of 2016,” said Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump Paul's demand to out whistleblower rankles GOP colleagues MORE (R-Fla.) in response to a question about the likelihood that the Senate takes up legislation. “We’ve got to go after the tactics.”

Rubio and Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Senate Foreign Relations chair: 'Best' not to pass Turkey sanctions bill 'at this moment' On The Money: Retirement savings bill blocked in Senate after fight over amendments | Stopgap bill may set up December spending fight | Hardwood industry pleads for relief from Trump trade war MORE (D-Md.) have legislation that would slap sanctions on Russia if it interferes in future elections and outlines actions any foreign government or foreign actor could take that would “elicit retaliation” from the United States. But the bill has been stuck in limbo, and Rubio told The Hill he had not seen any movement on the legislation.

The Senate has passed smaller measures such as the DETER, or Defending Elections against Trolls from Enemy Regimes, Act by Durbin and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse Johnson opens door to subpoenaing whistleblower, Schiff, Bidens MORE (R-S.C.) earlier this month. The Senate Judiciary Committee also passed legislation that would make it a federal crime to hack any voting system used in a federal election, but the bill hasn’t yet been called up on the floor.

Sens. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordSenate GOP waves Trump off early motion to dismiss impeachment charges On The Money: Lawmakers dismiss fears of another shutdown | Income for poorest Americans fell faster than thought | Net employment holds steady in September | Groups press Senate on retirement bill Lawmakers dismiss fresh fears of another government shutdown MORE (R-Okla.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Election 2020: Why I'm watching Amy and Andy 2020 Democrats demand action on guns after Santa Clarita shooting MORE (D-Minn.) are expected to reintroduce the Secure Elections Act, though two aides said Friday that they are still negotiating changes to the legislation.

Lankford, who has been consulting the White House, indicated late last month that the new version of the bill wouldn’t include funding for states to improve their election security practices but will require all jurisdictions to implement audits if they want future funding.

The White House’s opposition tanked the bill during the last Congress when it was abruptly pulled from a Rules Committee markup over GOP pushback.

Lankford’s legislation has split Senate Republicans, with Graham and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy North Carolina poised to pass new congressional maps Saagar Enjeti claims Pelosi's impeachment strategy could hurt 2020 Democrats MORE (R-N.C.) supporting it, even amid pushback from leadership. Lankford appeared to draw a hard line between his bill and legislation that would extend federal control of elections.

“There's no reason for the federal government to tell each state how to do their local elections, but we do need to encourage those states to have a system that they can go back and audit and verify,” he said.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Overnight Health Care: Cigarette smoking rates at new low | Spread of vaping illness slowing | Dems in Congress push to block Trump abortion rule GOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial MORE (R-Mo.), the chairman of the Rules Committee, said during a hearing this year that he did not plan to mark up any election security legislation because “I think the majority leader just is of the view that this debate reaches no conclusion.”

He reiterated when asked about Lankford’s plan to reintroduce his bill that “I don’t have anything new to say about that."

“I don’t think there is any likelihood that we are going to move a bill that federalizes more of the election process,” Blunt added. “Our focus will be on being sure that we are supporting the state and local governments that have run and will be the best people to run elections.”

Mike Lillis contributed.