Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw

Election security legislation is hitting a wall on Capitol Hill despite special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel 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 TrumpMyPillow CEO to pull ads from Fox News Haaland, Native American leaders press for Indigenous land protections Simone Biles, Vince Lombardi and the courage to walk away 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 DurbinDick DurbinBiden backs effort to include immigration in budget package Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report GOP, Democrats battle over masks in House, Senate 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 McConnellAn August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done After police rip Trump for Jan. 6, McCarthy again blames Pelosi The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands 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 IngrahamPsaki says Biden admin 'needs' Fox News in order to fight vaccine misinformation Biden walks fine line with Fox News Biden pokes at Fox hosts: They've had 'altar call' on vaccines 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 PelosiCapitol riot defendants have started a jail newsletter: report On The Money: Biden asks Congress to extend eviction ban with days until expiration | Economic growth rose to 6.5 percent annual rate in second quarter Top Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure 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 WarnerDemocrats join GOP in pressuring Biden over China, virus origins Senators say they have deal on 'major issues' in infrastructure talks On The Money: Senate infrastructure talks on shaky grounds | Trump tells Republicans to walk away | GOP sees debt ceiling as its leverage against Biden 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 BlackburnBiden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on Biden's misinformation crackdown spotlights partisan divide on content reform White House looks to cool battle with Facebook 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 SchumerChuck SchumerAn August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Schumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy MORE.”

The New York Times reported earlier this year that acting chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyHeadhunters having hard time finding jobs for former Trump officials: report Trump holdovers are denying Social Security benefits to the hardest working Americans Mulvaney calls Trump's comments on Capitol riot 'manifestly false' MORE warned former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenEx-Trump official: 'No. 1 national security threat I've ever seen' is GOP Left-leaning group to track which companies hire former top Trump aides Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' 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 RubioBreak glass in case of emergency — but not for climate change Democrats join GOP in pressuring Biden over China, virus origins Senators introduce bipartisan bill to expand foreign aid partnerships 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 HollenSenate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Civil rights activist Gloria Richardson dies Senate Democrats hit speedbumps with big spending plans 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 GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill 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 LankfordAbbott slams Ben & Jerry's for Palestine support: 'Disgraceful' Democrat stalls Biden's border nominee Republican calls on Oklahoma to ban Ben & Jerry's MORE (R-Okla.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharBill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol Overnight Health Care: CDC advises vaccinated to wear masks in high-risk areas | Biden admin considering vaccine mandate for federal workers Four senators call on Becerra to back importation of prescription drugs from Canada 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 BurrThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal 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 BluntFormer Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon passes on Senate campaign The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators 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.