Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw

Election security legislation is hitting a wall on Capitol Hill despite special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout 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 TrumpOmar fires back at Trump over rally remarks: 'This is my country' Pelosi: Trump hurrying to fill SCOTUS seat so he can repeal ObamaCare Trump mocks Biden appearance, mask use ahead of first debate 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 DurbinTumultuous court battle upends fight for Senate McConnell focuses on confirming judicial nominees with COVID-19 talks stalled Senate Republicans signal openness to working with Biden 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 McConnellPelosi: Trump hurrying to fill SCOTUS seat so he can repeal ObamaCare Senate GOP aims to confirm Trump court pick by Oct. 29: report Trump argues full Supreme Court needed to settle potential election disputes 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 IngrahamEx-Pence aide: Trump spent 45 minutes of task force meeting 'going off on Tucker Carlson' instead of talking coronavirus Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs to be deposed in Seth Rich lawsuit: report NYC living statue shows Trump desecrating graves of war dead, COVID-19 victims 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 PelosiPelosi: Trump hurrying to fill SCOTUS seat so he can repeal ObamaCare House lawmakers reach deal to avert shutdown Centrist Democrats 'strongly considering' discharge petition on GOP PPP bill 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 WarnerIntelligence chief says Congress will get some in-person election security briefings Overnight Defense: Trump hosts Israel, UAE, Bahrain for historic signing l Air Force reveals it secretly built and flew new fighter jet l Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' House approves bill to secure internet-connected federal devices against cyber threats 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 BlackburnTaylor Swift on National Voter Registration Day: 'We need everyone' Democrats smell blood with new DHS whistleblower complaint Hillicon Valley: Election officials prepare for new Russian interference battle | 'Markeyverse' of online fans helps take down a Kennedy | GOP senators unveil bill to update tech liability protections 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 SchumerSenate Democrats introduce legislation to probe politicization of pandemic response Schumer interrupted during live briefing by heckler: 'Stop lying to the people' Jacobin editor: Primarying Schumer would force him to fight Trump's SCOTUS nominee MORE.”

The New York Times reported earlier this year that acting chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyMick Mulvaney to start hedge fund Fauci says positive White House task force reports don't always match what he hears on the ground Bottom line MORE warned former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenDHS IG won't investigate after watchdog said Wolf, Cuccinelli appointments violated law Appeals court sides with Trump over drawdown of immigrant protections Democrats smell blood with new DHS whistleblower complaint 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 RubioOvernight Defense: Pentagon redirects pandemic funding to defense contractors | US planning for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May | Anti-Trump GOP group puts ads in military papers Democrats step up hardball tactics as Supreme Court fight heats up Press: Notorious RBG vs Notorious GOP 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 HollenCongress must finish work on popular conservation bill before time runs out Democrats fear Russia interference could spoil bid to retake Senate Mid-Atlantic states sue EPA over Chesapeake Bay pollution 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 GrahamSenate GOP aims to confirm Trump court pick by Oct. 29: report The Hill's Campaign Report: GOP set to ask SCOTUS to limit mail-in voting Senate GOP sees early Supreme Court vote as political booster shot 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 LankfordMcConnell works to lock down GOP votes for coronavirus bill Charities scramble to plug revenue holes during pandemic Warren calls for Postal Service board members to fire DeJoy or resign MORE (R-Okla.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSocial media platforms put muscle into National Voter Registration Day Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight Sunday shows - Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death dominates 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 BurrRep. Mark Walker says he's been contacted about Liberty University vacancy Overnight Defense: Trump rejects major cut to military health care | Senate report says Trump campaign's Russia contacts posed 'grave' threat Senate report describes closer ties between 2016 Trump campaign, Russia 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 BluntSocial media platforms put muscle into National Voter Registration Day Senate GOP faces pivotal moment on pick for Supreme Court This week: Supreme Court fight over Ginsburg's seat upends Congress's agenda 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.