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Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw

Election security legislation is hitting a wall on Capitol Hill despite special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump 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 TrumpSouth Carolina Senate adds firing squad as alternative execution method Ex-Trump aide Pierson won't run for Dallas-area House seat House Oversight panel reissues subpoena for Trump's accounting firm 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 coronavirus relief bill tests narrow Democratic majority Hillicon Valley: Senate confirms Biden Commerce secretary pick Gina Raimondo | Wray hints at federal response to SolarWinds hack | Virginia governor signs comprehensive data privacy law Wray hints at federal response to SolarWinds hack 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 McConnellTanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief Boehner book jacket teases slams against Cruz, Trump Gun violence prevention groups optimistic background check legislation can pass this Congress 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 IngrahamHaley isolated after Trump fallout Tucker Carlson to produce video podcasts for Fox Nation Rush Limbaugh dead at 70 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 PelosiBiden coronavirus relief bill tests narrow Democratic majority Some Republicans say proxy voting gives advantage to Democrats Gun violence prevention groups optimistic background check legislation can pass this Congress 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 WarnerSenate Democrats offer fresh support for embattled Tanden The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump teases on 2024 run Sunday shows - Trump's reemergence, COVID-19 vaccines and variants dominate 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 BlackburnJudiciary Committee greenlights Garland's AG nomination Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers 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 SchumerA Biden stumble on China? First Black secretary of Senate sworn in Republican Ohio Senate candidate calls on GOP rep to resign over impeachment vote MORE.”

The New York Times reported earlier this year that acting chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyOMB nominee gets hearing on Feb. 9 Republicans now 'shocked, shocked' that there's a deficit Financial firms brace for Biden's consumer agency chief MORE warned former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenLeft-leaning group to track which companies hire former top Trump aides Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' House Republican condemns anti-Trump celebrities during impeachment hearing 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 question Amazon on removal of book about 'transgender moment' CPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be Watch live: Day 2 at CPAC 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 HollenMenendez reintroduces corporate diversity bill LIVE COVERAGE: Senate set to consider Garland for AG Plaskett quips male lawmakers 'would not have their wives in one attempt talking to her' during impeachment trial 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 GrahamTanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief FBI director faces lawmaker frustration over Capitol breach Juan Williams: Hypocrisy runs riot in GOP 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 LankfordCPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be Republicans see Becerra as next target in confirmation wars Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March MORE (R-Okla.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharBill introduced to create RBG monument on Capitol Hill Lawmakers offer gun control bill to end 'boyfriend loophole' Juan Williams: Hypocrisy runs riot in GOP 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 BurrChamber of Commerce labels Biden removal of NLRB general counsel 'extreme' Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote Senators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence 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 BluntPadilla has 'big Chuck Taylors to fill' in replacing Harris Partisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy 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.