Senators struggling to reach 11th-hour cyber deal

Senators struggling to reach 11th-hour cyber deal
© Greg Nash

The Senate is on the verge of punting again on a long-stalled cybersecurity bill that supporters say is needed to bolster the nation’s failing digital defenses.

According to several people with knowledge of the negotiations, senators are struggling to reach a deal to restrict floor debate and swiftly move the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) — intended to boost the sharing of data on hackers between the public and private sectors — before the Senate’s monthlong August recess.

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While Democrats had apparently settled on a list of roughly a dozen amendments as of Tuesday afternoon, Republicans were still working Tuesday evening to determine which amendments they wanted to see the light of day. But multiple people also indicated that those on the far left might not be satisfied with the final Democratic slate of amendments, throwing another potential wrench into an ultimate deal.

With recess rapidly approaching at the end of the week, the two sides likely need to come to an agreement before early Wednesday in order to overcome procedural hurdles and get to a final vote before senators depart Washington.

Despite bipartisan support, a White House endorsement and industry backing, CISA has seen no movement in the upper chamber amid a packed schedule and ongoing debate over digital privacy.

While supporters argue enhancing cyber-threat information sharing is a necessity to better understand and repel potential cyberattacks, privacy groups believe CISA will simply funnel more sensitive data on American citizens to government intelligence agencies.

Some on the left have blamed the failure to strike an accord on the GOP’s inability to get its own house in order. They say party leaders are struggling to balance the desires of the libertarian wing, such as Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThe buck stops here: How to restore accountability to the federal regulatory system Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Lawyer: Flynn will keep cooperating after co-conspirator revelations MORE (R-Ky.), with the goals of others in the party, such as Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP put on the back foot by Trump's race storm GOP senator: 'Outrageous' to say Trump's tweets about Democratic congresswomen are racist Fox personalities blast Trump's remarks MORE (R-Maine).

While Paul is attempting to tie a number of divisive issues to the cyber bill — including a measure to limit federal funding for immigration “sanctuary cities” and an amendment to audit the Federal Reserve — Collins wants to attach a bipartisan bill she recently introduced with six senators, that would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) greater authority to protect the government's networks from hackers.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has also accused his counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), of playing politics with the issue.

“It appears to me this is an effort just to stall and stall so Senator McConnell can come out and say, ‘See, they killed cyber,’” Reid told reporters Tuesday.

But Republicans have fired back, bashing Democrats for rejecting an offer from McConnell on Tuesday. The deal would have let each side offer 10 amendments before moving to a final vote on CISA, which is what Democrats claim they want, according to those on the right.

On the floor Tuesday, McConnell called his deal “a good and fair start that exceeds the request from our friends across the aisle.”

“We know we’ve got a short window here,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “Obviously nothing happens around here without cooperation, and we’re looking for that.”