Senator rails against 'masters of the universe' in cyber floor fight

Senator rails against 'masters of the universe' in cyber floor fight
© Greg Nash

A frustrated Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDems introduce bill requiring disclosure of guest logs from White House, Trump properties Sanders announces first staff hires in Iowa, New Hampshire McConnell works to freeze support for Dem campaign finance effort MORE (D-R.I.) on Wednesday railed against a Senate floor process that will likely prevent a vote on his amendment to a cybersecurity bill.

“I don’t know how I’m going to vote on this bill now,” Whitehouse said. “If you have a bipartisan amendment that was in the queue, that’s had a hearing and has Department of Justice support, and you can’t even get a vote on it, then something has gone wrong in this process.”

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The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act is intended to boost threat sharing between the federal government and the private sector. Action on the bill has been repeatedly stymied by privacy concerns.

Whitehouse vented his frustration about how the bill was finally being considered.

“For some reason, the masters of the universe have gone off and had a meeting and decided that this [amendment] was not going to be in the queue,” he said.

To speed movement on the long-stalled bill, Senate leaders agreed to attach eight of an overall 22 amendments previously negotiated for debate to a manager's package from bill sponsors Sens. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrGOP's Tillis comes under pressure for taking on Trump Warner says there are 'enormous amounts of evidence' suggesting Russia collusion McCarthy dismisses Democrat's plans: 'Show me where the president did anything to be impeached' MORE (R-N.C.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinGOP rep to introduce constitutional amendment to limit Supreme Court seats to 9 Senate Dems petition Saudi king to release dissidents, US citizen Court-packing becomes new litmus test on left MORE (D-Calif.).

Whitehouse’s amendment did not make the cut and is considered nongermane, meaning it is now extremely unlikely to get a vote.

On Tuesday, Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenCongress should take action to stop unfair taxation of the digital economy Trump officials take bold steps on Medicaid GOP steps up attack over tech bias claims MORE (D-Ore.) blocked attempts to set up a final vote on all the amendments and the bill on Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump blasts McCain, bemoans not getting 'thank you' for funeral GOP senator: Trump's criticism of McCain 'deplorable' McConnell calls McCain a 'rare patriot' and 'American hero' after Trump criticism MORE (R-Ky.) then filed cloture in an attempt to limit debate time on the bill.

Under Senate rules, in order for an amendment to be considered after cloture has been invoked, it has to be considered germane by the Senate parliamentarian — and Whitehouse’s amendment is not.

The senator's amendment would expand the penalties that prosecutors can seek for violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which prohibits accessing protected networks.

Critics say CFAA punishes low-level criminals and discourages legitimate security research from white-hat hackers. Under Whitehouse’s amendment, violators could face up to 20 years in prison for harming critical infrastructure.

Emphasizing that his amendment would protect critical infrastructure from terrorist activity and give the Department of Justice leverage to prosecute botnet brokers, Whitehouse insisted that the measure would have broad support.

“I think if that came to a vote, I think we would probably get 90 percent of this body,” Whitehouse said. “And yet I can’t get a vote!  

“I object to that procedure and I’m sorry that we’re at this stage and this point,” he added.

Whitehouse has some parliamentary options to bring the amendment to a vote still at his disposal but any attempt would likely be blocked by opponents of the provision.

Speaking after Whitehouse, Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperBiden's challenge: Satisfying the left Dems introduce bill requiring disclosure of guest logs from White House, Trump properties Lobbying world MORE (D-Del.) said that “there would be an opportunity to revisit” the measure in conference should the Senate pass the legislation.

— Cory Bennett contributed.

— Updated 9:53 p.m.