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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 WhitehouseDemocrats seek answers on impact of Russian cyberattack on Justice Department, Courts Senate Democrats file ethics complaint against Hawley, Cruz over Capitol attack Democrats seize on GOP donor fallout 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 BurrOn The Money: Biden extends eviction moratorium, student loan forbearance | Stocks hit record highs on Biden's first day as president | Justice Dept. closes insider trading case against Burr The Hill's Morning Report - President Biden, Vice President Harris begin work today Justice Dept. closes insider trading case against Burr without charges MORE (R-N.C.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinHillicon Valley: Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says | Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian hack on DOJ, courts | Airbnb offers Biden administration help with vaccine distribution Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian cyberattack on Justice Department, Courts Schumer becomes new Senate majority leader 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 WydenHillicon Valley: Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says | Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian hack on DOJ, courts | Airbnb offers Biden administration help with vaccine distribution Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says Senate panel unanimously advances Yellen nomination for Treasury 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 impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 Democrats float 14th Amendment to bar Trump from office Biden signals he's willing to delay Trump trial 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 CarperSenators vet Mayorkas to take lead at DHS Senate majority offers Biden new avenues on Trump environmental rollbacks OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate majority offers Biden new avenues on Trump environmental rollbacks | Democrats eye action on range of climate bills | Biden pushing to cancel Keystone XL pipeline as soon as he takes office: reports 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.