GOP senator disputes claims that White House sought to block election security bill

Anna Moneymaker

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) is pushing back on an assertion by a Democratic senator that the White House sought to block legislative action on a bill designed to protect U.S. election systems from cyberattacks.

“The White House was pretty clear with me yesterday at the end of the day: ‘That was not us trying to kill this,'” Lankford told reporters Thursday, noting that he spoke “directly” with the administration about a bill he introduced with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

“Now there are issues that may come up that they are going to raise, but the White House did not have any kind of official statement,” he added. “They didn’t come to us and say, ‘We are going to try to be able to kill this.'”

His remarks come amid claims that the administration sought to block the bill from moving forward.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Thursday said the White House canceled a Senate Rules Committee markup of the bill scheduled for Wednesday because they didn’t like the bill.

“The hearing was canceled on this bill because the White House weighed in and said they don’t want it,” Merkley said on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”

I want the White House to say that if Russia continues and messes around with our 2018 election, there will be enormous bipartisan efforts,” he added.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Klobuchar, the top Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee, indicated that the delay is from a lack of Republican support.

“I want to thank all Democratic members of the Committee for supporting the bill,” she said in a Wednesday statement after the markup was postponed. “For everyone else who delayed this action today, I hope that you will listen to the clarion cry of our intelligence community and continue to work with us and reschedule the markup and pass the bill into law.”

She noted that two Republicans — Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Lankford — tried “valiantly” to salvage the votes for this bill.

Lankford, however, indicated that the problem boiled down to pushback over word choice, noting that a lot of people want their say on this matter.

We are still trying to finish up some final things on words and phrases,” Lankford said on Thursday. “There are some people who will look at one word and say a court could interpret this one word this way or maybe this could be misunderstood, so now it is fighting over those. Quite frankly, that is not a bad sign always, because that means people are serious about this becoming a law.”

Lawmakers have clashed over the degree to which the federal government should play when it comes to state elections.

The Secure Elections Act, which has a companion measure in the House, aims to improve information sharing between state and federal officials to combat cyber threats to U.S. elections. The bill is a direct response to attempts by Russian hackers to target state websites and other electoral systems in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

Tags Amy Klobuchar James Lankford Jeff Merkley Roy Blunt

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