Senate panel advances Trump nominees for election agency

The Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday voted to advance two of President TrumpDonald John TrumpAverage tax refunds down double-digits, IRS data shows White House warns Maduro as Venezuela orders partial closure of border with Colombia Trump administration directs 1,000 more troops to Mexican border MORE’s nominees to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), giving the small federal agency a chance of reaching a quorum for the first time since March.

During a meeting that lasted roughly a minute, the senators voted in favor of adding Donald Palmer and Benjamin Hovland to the commission, which was created by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to help state and local officials administer elections.


If approved by the full Senate, Palmer and Hovland — both former election officials — would bring the agency up from two to four commissioners.

The EAC has been down to two commissioners — one short of a quorum — since March, when former commissioner Matt Masterson’s term expired. He has since joined the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), where he has worked on election security issues.

Officials at the agency have pointed to the small number of commissioners as holding the EAC back in its ability to help election officials, as it cannot take on major policy moves without at least three commissioners.

Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate plots to avoid fall shutdown brawl ‘Contingency’ spending in 3B budget deal comes under fire GOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration MORE (R-Mo.) told reporters after the meeting that he believes that both nominees will move through the Senate together, and appeared hopeful that leadership will bring them up for a vote soon.

“Whatever it takes to get that commission to where it actually can function,” Blunt said.

He also reiterated a point he made last week during the nominees’ testimony; that he has previously not been in favor of the EAC, but that the conversations surrounding the heightened need to improve election security after Russian interference in the 2016 election have led him to change his mind.

“I do think the commission has now found a new mission and it’s an important one,” Blunt said. “And I look forward to our oversight responsibility, but also working with the commission as they do everything they can to help give state and local election officials the kind of help they need from the federal government to do their job.”

Election security has been touted as a priority since U.S. intelligence concluded that Russian interfered in the 2016 presidential election. While Congress allocated an additional $380 million in funding last year for election security, lawmakers failed to pass any legislation to protect elections from foreign threats.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) is currently investigating whether there was any foreign election interference in the 2018 midterm elections, as required under an executive order issued by President Trump earlier this year.

And Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Dems tee up Tuesday vote against Trump's emergency declaration | GOP expects few defections | Trump doubles number of troops staying in Syria to 400 Trump administration ups to 400 number of troops staying behind in Syria Kurdish-led Syrian administration cheers Trump decision to leave troops in region MORE said on Saturday that Russia had once again attempted to interfere in the midterm races.

"There is no doubt the relationship has worsened," Mattis said of the relationship between the Trump administration and Russian President Vladimir Putin, during an interview at the at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. "[Putin] tried again to muck around in our elections this last month. We are seeing a continued effort around those lines."