Biden signs executive order to improve federal cybersecurity
Republicans say they're satisfied with 2020 election security after classified briefings
Congressional Republicans are expressing confidence that the 2020 elections will be secure, despite strong protests from Democrats that more needs to be done.
House and Senate members received separate classified briefings from senior administration officials on Wednesday, during which the plans for securing the 2020 elections were outlined in the wake of Russia's extensive interference ahead of the 2016 vote.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) told reporters that while the U.S. must be "very vigilant" against election threats from foreign governments, "the agencies have the tools they need, and I am confident they are addressing the threats."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close ally of President Trump who has previously supported additional election security legislation, said that he was "very impressed" by the administration's efforts ahead of 2020.
"They all said the president is giving them every authority they've asked for. No interference from the White House," Graham said.
While none of the administration officials involved spoke with the press, several lawmakers confirmed that they said during the closed-door meetings they didn't need additional legislation or extra funding from Congress.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told reporters that the officials said "the resources are available to secure the 2020 elections," and that they do not need anything else from lawmakers at this time.
Thompson's counterpart on the committee, ranking member Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), added that the briefing "gave some confidence to me that they're on top of this."
Election security legislation has been stalemated for months on Capitol Hill amid a standoff between House Democrats and Senate GOP leadership.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has opposed passing legislation on election security, and on Wednesday further lowered expectations that the briefing would manage to overcome the gap between parties, focusing his criticism on the Obama administration ahead of the briefing.
"The more Obama gave, the more [Russian President Vladimir] Putin took. Among those consequences, as we all know, was that Putin felt sufficiently emboldened to seek to interfere in our 2016 presidential election," McConnell said.
Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who has primary jurisdiction over election security in the Senate, said after the briefing that he did not expect any election security legislation to move in the chamber.
"New federal election laws would not be the right thing to do, so I assume we'd have no legislation like that come through the Rules Committee," Blunt said.
Trying to bring up legislation could put Republicans at odds with Trump, who they've warned conflates concerns about election meddling with questioning his 2016 White House win.
Trump has touted his administration's efforts to secure the 2020 vote, vowing in 2018 that "we're going to take strong action to secure our election systems and the process" while rolling out an executive order on protecting U.S. elections.
But Democrats in both chambers pushed back against Republican confidence over the issue.
"Interference in our election is a very, very serious problem and it is obvious that we have to do a lot more at both the public sector and the private sector levels to combat it. I am very worried about what the Russians and others might do in 2020," Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.
Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) added that, in addition to more legislation, the country needs "a White House that would finally acknowledge both the extent of what the Russians did in 2016 and publicly acknowledge that the ... conclusion of the intelligence community is that the Russians will be back."
Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), who introduced election security legislation with Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) on Wednesday, told reporters that the briefing "underscored" the importance of addressing the issue.
The members were briefed by Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, FBI Director Christopher Wray, U.S. Cyber Command chief and National Security Agency Director Gen. Paul Nakasone, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Christopher Krebs, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security Kenneth Rapuano.
Though House Democrats have been passing a myriad of election security legislation since taking over in January, they've run directly into a Senate buzzsaw, where Democrats are unable to pass legislation on their own.
A few key Republicans broke ranks and endorsed passing additional election security legislation.
House Administration Committee ranking member Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) told reporters that "as a policymaker, we should do more." Davis recently introduced legislation that would make funds available to states to update aging election infrastructure.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he wants to pass his legislation with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) that would slap sanctions on future election meddlers.
"I hope we can restart some momentum on it," Rubio said, "because I don't think you'll find anybody in the national security field who doesn't think it's the best thing we can do."