Democrats seize on whistleblower report to push for election security

 Democrats seize on whistleblower report to push for election security
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Democrats renewed their push for election security legislation after a stark warning from acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire and the release of a whistleblower complaint about President TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE's call with Ukraine's leader.

Maguire on Thursday warned that the “greatest challenge” the U.S. is facing is “maintaining the integrity of our election system” and said “there are foreign powers that are trying to get us to question the validity of whether or not our elections are valid."

The intelligence official made the comment during testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday about a whistleblower complaint alleging that Trump tried to persuade Ukraine to mount a corruption investigation against former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Graham: 'Stupid' for Trump to ask China to investigate Biden Romney: Republicans don't criticize Trump because they fear it will help Warren MORE, the current front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

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Democrats also highlighted a section in the whistleblower complaint that Trump’s actions could pose "risks to U.S. national security and undermine the U.S. Government’s efforts to deter and counter foreign interference in U.S. elections.”

The two events have bolstered the need for election security legislation, these Democrats argued, not long after former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerFox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be 'more serious' than what Mueller 'dragged up' Lewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network MORE's report highlighted Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 elections.

“The President again, just [as] he did in 2016, sought out assistance from a foreign power to help in his reelection,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonUS ban on China tech giant faces uncertainty a month out Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Hillicon Valley: Democrats seize on whistleblower complaint to push for election security | Google taps GOP Senate aide to lead lobbying | Warren calls for congressional tech office MORE (D-Miss.) said in a statement on Thursday. “This is election interference, plain and simple. The President has continually and persistently undermined the integrity of our elections and our democracy.”

“I agree with the Acting DNI [director of national intelligence] – the top threat to our national security is the security of our elections," he added. "It is high time for Republicans in Congress to finally realize this and join us in ensuring our elections are wholly and properly secured. We need a comprehensive, whole-of-government effort.”

Democrats also used the two events to sharpen their attacks against the president. 

“When a foreign country tries to interfere, that to me is clearly an act against the best interests of the United States, and we certainly do not expect the president to be complicit in that effort,” Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats dig in ahead of Supreme Court ruling on 'Dreamers' Senate GOP braces for impeachment trial 'roller coaster' Trump judicial nominee delayed amid GOP pushback MORE (Ill.), the second highest-ranking Senate Democrat, told reporters on Thursday.

Senate Democrats have launched a concerted effort over the past few months to pressure Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTurkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate Fox's Wallace says 'well-connected' Republican told him there's a 20 percent chance GOP will vote for impeachment White House staggers after tumultuous 48 hours MORE (R-Ky.) into allowing votes on a variety of election security measures.

McConnell, however, has resisted most of these efforts, citing concerns about federalizing elections.

McConnell did throw his weight last week behind adding $250 million for state election security efforts to the Senate version of the fiscal 2020 financial services and general government bill.

McConnell's support for the funds came after months of intense pressure from Democrats and various political advocacy groups, who labeled him "Moscow Mitch" for not taking enough action on this topic.

Democrats saw McConnell's support for the funds as a victory, with Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTurkey says soldier killed despite cease-fire in Syria Schumer calls for FDA to probe reports of contaminated baby food How Trump and Pelosi went from bad to worse MORE (D-N.Y.) saying McConnell had "seen the light," and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-N.Y.) expressing surprise when told about McConnell's decision. 

A spokesperson for McConnell pushed back strongly against the notion that McConnell supporting the election security funds was in any way due to the pressure from Democrats, telling The Hill that "the timing was due to the beginning of the appropriations process, not the political pressure."

The spokesperson added that "The budget deal to facilitate the appropriations process was not struck until before the August recess. When Congress returned in September, the Senate appropriation process began at the committee level, hence the amendment in the committee markup. Until that point, there was no opportunity to fund these efforts for FY2020." 

However, the funding was added without many of the requirements mandating how states could spend these funds, leaving many Democrats saying that there was still more to be done to ensure the security of the 2020 elections. 

Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenate Democrats want Warren to talk costs on 'Medicare for All' Meet the dog and 'sea turtle' who launched campaigns for office Senators demand briefing on Trump's decision to withdraw from Syria MORE (D-Del.), one of the sponsors behind the amendment that added the $250 million in election security funds, told The Hill on Thursday that he “would hope” that Maguire’s comments spur more bipartisan action on election security.

“We should be concerned not just about Russia, but about other state and non-state actors, because the weakness of the response of our government overall to this threat has been unfortunately broadly covered in the press,” Coons said. “It is long past time for us to do more to secure our elections. I hope that Acting DNI Maguire’s testimony today will spur further action, but it is very late in the game.”

Election security concerns were further underlined by the release on Thursday of the annual report that arose from DEFCON Voting Village, a major hacking conference that allows for hackers to test voting equipment for vulnerabilities.

The white-hat hackers tested various voting machines in use throughout the nation and found cyber vulnerabilities that would allow foreign actors or other individuals to interfere in election results.

Groups outside Congress are also calling for more to be done to address election security threats in the wake of Maguire’s testimony and the whistleblower complaint.

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Stand Up America is one group that has lobbied hard to push McConnell to allow votes on election security legislation, including putting up a billboard outside McConnell’s district office labeling him “Moscow Mitch” for not allowing these votes.

“The revelation that Donald Trump pressured Ukraine to directly interfere in the 2020 election only underscores the urgency of the bipartisan effort to protect our elections from foreign interference,” Brett Edkins, Stand Up America’s political director, told The Hill. “Impeaching Donald Trump should be the focus of the House — and will likely remain the focus for much of the country — but the Senate must take swift action to defend our elections from foreign interference.”

Lawrence Norden, director of the electoral reform program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, told The Hill that Maguire had “put front and center” how the “greatest threat facing the country is interference in our election systems.”

Norden advocated for states to be given “some basic cybersecurity guidance” to defend against potential foreign interference, but noted this will have to be done outside the appropriations process. 

“That’s not going to happen in the budget, if I have a hope from something more from the testimony today, it is that Congress will start grappling with some of these issues,” Norden said.