Language to boost election security removed from Senate intelligence legislation

Language to boost election security removed from Senate intelligence legislation
© Greg Nash

A measure that would require presidential campaigns to report attempts by foreign nationals to interfere in elections was removed from the Senate’s bipartisan Intelligence Authorization Act, Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerIntelligence chief says Congress will get some in-person election security briefings Overnight Defense: Trump hosts Israel, UAE, Bahrain for historic signing l Air Force reveals it secretly built and flew new fighter jet l Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' House approves bill to secure internet-connected federal devices against cyber threats MORE (D-Va.) said Tuesday. 

The clause was based on Warner’s Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections (FIRE) Act, which requires presidential campaigns to report all contacts with foreign nationals seeking to interfere in the election process to both the FBI and the Federal Election Commission.

The Intelligence Authorization Act will be included in the Senate version of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but according to Warner, the FIRE Act clause was taken out as part of a “backroom deal” in order to get the intelligence legislation included in the must-pass defense funding bill. 

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Warner announced he was proposing the legislation as a separate amendment to the NDAA in order to force members of the Senate to vote on the record about where they stood on election security. The Senate this week is debating its version of the 2021 NDAA. 

Warner criticized President TrumpDonald John TrumpObama calls on Senate not to fill Ginsburg's vacancy until after election Planned Parenthood: 'The fate of our rights' depends on Ginsburg replacement Progressive group to spend M in ad campaign on Supreme Court vacancy MORE and Republicans for removing the clause, noting that the Senate had not voted on any standalone election security legislation since Russian agents interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

“In a different time, with a different president, this bill wouldn't be controversial at all. It would simply say, to all presidential campaigns going forward, if a foreign power reaches out to your campaign offering assistance or offering dirt on a political opponent, the appropriate response is not to say thank you. The appropriate response is to call the FBI,” Warner said. 

“What a sad statement about partisan politics in our country when we cannot even agree to that,” he added.

Warner has previously brought the FIRE Act to the Senate in an attempt to pass it through unanimous consent but was blocked by Republicans five separate times.

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Senate Democrats have repeatedly attempted to push through various pieces of election security legislation, but Senate Republicans have blocked them due to concerns around federalizing elections. 

Warner accused Republicans on Tuesday of blocking the legislation in order to “earn applause from the president on Twitter,” referring to Trump’s opposition to election security legislation.

The Senate has approved more than $1 billion in election security funds for states since 2018, including $400 million to help election officials during the COVID-19 pandemic that was included in the stimulus package signed into law by Trump in March. 

Warner, who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, pointed to his panel's findings as part of its report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections as being a major reason to boost election security efforts. 

The panel has released four of five bipartisan reports stemming from the investigation, with Warner saying Tuesday that the fifth report, which covers counterintelligence findings, was still undergoing a declassification review at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. 

Warner emphasized the importance of passing election security legislation prior to the November elections.

“More than ever, it’s time to put country over party and defend our democracy from those who would do it harm,” Warner said. “Foreign interference has no place in our elections.”