Mueller remarks put renewed focus on election security bills

Mueller remarks put renewed focus on election security bills

Legislation aimed at securing U.S. elections got an unexpected shot in the arm this week when Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE devoted a fair share of his first remarks on the Russia probe to the threat posed by foreign actors seeking to undermine democracy at the ballot box.

Election security bills have been languishing in Congress for months, due in large part to Republicans who do not want to shine a light on Russia's actions and risk the fury of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says inviting Russia to G7 'a question of common sense' Pentagon chief does not support invoking Insurrection Act Dershowitz: Does President Trump have power to declare martial law? MORE.

The president weighed in on the issue Thursday, telling reporters that “we are doing a lot, and we are trying to do paper ballots as a backup system as much as possible, because going to good old-fashioned paper in this modern age is the best way to do it.”

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Those remarks came after he said Russia did not help him secure the presidency — his first on-camera response to Mueller's comments, though he tweeted earlier in the day that Russia helped him win the election.

The president’s comments came a day after Mueller shined a spotlight on Russia's attempts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Mueller emphasized that “the central allegation of our indictments” was “there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election.”

He ended his 10-minute statement by saying this “deserves the attention of every American.”

Election security has been a major focus on Capitol Hill in recent months, mostly among Democrats, with lawmakers introducing several bills designed to combat foreign interference.

However, most legislation has been at a standstill following Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump congratulates Steve King challenger on GOP primary win The Hill's Morning Report - Protesters' defiance met with calls to listen Republicans turning against new round of ,200 rebate checks MORE’s (R-Ky.) “case closed” comments earlier this month regarding Mueller’s Russia investigation. 

McConnell has instead highlighted the work put into securing election systems during the 2018 midterm elections by the Department of Homeland Security and the Trump administration, saying that combating threats “requires serious work.”

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Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntCalls for police reform sparks divisions in Congress Washington prepares for a summer without interns GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill MORE (R-Mo.), a member of Senate GOP leadership and chairman of the Rules Committee, said during a hearing this month that “the majority leader is of the view that this debate reaches no conclusion” on the topic of election security legislation. Blunt added that he was not planning on scheduling any markups of election security legislation because “at this point I don’t see any likelihood that these bills would get to the floor.”

But at least one election security bill has the potential for movement.

Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordTrump pushes back against GOP senators' criticism of dispersal of protesters in Lafayette Square: 'You got it wrong' Republicans turning against new round of ,200 rebate checks GOP senator calls on State Department to resume passport application processing MORE (R-Okla.) told The Hill on Thursday that he plans to reintroduce the Secure Elections Act next week. The measure stalled during the previous Congress due to a lack of GOP support in the Rules Committee, but was one of the election security bills with the highest profiles in Congress.

While Lankford said there will be some changes to the bill text, the underlying legislation would strengthen cybersecurity information sharing between the federal government and state and local election officials, while also requiring all jurisdictions perform post-election audits to verify Election Day results.

He said the new version of the bill will not include funding for states to improve their election security practices, but will require all jurisdictions to implement audits if they want any future funding.

Lankford added that his office has been working closely with the White House counsel on the bill’s language, but did not go so far as to say whether Trump would support the legislation.

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

Lankford said the counsel’s office has made “reasonable suggestions,” and emphasized that they want to make sure the bill does not interfere with states being in charge of elections.

“We have to make sure that when we do have a federal election, the system is as secure as possible,” Lankford said.

It remains unclear whether McConnell will support the GOP bill when it is reintroduced. A spokesperson for McConnell told The Hill they had no comment at this time, but pointed to McConnell’s previous comments on election security legislation.

A spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell blocks resolution condemning Trump over treatment of protesters House Democrat demands answers from Secret Service about role breaking up White House protests Pelosi, Schumer say treatment of protesters outside White House 'dishonors every value that faith teaches us' MORE (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, told The Hill that the senator would support legislation that creates “additional sanctions” against foreign adversaries interfering in U.S. elections, and “additional resources” to help state and local election officials address election security threats.

There has been a flurry of other election security bills introduced by congressional Democrats in recent months as well, with sponsors seizing on Mueller’s comments as a reason to move forward. The most prominent of these is H.R. 1, which includes sweeping election security and integrity reforms.

The House passed that measure along party lines in March, but McConnell has said he will not bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

Another Democratic bill, the Election Security Act, would go further than the Secure Elections Act by requiring states to use “voter-verified paper ballots," and require the establishment of cybersecurity standards for voting system vendors.

The measure is being spearheaded by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonHouse committee chair requests immediate briefing on Secret Service's involvement in clearing protesters House Homeland Security Committee asks for more information about extremist involvement in protests States plead for cybersecurity funds as hacking threat surges MORE (D-Miss.), House Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order targeting social media legal protections | House requests conference with Senate after FISA vote canceled | Minneapolis systems temporarily brought down by hackers House punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate MORE (D-Calif.) and Rep. John SarbanesJohn Peter Spyros SarbanesPelosi, Democrats press case for mail-in voting amid Trump attacks Cornell to launch new bipartisan publication led by former Rep. Steve Israel An inclusive democracy Demands DC statehood MORE (D-Md.). 

After Mueller’s surprise remarks on Wednesday, Thompson said in a statement that “the House took critical action toward preserving the integrity of our democratic institutions when it passed H.R. 1 earlier this year, and it is long past time for Senate leadership to allow a vote on the bill.”

Thompson urged House Republicans to support the Election Security Act, saying “the time is now to give Americans the confidence in their vote they rightfully deserve.”

Another bill in the Senate, the Voting Systems Cybersecurity Act, has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee, a spokesperson for Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersComey, Rice, Clapper among GOP senator's targets for subpoenas amid Obama-era probe GOP chairman to seek subpoena power in investigation of Russia probe, 'unmasking' requests Michigan GOP candidate's Senate petition deemed 'insufficient' over signatures MORE (D-Mich.), one of the bill’s sponsors, told The Hill. But Blunt is unlikely to move forward with the legislation.

“Sen. Peters thinks we need to do more to secure our elections and protect against efforts from our adversaries to interfere in our democracy,” the spokesperson said. “Given the importance of this issue we hope it [the bill] moves forward soon.”