Democrats raise questions about how Ratcliffe would approach election security

Democrats raise questions about how Ratcliffe would approach election security
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are raising concerns about how President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Tucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Trump on Confederate flag: 'It's freedom of speech' MORE’s pick to be the next director of national intelligence (DNI) plans to safeguard U.S. elections from foreign interference.

Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeRussian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide Former Trump intelligence officials say they had trouble briefing him on Russia: report GOP senator calls for Russian bounties briefing after reviewing intelligence MORE (R-Texas), tapped by the president to succeed outgoing DNI Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsAmerica's divide widens: Ignore it no longer Trump gives Grenell his Cabinet chair after he steps down German lawmaker, US ambassador to Germany trade jabs MORE, served in a key cybersecurity position during the previous Congress, but he gained notoriety more recently for questioning former special counsel 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’s conclusions on aspects of Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 elections.

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“At a time when every leader of our intelligence community has indicated that Russia is a threat and that they continue to be so, there has never been a time more critical that we maintain the independence of our intelligence community,” Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenators press IRS chief on stimulus check pitfalls Hillicon Valley: Facebook takes down 'boogaloo' network after pressure | Election security measure pulled from Senate bill | FCC officially designating Huawei, ZTE as threats Overnight Defense: Democrats blast Trump handling of Russian bounty intel | Pentagon leaders set for House hearing July 9 | Trump moves forward with plan for Germany drawdown MORE (D-Va.), the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The Hill. 

“I don’t know the man, but it seems from his testimony before the Mueller hearing, he had very different views than most intelligence professionals,” Warner added. 

Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersHealth care group launches M ad campaign hitting Trump in battleground states The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump wants schools to reopen, challenged on 'harmless' COVID-19 remark Senate outlook slides for GOP MORE (D-Mich.), the ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, said national security is his top priority “and securing our elections is an essential part of that effort.” 

“I have a lot of concerns and questions about Congressman Ratcliffe’s record, experience and qualifications,” he added.

While Coats made election security a priority as DNI, an issue he touched on in his resignation letter, Ratcliffe’s focus on this issue, if confirmed, is unclear.

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Ratcliffe previously served as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s cybersecurity subcommittee during the last Congress. In that position, he presided over hearings on topics like the cybersecurity mission of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the strength of the cyber workforce and the security of federal networks.

He has also introduced multiple cybersecurity bills this Congress, including ones that would improve the cybersecurity of internet-connected devices, bolster cybersecurity at DHS and combat state-sponsored cyber activities against the U.S.

One measure sponsored by Ratcliffe would prohibit tampering with voting systems under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The bill has a Senate companion that was passed earlier this month.

A spokesperson for Ratcliffe did not respond to request for comment on this story, but Ratcliffe tweeted following Trump’s announcement that he was “incredibly thankful for this great honor.”

“I am deeply grateful to President Trump for the opportunity to lead our Nation’s intelligence community and work on behalf of all the public servants who are tirelessly devoted to defending the security and safety of the United States,” Ratcliffe wrote. 

If confirmed, Ratcliffe will take over for a former GOP senator who, as DNI chief, championed the need to secure U.S. elections against foreign interference.

Coats testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee in January that “our adversaries and strategic competitors probably already are looking to the 2020 U.S. elections as an opportunity to advance their interests.”

Earlier this month, Coats established an election security adviser position for the intelligence community, with Shelby Pierson tapped to fill a role that is meant to oversee threats to election security in the run-up to the 2020 elections. 

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: DC's Bowser says protesters and nation were 'assaulted' in front of Lafayette Square last month; Brazil's Bolsonaro, noted virus skeptic, tests positive for COVID-19 Hillicon Valley: QAnon scores wins, creating GOP problem | Supreme Court upholds regulation banning robocalls to cellphones | Foreign hackers take aim at homebound Americans | Uber acquires Postmates Senate Democrats urge Pompeo to ensure Americans living overseas can vote in November MORE (D-Minn.), a key Democrat on election security and a presidential candidate, tweeted on Monday that she “will miss Dan Coats’ steady hand. A voice of reason who was willing to be honest about Russian cyberattacks sadly leaving.” 

Other Senate Democrats were broadly critical of Coats’s likely successor.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerTrump may be DACA participants' best hope, but will Democrats play ball? Pompeo: US 'certainly looking at' ban on Chinese social media apps like TikTok Russian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that Ratcliffe was nominated due to “blind loyalty” to Trump, and that “if Senate Republicans elevate such a partisan player to a position that requires intelligence expertise and non-partisanship, it would be a big mistake.”

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money: Trump administration releases PPP loan data | Congress gears up for battle over expiring unemployment benefits | McConnell opens door to direct payments in next coronavirus bill Hillicon Valley: QAnon scores wins, creating GOP problem | Supreme Court upholds regulation banning robocalls to cellphones | Foreign hackers take aim at homebound Americans | Uber acquires Postmates Senate Democrats urge Pompeo to ensure Americans living overseas can vote in November MORE (D-Ore.), one of the key lawmakers pushing for election security legislation, said in a statement that “confirming this individual would amount to an endorsement of this administration's drive to politicize our intelligence agencies. This is a dangerous time, and America needs the most qualified and objective individuals possible to lead our intelligence agencies."

Republicans were more supportive of Ratcliffe.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrBiden campaign adds staff in three battleground states Exclusive investigation on the coronavirus pandemic: Where was Congress? Trump asserts his power over Republicans MORE (R-N.C.), whose committee will examine Ratcliffe’s nomination later this year, told The Hill on Tuesday that if Ratcliffe sticks to current efforts by the Intelligence Community to secure elections, “I would be tickled to death.”