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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 TrumpGaetz was denied meeting with Trump: CNN Federal Reserve chair: Economy would have been 'so much worse' without COVID-19 relief bills Police in California city declare unlawful assembly amid 'white lives matter' protest 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 RatcliffeSunday shows preview: Democrats eye two-part infrastructure push; Michigan coronavirus cases surge Former Trump officials eye bids for political office Grenell congratulates Buttigieg on becoming second openly gay Cabinet member MORE (R-Texas), tapped by the president to succeed outgoing DNI Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsIntel heads to resume worldwide threats hearing scrapped under Trump Lack of cyber funds in Biden infrastructure plan raises eyebrows How President Biden can hit a home run 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) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump 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 WarnerA bold fix for US international taxation of corporations Democrats offer competing tax ideas on Biden infrastructure Five ways an obscure Senate ruling could change Washington 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 PetersThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Let's make a deal on infrastructure, taxes Hillicon Valley: Intel heads to resume threats hearing scrapped under Trump | New small business coalition to urge action on antitrust policy | Amazon backs corporate tax hike to pay for infrastructure Senators call for update on investigations into SolarWinds, Microsoft hacks 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 KlobucharLobbying world New small business coalition to urge action on antitrust policy Bottom line 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 SchumerNY Times beclowns itself by normalizing court-packing 'to balance the conservative majority' The first Southern state legalizes marijuana — what it means nationally H.R. 1/S. 1: Democrats defend their majorities, not honest elections 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 WydenThe first Southern state legalizes marijuana — what it means nationally A bold fix for US international taxation of corporations Democrats offer competing tax ideas on Biden infrastructure 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 BurrNorth Carolina mayor Rett Newton launches Senate bid Democratic hopeful Jeff Jackson raises .3M for North Carolina Senate bid Rick Scott 'very optimistic' Grassley will run for another term 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.”