Senate advances bill to bolster cybersecurity defenses in 84-11 vote

The Senate agreed on Thursday to move forward with Sen. Joe Lieberman's (I-Conn.) cybersecurity bill after months of contentious negotiations.

The motion to proceed to the Cybersecurity Act was approved 84-11 after Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidLobbying World Mitch McConnell is not invincible Seven big decisions facing Biden in 2020 primary MORE (D-Nev.) agreed to an open amendment process. 

The bipartisan Cybersecurity Act, S. 3414, aims to protect the nation from cyberattacks against critical infrastructure such as the electrical grid, banking systems, transportation networks and others. 

President Obama said Thursday that he supports the revised version of the bill introduced by Lieberman, but noted it lacked "some of the key provisions of earlier bills."

Although the bill cleared this test vote, it faces an uphill battle to reach the finish line. While senators are meeting to try and reach a final agreement, disagreements remain.

"The conversations are very productive, but obviously there's a lot of work to do and not very much time to do it," Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), one of the lead negotiators, said Thursday morning.

Republicans voting against the motion to proceed to the bill were Sens. Mike JohannsMichael (Mike) Owen JohannsMeet the Democratic sleeper candidate gunning for Senate in Nebraska Farmers, tax incentives can ease the pain of a smaller farm bill Lobbying World MORE (Neb.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulO'Rourke: Trump 'provoking' war with Iran by sending troops to Middle East Overnight Defense: 1,500 troops heading to Mideast to counter Iran | Trump cites Iran tensions to push through Saudi arms sale | Senate confirms Army, Navy chiefs before weeklong recess Trump to send 1,500 troops to Middle East to counter Iran MORE (Ky.), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonFrustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' Barr throws curveball into Senate GOP 'spying' probe Bipartisan group of senators introduce legislation designed to strengthen cybersecurity of voting systems MORE (Wis.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioFrustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' Senate passes disaster aid bill after deal with Trump GOP senators work to get Trump on board with new disaster aid package MORE (Fla.), Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE (Nev.), Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsJuan Williams: Anti-abortion extremism is on the rise Women's civil rights are not a state issue The Hill's 12:30 Report: Tough questions await Trump immigration plan MORE (Kan.), Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziKudos to the legislators trying to fix our broken budget On The Money: Mnuchin signals officials won't release Trump tax returns | Trump to hold off on auto tariffs | WH nears deal with Mexico, Canada on metal tariffs | GOP fears trade war fallout for farmers | Warren, regulator spar over Wells Fargo Budget chairs pick former Bush official to head CBO MORE (Wyo.), John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoTrump boxed in on trade Export-Import Bank back to full strength after Senate confirmations Mike Enzi announces he'll retire from Senate after 2020 MORE (Wyo.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranOn The Money: Judge upholds House subpoena for Trump financial records | Trump vows to appeal ruling by 'Obama-appointed judge' | Canada, Mexico lift retaliatory tariffs on US | IRS audit rate falls GOP senator calls for resolution of trade dispute: 'Farmers and ranchers are hurting' Frustrated GOP senators want answers from Trump on Iran MORE (Kan.).

Democrats opposing the motion to proceed were Sens. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterTester will endorse a 2020 candidate 'in the next week' Senate Democrats to House: Tamp down the impeachment talk Threat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda MORE (Mont.) and Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusOvernight Defense: McCain honored in Capitol ceremony | Mattis extends border deployment | Trump to embark on four-country trip after midterms Congress gives McCain the highest honor Judge boots Green Party from Montana ballot in boost to Tester MORE (Mont.).

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In a bid to win GOP support, Lieberman introduced a revised version of the bill last week that scaled back provisions mandating critical operators meet a set of security standards developed, in part, by the Homeland Security Department. 

The latest version of the bill proposes to establish a program where companies operating critical infrastructure would certify that they meet security standards approved by a government-led agency in exchange for incentives, such as liability protections.

Reid said he would welcome more amendments during the voting process, which Republicans said was key to winning their support for moving forward on the legislation.

“There’s plenty of room for changes,” Reid said on the floor Thursday. “Let’s have as many amendments as people feel appropriate.”

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), one of the sponsors of the competing Securte It Act, said earlier that she and the other sponsors wouldn’t block a vote on the Cybersecurity Act if the amendment process were truly open.

"I don't think anyone in our group wants to hold up dealing with cybersecurity. We know that America's systems could be under threat and some have been hacked into already," she said. "As long as we have an amendment process and are not shut out of this, we will vote to move forward to the bill."

Lieberman and the co-sponsors of his bill have been meeting with the Republican backers of the alternative Secure It Act to try to hammer out an agreement that would bridge the differences between the two bills. The members met Thursday morning and plan to meet again on Friday and next week.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Collins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' Biden says Congress must move to protect abortion rights MORE (R-Maine), a sponsor of the Cybersecurity Act, said she’s open to changes but said the legislation should to be passed quickly for the sake of national security.

“We must act and we must act now,” Collins said Wednesday. “We can’t afford to wait for a cyber 9/11 before taking action on this legislation.”

Reid said he’d like to spend most of next week voting on the amendments offered.

As a show of good faith that those working on the Cybersecurity Act are open to changes, Collins pointed out that some changes already have been made to the bill.

“We have revised our bill in a very substantial way,” Collins said, adding that many of the standards related to the private sector are now optional. “This shows a willingness to adopt changes, and we’re still open to changes.”

When originally proposed, the bill got pushback from industry groups and some lawmakers concerned about Internet privacy.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and IBM sent out letters saying they oppose the bill in its current form, arguing it would saddle industry with additional regulations. However, the bill won endorsements from tech giants Cisco and Oracle.

The cybersecurity bill is the culmination of more than a year of effort by working groups composed of staff from committees with jurisdiction over cybersecurity, including Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Commerce, and Intelligence. The working groups spent months developing legislative language for the bill and included language from earlier cybersecurity bills that had passed out of committee.

— Brendan Sasso contributed to this report.

— This story was corrected at 5 p.m. to reflect that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and IBM oppose the bill in its current form.