House passes third bill aimed at preventing foreign election interference

House passes third bill aimed at preventing foreign election interference
© Stefani Reynolds

The House on Wednesday passed a bill aimed at preventing foreign interference in U.S. elections, marking the latest attempt by Democrats to move election security legislation through Congress ahead of 2020.

The measure passed in a 227-181 vote, mostly along party lines. One Democrat joined Republicans in voting against the Strengthening Harmful Interference in Elections for a Lasting Democracy (SHIELD) Act, which focuses on paid online political advertisements.

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The bill, sponsored by House Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenBusiness groups start gaming out a Biden administration Top Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence DHS opens probe into allegations at Georgia ICE facility MORE (D-Calif.), would require campaigns to report any illicit offers of assistance by foreign governments or agents and would take steps to ensure that online political advertisements are subject to the same rules as TV and radio ads.

“The 2020 federal elections are fast approaching. Public confidence and trust in our elections is of the utmost importance,” Lofgren said on the House floor before the vote. “Free and fair elections are at the core of what it means to live in a democracy like ours. ... It is our solemn duty to defend them.”

Republicans raised concerns the legislation would infringe on First Amendment rights.

Rep. Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisHouse passes legislation to boost election security research House Republicans investigating California secretary of state's contract with Biden-linked firm House Democrats' campaign arm releases ads hitting 10 Republicans on health care MORE (Ill.), the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, said on the House floor that the bill had “no chance, zero chance of becoming law.”

The bill marks the third time this year the House has passed major legislation addressing various aspects of election security, with the For the People Act and the Securing America’s Federal Elections Act both also passing along party lines.

Those bills stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP senators confident Trump pick to be confirmed by November Trump's Teflon problem: Nothing sticks, including the 'wins' Senate Republican says lawmakers can't 'boil down' what a Court nominee would do in one case like Roe v. Wade MORE (R-Ky.) labeled the For the People Act the “Democrat Politician Protection Act” because of its language around voting reform.

The SHIELD Act is likely to die in the Senate as well, with McConnell confirming his opposition to the bill during a floor speech Wednesday morning. 

McConnell called the legislation the “latest attempt” by Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi preparing for House to decide presidency if neither Trump or Biden win electoral college: report Trump seeks boost from seniors with 0 drug discount coupons GOP senators confident Trump pick to be confirmed by November MORE (D-Calif.) to expand government "control over Americans’ political speech."

McConnell was not alone in raising concerns about free speech issues.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent a letter last week to the leaders of the House Administration Committee urging them to amend the SHIELD Act to “protect the rights of everyone in this country to communicate in their chosen manner about important political issues.”

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“The SHIELD Act, as it currently stands, strikes the wrong balance, sweeping too broadly and encompassing more speech than necessary to achieve its legitimate goals,” the ACLU wrote.

However, House Democrats have pushed back against McConnell’s description of the SHIELD Act, with Rep. Katherine ClarkKatherine Marlea ClarkDemocratic leaders: Supreme Court fight is about ObamaCare Rep. Robin Kelly enters race for Democratic caucus vice chair Clark rolls out endorsements in assistant Speaker race MORE (D-Mass.) telling reporters during a press conference ahead of the House vote that McConnell was “hiding behind the First Amendment.”

“Mitch McConnell needs to realize that he works for the American people and that elections need to be free from foreign interference,” Clark, the vice chairwoman of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters, adding that “hiding behind the First Amendment on this bill is not only something we see through but something voters will see through as well.”

Rep. Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinWray: Racially motivated violent extremism makes up most of FBI's domestic terrorism cases Overnight Defense: House chair announces contempt proceeding against Pompeo | Top general says military has no role in election disputes | Appeal court rejects due process rights for Gitmo detainees Top general: Military will play no role in resolving any electoral dispute MORE (D-Mich.) said during the same press conference that the SHIELD Act “brings up to date a lot of things that were already on the books from the time of the Cold War, which were put there for a very good reason, and Sen. McConnell is hiding behind the First Amendment in ways that are deeply disturbing to anyone who cares about keeping foreign influence out of our elections.”

The SHIELD Act was also introduced in the Senate, and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Klobuchar3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing Social media platforms put muscle into National Voter Registration Day Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight MORE (D-Minn.) went to the floor before Wednesday's House vote to try to pass the Senate version, which has more than a dozen Democratic co-sponsors.

Klobuchar was blocked in that effort by Sen. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnNetflix distances from author's comments about Muslim Uyghurs but defends project Hillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Key Democrat opposes GOP Section 230 subpoena for Facebook, Twitter, Google MORE (R-Tenn.), marking the second day in a row Senate Democrats were thwarted by Republicans in their efforts to pass election security legislation.

The attempts by Senate Democrats to pass election security bills follows similar efforts in July, when Republicans blocked Democrats from passing legislation on the same day 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 testified that Russian actors were attempting to interfere in the U.S. 2020 elections “as we sit here.”

Mueller said in his 448-page report that Russia initiated a sweeping campaign to interfere in the 2016 elections that included both social media interference and hacking operations, with the overall goal of swaying the election in favor of President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Ocasio-Cortez: Trump contributed less in taxes 'than waitresses and undocumented immigrants' Third judge orders Postal Service to halt delivery cuts MORE.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has also issued two reports on 2016 Russian interference efforts, with the most recent one on disinformation efforts finding that the Kremlin directed the operation.