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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 LofgrenHouse Republicans request hearing with Capitol Police Board for first time since 1945 Capitol Police officer allegedly told units to only monitor for 'anti-Trump' protesters on Jan. 6 Hillicon Valley: Tech companies duke it out at Senate hearing | Seven House Republicans vow to reject donations from Big Tech 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 Republicans request hearing with Capitol Police Board for first time since 1945 Bipartisan lawmakers weigh in on post-pandemic health care costs The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP draws line on taxes; nation braces for Chauvin verdict 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 McConnellMcConnell: Taliban could take over Afghanistan by 'the end of the year' McConnell alma mater criticizes him for 1619 comments McConnell amid Trump criticism: 'I'm looking forward, not backward' 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 PelosiOn The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to 498K, hitting new post-lockdown low | House to advance appropriations bills in June, July Rural Democrats urge protections from tax increases for family farms Cheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women 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 scramble complicates Biden's human infrastructure plan Child care advocates seek to lock down billion in new federal funding Pelosi says House will move immediately on COVID-19 relief 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 Slotkin House Republicans pressuring Democrats to return donations from Ocasio-Cortez Democrats move smaller immigration bills while eyeing broad overhaul On The Money: Biden celebrates relief bill with Democratic leaders | Democrats debate fast-track for infrastructure package 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 Klobuchar Why isn't Washington defending American companies from foreign assaults? Republicans float support for antitrust reform after Trump Facebook ban upheld Washington keeps close eye as Apple antitrust fight goes to court 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 BlackburnThe Memo: Trump's critics face wrath of GOP base Will Biden's NASA win the space race with China? Hillicon Valley: Parler app risks charges of selling out with Apple return | Justices hear First Amendment clash over cheerleader's Snapchat | Google pressed to conduct racial equity audit 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) 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 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 TrumpVeteran accused in alleged border wall scheme faces new charges Arizona Republicans to brush off DOJ concern about election audit FEC drops investigation into Trump hush money payments 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.