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 LofgrenState and local officials beg Congress to send more election funds ahead of November FEC commissioner resigns, leaving agency without a quorum again OVERNIGHT ENERGY: DOJ whistleblower says California emissions probe was 'abuse of authority' | EPA won't defend policy blocking grantees from serving on boards | Minnesota sues Exxon, others over climate change 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 DavisState and local officials beg Congress to send more election funds ahead of November The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Teachers' union President Randi Weingarten calls Trump administration plan to reopen schools 'a train wreck'; US surpasses 3 million COVID-19 cases The 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 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 McConnellHouse chairman asks CDC director to testify on reopening schools during pandemic Senate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Pelosi says House won't cave to Senate on worker COVID-19 protections 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 PelosiSupreme Court rulings reignite Trump oversight wars in Congress Pelosi on Baltimore's Columbus statue: 'If the community doesn't want the statue, the statue shouldn't be there' Pelosi says House won't cave to Senate on worker COVID-19 protections 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 ClarkHouse pushes back schedule to pass spending bills Gun control group rolls out House endorsements Pelosi scrambles to secure quick passage of coronavirus aid 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 SlotkinWill Congress finally address toxic 'forever chemicals?' Overnight Defense: Trump's move to use military in US sparks backlash | Defense officials take heat | Air Force head calls Floyd's death 'a national tragedy' Democrats blast Trump's use of military against protests 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 KlobucharBiden strikes populist tone in blistering rebuke of Trump, Wall Street The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Teachers' union President Randi Weingarten calls Trump administration plan to reopen schools 'a train wreck'; US surpasses 3 million COVID-19 cases The 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 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 BlackburnKoch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Teachers' union President Randi Weingarten calls Trump administration plan to reopen schools 'a train wreck'; US surpasses 3 million COVID-19 cases The 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 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 TrumpTrump on Kanye West's presidential run: 'He is always going to be for us' Marie Yovanovitch on Vindman retirement: He 'deserved better than this. Our country deserved better than this' Trump says Biden has been 'brainwashed': 'He's been taken over by the radical left' 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.