Senate GOP resistance is building over Democratic measures to bolster security around US elections, setting the stage for a partisan clash with the House over imposing tougher safeguards ahead of 2020.
In the latest sign of the escalating standoff, GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska dismissed calls Monday for election security legislation, while also rejecting a push by Democratic lawmakers to require campaigns to disclose to federal authorities if foreign nationals offer them help in presidential elections. It’s the latest sign of how the topic of election security has suddenly become a flashpoint in Congress amid President Donald Trump’s all-out assault on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.
“I’m not sure why we need to have one,” Murkowski said when asked if she believed the Senate should advance an election security bill. “I know there are some who believe we have to do more election reform. I think some of it is calculated to add, I think, additional fuel to the Mueller report and the aftermath of that.”
Murkowski also said she expected campaigns to voluntarily report offers of foreign interference to federal authorities, saying legislation to mandate such disclosure would amount to “political fodder.”
“It seems to me that good sense would say you should report that, and we ought not need to legislate it,” Murkowski said. “The effort to sort of capture the news of the moment and the tweet of the day and legislate in a response that is designed, again, just for more political fodder. “
Murkowki added, “People are talking a lot around here about whether or not we are legislating. I want to legislate on things that are important to what’s going on out there in the country.”
The resistance of Murkowski, a frequent swing vote, signals the uphill climb facing Democrats and some Republicans who are urging Congress to impose more aggressive reforms in the aftermath of Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Lawmakers on both sides have proposed a slew of changes, including requiring states and localities to maintain paper ballots, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has viewed such measures as unnecessary and duplicative in the aftermath of actions already implemented since the 2016 elections.
Republicans contend that the range of reforms being proposed are overly broad and give Washington too much control at the expense of state and localities. But moving forward on election security legislation could also anger Trump since such plans could be interpreted as an implicit rebuke of his 2016 campaign, which did not report the now-infamous meeting his son had at Trump Tower with Russians offering dirt on the Clinton campaign to the FBI.
In an interview with ABC News last week, Trump said there is no need to report such offers of foreign assistance to the FBI, but then walked that back after his remark generated intense backlash.
“I guess I come at it from a different perspective than the President and have said so,” Murkowski said when asked about Trump and foreign dirt. “I think most of my colleagues have affirmed or confirmed that this is not something that they do not think is proper. So, if it’s not being done, is it something that needs to rise to the level of legislation?”
Trump, himself, has made no secret that he wants the Senate to block the measure requiring disclosure of offers of foreign assistance, a bill proposed by Sen. Mark Warner, the Democratic vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. After Sen. Marsha Blackburn blocked a quick vote on the plan last week, Trump tweeted his thanks to the Tennessee Republican, who called the bill a “blatant political stunt.”
On Monday, Murkowski also indicated little interest in seeing McConnell put a broader election security bill on the floor for a vote.
“It certainly seems to me since 2016 the administration has stepped up,” said the Alaska Republican, who is periodically at odds with Trump. “I think we had some good elections in 2018 and I’d like to think that is going to be repeated. So, I think all of us need to be vigilant. If there were election reforms measures, I would look at them carefully.”
House Democrats, however, are pushing ahead with a suite of reforms that could pass their chamber this summer, putting pressure on the Senate to also take action.
The chairman of the House Administration Committee, Democratic California Rep. Zoe Lofgren, may take up an election security plan in the coming weeks in the hopes of pushing the plan through the full House before the August recess. Additionally, there are several other bills being pushed through the House, which could be wrapped up in the larger package.
Among the bills is one pushed by Rep. John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, and another by Rep. Tom Malinowski, a New Jersey Democrat, called the Anti-Collusion Act, which would require campaigns to report to the Justice Department any assistance offers from a foreign power or a domestic entity that involves illegal activity.
“It’s so self-evident as a matter of ethics,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week. “But we’ll have to codify it, mandating a duty to report for campaigns reporting foreign interventions in our elections.”