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House Democrats are keeping the pressure on Mitch McConnell over election security

The majority leader might be stonewalling bills in the Senate, but Democrats aren’t letting up.

Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, points during a press conference at the Capitol.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds her weekly press conference at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center July 26, 2019 in Washington, DC. 
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might be as determined as ever to stymie election security legislation, but House Democrats remain undeterred in their push to advance it. In fact, one of the House Democrats’ top priorities after the upcoming August recess will be introducing — and likely passing — another election security bill intended to put pressure on McConnell and Senate Republicans.

“In his testimony, [former special counsel Robert Mueller] said that the Russians are attacking our elections in a sweeping and systemic fashion and now they are doing it as we sit here,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a weekly press conference on Friday. “We will continue to legislate on that score.”

Pelosi’s statement follows Mueller’s appearance in front of the House last week, and the release of a report from the Senate Intelligence Committee that found hackers targeted elections in 50 states in 2016.

House Democrats’ latest election security bill will include restrictions on foreign interference that overlap heavily with some of the measures addressed by their sweeping anti-corruption legislation, HR 1.

HR 1 was one of the earliest agenda items House Democrats passed after retaking the lower chamber during the midterms. The legislation did not, however, advance in the Senate; McConnell called the bill “a terrible proposal,” and promised “it will not get any floor time in the Senate.” Thus far, he’s kept that promise.

Later in the year, Democrats sought to reiterate their case for election security by breaking out part of HR 1 that required the use of back-up paper ballots, passing it independently as the SAFE Act. That bill is also among a growing pile-up that’s seen no action in the Senate. House Democrats’ efforts to advance another bill to address foreign interference in American elections is the latest sign of how committed they are to pushing this issue in the face of staunch opposition.

“This will be McConnell’s third opportunity to do the right thing in terms of demonstrating his patriotism,” Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), a co-sponsor of the latest legislation, told Vox. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), chair of the House Administration Committee, is leading the push on this legislation, as she did on the SAFE Act as well.

According to Sarbanes, the bill, which the House will consider in September, will address three key issues:

1) It aims to pinpoint and limit illicit foreign money that’s poured into US elections.

2) It requires campaigns to report offers of opposition research from foreign governments to the FBI.

3) It strengthens reporting obligations for digital platforms that identify foreign actors attempting to sow disinformation.

McConnell has said he plans to continue blocking election security bills in spite of repeated warnings from officials like Robert Mueller and FBI Director Christopher Wray, partly because he’s concerned about the federal government having too much power over state elections. McConnell’s stance is also likely tied to opposition from President Donald Trump, who is known to be averse to this issue because he sees it as too closely related to questions about the outcome of the 2016 election. Most recently, McConnell has used Democratic criticism of his stonewalling of election security legislation to fundraise.

“When it comes to these election security measures, [McConnell is] really caught in the switches,” said Sarbanes. “He knows that the president will read any measures related to interference in the 2016 election as a suggestion that the president didn’t win that election legitimately.”

While some Republicans have acknowledged the importance of strengthening election security and co-sponsored bills on the subject, none in the Senate have signaled they’ll push back on McConnell just yet. As Democrats in the upper chamber tried to hold votes on a cluster of bills last week, they were shot down multiple times.

Without new election security laws, the various 2020 state and federal races could be just as vulnerable to possible breaches like the ones in 2016. Ahead of the next election, House Democrats are focused on amping up the pressure that McConnell feels.

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