Last month, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, asked his colleagues to advance his election-security bill called the Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections Act (FIRE Act). It’s a pretty straightforward piece of legislation that does one simple thing: it legally requires campaigns to report attempts at foreign elections interference to federal authorities.
As regular readers may recall, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) took the lead in blocking the bill on behalf of her party.
It was against this backdrop that the Tennessee Republican spoke to Fox News’ Neil Cavuto this week, and the host pressed Blackburn to take meaningful steps to address election security ahead of the 2020 elections. According to the transcript, the interview included this exchange:
CAVUTO: Do you think Bob Mueller was right when he said they’re going to do it again, they’re already working to do it again? You think that’s alarming?
BLACKBURN: I think that – I call the new axis of evil: Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea. And there is no end to their efforts to try to undermine us.
CAVUTO: Then stop them. Senator, you have the power to stop them.
The host certainly had a point. Blackburn expressed support for new “privacy standards” and pressing private-sector tech giants to do more, but the far-right senator seemed reluctant to endorse any of the pending legislative proposals intended to have a real impact on bolstering our defenses.
In fact, she described Democratic measures as likely to do “more harm than good,” though Blackburn didn’t elaborate as to why.
But let’s also not brush too quickly past that other phrase: the GOP senator believes there’s a “new axis of evil”?
Some of our younger readers may not recall the origins of the phrase, but in January 2002, George W. Bush used the “axis of evil” phrase to lump together Iran, North Korea, and Iraq. The controversy was swift, with critics noting how strange it was to lump these countries together, especially since Iraq and Iran weren’t exactly allies.
The language, coming just months after the 9/11 attack, also appeared designed to reference the axis powers from World War II, signaling the Republican administration’s intentions for military action in the near future.
Seventeen years later, Marsha Blackburn apparently thinks there’s a “new axis of evil.” North Korea and Iran are holdovers from Bush’s list, but the Tennessean has removed Iraq, while adding China and Russia.
This wasn’t a slip of the tongue, either. Blackburn used the same phrase during a different Fox News interview a few weeks ago, a Fox News Radio interview in mid-June, and in a speech on the Senate floor a week before that.
The senator, in other words, seems committed to the phrase.
Which is a shame because the label is burdened by some flaws. If Blackburn wants to draw attention to the fact that the United States has rivals and adversaries, fine. But her party’s president certainly doesn’t seem to think Russia and North Korea are “evil” – Donald Trump seems unusually fond of the countries’ authoritarian leaders – and most U.S. officials would be cautious about applying the same provocative adjective to China.
In fact, I’d be curious to hear other Republican officials’ thoughts on this. Do other GOP senators recognize the same “new axis of evil”? Does the Trump administration?