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Senate GOP rejects Dems’ effort to boost election security funding

The Rachel Maddow Show, 7/27/18, 9:14 PM ET

U.S. election security suffers for lack of Oval Office leadership

While various agencies within the federal government are taking steps to fortify elections in the United States against cyber attacks, the effort is hindered by a lack of leadership at the top from Donald Trump. Ken Dilanian, NBC News national security
NBC News’ Ken Dilanian explained on the show last week that when it comes to election security, “every state official you talk to says they need more money, they need upgraded technology, they need more resources.” The question is whether Congress is prepared to meet those needs.

The answer to that question is alarmingly clear. The Washington Post  reported today:

Senate Republicans voted down a bid Wednesday to direct an extra $250 million toward election security in advance of the 2018 midterms, despite heightened warnings from intelligence officials that foreign governments will try to interfere in the contests and evidence that some lawmakers have already been targeted.

The 50-to-47 vote fell far short of the needed 60 votes to include the $250 million amendment, proposed by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), in an appropriations package that the Senate was set to approve Wednesday. Only one Republican senator – Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), who frequently prioritizes deficit concerns – voted for the additional funds.

The roll call on the Senate vote is online here. Note, with Corker breaking ranks, most senators ended up supporting Leahy’s proposal, but it needed 60 votes to advance, not 50. (Three senators did not vote.)

Today’s developments come three weeks after Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said the “warning lights are blinking red” on cyber-security; two weeks after House Republicans rejected a similar Democratic effort; one week after we learned that several Democratic officials, including Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), have already been targeted by Russian hackers ahead of this year’s elections, and the same week as Facebook exposed a coordinated disinformation campaign related to the 2018 midterms.

All of which suggests election security should be an issue on policymakers’ minds – and yet, here we are.

Of course, the problem isn’t limited to Capitol Hill. Donald Trump last week presided over his first-ever National Security Council meeting on election security, which reportedly lasted about a half-hour – less than a fourth of the amount of time the American president spent with Russia’s Vladimir Putin last month.

The Washington Post  reported soon after that, as part of the meeting, the president “issued no new directives to counter or deter the threat.”

This coincided with an NBC News report about the administration’s failure to properly prepare for cyber-attacks.

[C]urrent and former officials tell NBC News that 19 months into his presidency, there is no coherent Trump administration strategy to combat foreign election interference – and no single person or agency in charge. […]

[E]ven members of Trump’s national security cabinet have acknowledged the need for a central, unifying effort — one that experts say is missing. Senior officials have also admitted that the government has failed to take steps necessary to give the Russians second thoughts about intervening in American politics. Trump hasn’t done so, and neither did Barack Obama, whose response to election meddling – expelling diplomats and closing Russian compounds in December 2016 – has been described by some of his own former aides as tepid.

Tom Bossert, who served as the president’s top White House adviser on homeland security, told Yahoo News last week that he’s concerned about “who’s minding the store” on cyber-security, especially after National Security Advisor John Bolton eliminated the job of the nation’s cyber-security czar,

Between the Trump administration’s passivity, and GOP lawmakers’ skepticism about additional investments, it’s not exactly easy to feel confident about Republicans’ interest in the issue.

Senate GOP rejects Dems' effort to boost election security funding