In 2016, when U.S. intelligence agencies were convinced that Russia was attacking American elections, the Obama administration reached out to congressional leaders in both parties, seeking a “show of solidarity and bipartisan unity” against foreign manipulation of our democracy. Republicans refused.
In 2017, with intelligence officials telling policymakers that we’re likely to see similar Russian tactics again, the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent reported on a formal request from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to its Republican counterpart, asking it to join in showing a “united front” and creating a “joint plan” against any Russian efforts to undermine the 2018 midterm elections. Republicans again refused.
And now, in 2018, it’s happening again. The Atlantic’s Natasha Bertrand reported yesterday:
Congressional Democrats are pledging not to exploit stolen materials in their campaigns, but Republicans have declined to match that commitment, leaving the midterm races vulnerable to malicious interference.
Russia’s successful interference in the 2016 election – when Moscow hacked both Democrats and Republicans – has spurred fears of a recurrence in 2018. But although congressional Democrats are pledging not to use stolen or hacked materials in their campaigns this fall, their Republican counterparts have so far declined to match that commitment. That partisan split could leave the November elections open to malicious interference.
A spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee told The Atlantic that the party hasn’t responded to the Democratic requests for cooperation due to a lack of “trust.”
In this context, I’m not altogether sure what that means. Let’s say, in practice, the parties agreed not to make use of stolen materials, undermining a Russian incentive to do what Putin’s operatives did in 2016. Then let’s say Democrats broke their word and betrayed Republicans. I don’t actually think that would happen, but for the sake of conversation, let’s assume that it did.
Couldn’t Republicans simply announce the demise of their deal and return fire? The “trust” would be conditional on the parties honoring the terms of an agreement.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told The Atlantic, “The antidote to future election hackings is unity, unity of Democrats and Republicans banding together to say we won’t weaponize what others stole. If we take away a big stage for hackers to showcase their work, they’ll hack less. The GOP’s refusal to sign this agreement invites more attacks on our democracy. It’s time to unite.”
There’s still time for Republicans to change their mind, but at this point, those hoping for bipartisan cooperation are probably going to be disappointed.