Two weeks ago, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats went to Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers on "active threats" against U.S. elections ahead of the 2020 cycle. Two days ago, FBI Director Christopher Wray reminded Congress that despite sanctions, Russia is determined to interfere in our elections.
And yesterday, Americans heard this exchange between former Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas):
HURD: In your investigation, did you think that this was a single attempt by the Russians to get involved in our election or did you find evidence to suggest they'll try to do this again?MUELLER: Oh, this wasn't a single attempt. They're doing it as we sit here -- and they expect to do it during the next campaign.
The alarm bells certainly appear to be going off.
Some lawmakers have obviously taken note. Almost exactly a month ago, the Democratic-led House approved the "Securing America's Federal Elections Act" (or SAFE Act), which would, among other things, require voting systems to use backup paper ballots, mandate tech safeguards, and provide resources to states to improve their election-security measures. It passed easily, though 99% of House Republicans voted against it.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has rejected calls to even allow the upper chamber to vote on the legislation.
It was against this backdrop that Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, went to the Senate floor yesterday, seeking unanimous support for a related bill, called the "Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections Act" (or FIRE Act), which would require campaigns to report attempts at foreign elections interference to the FBI and the FEC.
The context is extraordinary. Not only have lawmakers heard unambiguous warnings from the likes of Coats, Wray, and Mueller, but they also heard Donald Trump tell a national television audience last month that he'd welcome foreign interference in his re-election campaign, laws and patriotic norms be damned.
"If somebody called from a country, Norway, 'We have information on your opponent,' oh I think I'd want to hear it," the president told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos. Asked why he'd want foreign interference in American elections, the Republican added, "It's not an interference. They have information, I think I'd take it."
Soon after, the American president attended a G-20 summit in Japan, where Trump sat alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin and made light of the entire issue of foreign election interference.
If there's a compelling and benign explanation for the GOP's indifference to these circumstances, I can't think of it.