After months of Democratic effort to address foreign election interference ahead of the 2020 cycle, in early June, there was an apparent breakthrough. The Senate Intelligence Committee narrowly voted to approve a measure that would require presidential campaigns to report attempted foreign-election influence to federal authorities.
The proposal, championed by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), cleared the committed on an 8-to-7 vote, thanks to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) breaking party ranks. The vote added the measure to the larger Intelligence Authorization Act.
This week, as USA Today reported, the breakthrough quietly disappeared.
A measure requiring presidential campaigns to report any attempts by foreign entities interfering in U.S. elections was stripped by Senate Republicans as a condition of passing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in a "backroom deal" Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA., said Tuesday. The NDAA, which is being debated on the Senate floor this week, will include the Intelligence Authorization Act but not the amendment requiring campaigns to report foreign help to the proper authorities after that provision was stripped from the bipartisan defense bill.
In this Congress, senators have pushed three separate proposals intended to address foreign election interference. One was a measure called the "Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines Act" (or DETER Act), which would impose sanctions targeting Russia's finance, defense and energy sectors if U.S. intelligence agencies were to determine that Russia interfered in yet another American election cycle.
Then there was the "Securing America's Federal Elections Act" (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.
The Democratic-led House last year passed this, but it, too, was rejected by Senate Republicans.
But Warner's other measure seems like the sort of idea that's tough to oppose: the "Stopping Harmful Interference in Elections for a Lasting Democracy Act" (SHIELD Act) would, among other things, require candidates to notify law enforcement authorities in the event of a foreign power offering campaign assistance. The idea not only passed the House, it even garnered bipartisan support in the Senate Intelligence Committee.
And now, it appears Senate GOP leaders have scrapped this, too.
A cynic might wonder why Republicans, just four years after an adversary launched an effective attack against our elections, have been so steadfast in their opposition to even modest efforts to prevent another round of foreign interference.