On the surface, some congressional Republicans have expressed their discomfort with Donald Trump inviting foreign interference in American elections. Whether these GOP lawmakers are prepared to do anything about these concerns is another matter entirely.
Yesterday, Senate Democrats offered their Republican colleagues an opportunity to demonstrate their sincerity on the matter. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, asked members to unanimously approve his bill called the Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections Act (FIRE Act), which does one simple thing: it legally requires campaigns to report attempts at foreign elections interference to the FBI and the FEC.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) blocked it. To put it mildly, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) was not pleased, delivering remarks soon after from the chamber's floor:
"This one is a new low. It's okay for foreign powers to interfere? You don't have to report it to law enforcement? That's welcoming foreign powers to interfere, and as my friend from Virginia said, the president's own FBI director said it's going to happen again in 2020. 'But let's cover it up, because it might have an effect that we like,' say our Republican friends."Today is a new low for this Senate, for this Republican Party here in the Senate, and for this democracy.... It is truly outrageous that this unanimous consent request, which should bring all of us together, is being blocked by our Republican friends."
I don't imagine we've heard the last of this -- House Democrats, for example, are very likely to pass their own legislation on this issue -- but before moving on, it's worth pausing to appreciate Marsha Blackburn's role in yesterday's developments.
In 2009, 11 far-right House Republicans unveiled a "birther" bill in Congress, requiring presidential candidates to prove they're native-born citizens. It was an unfortunate byproduct of the racist conspiracy theories about Barack Obama's birthplace.
Blackburn was one of the 11 co-sponsors.
A decade later, the far-right Tennessean has been promoted to the Senate, where yesterday she blocked a common-sense proposal on election security.
The result is an extraordinary pair of bookends: Blackburn backed a bill to require presidential candidates to produce birth certificates, and then she blocked a bill to require presidential campaigns to report improper foreign outreach.