Over the summer, a pair of senators -- one Democrat and one Republican -- partnered on a new election-security proposal called the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER Act). The idea behind Sens. Chris Van Hollen's (D-Md.) and Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) bill was pretty straightforward: if U.S. intelligence agencies were to determine that Russia interfered in another federal election, new sanctions would kick in targeting Russia's finance, defense and energy sectors.
The point, obviously, would be to create a disincentive, letting the Kremlin know in advance that Russia would face significant economic consequences if Moscow once again attacked our democratic institutions.
The bill picked up a bipartisan group of co-sponsors, and it seemed like the sort of proposal that might even have a chance in the Republican-led Senate. At least that was the hope before it was blocked yesterday on the Senate floor. Axios reported:
A Republican senator is blocking bipartisan legislation meant to counter foreign election interference, saying it is more anti-Trump than anti-Russia.Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) objected Tuesday when Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) sought consent to pass the DETER bill, as reported by The Hill.... The stalled legislation comes as U.S. intelligence agencies predict Russia and other foreign countries will attempt to interfere in the 2020 election.
Van Hollen, the lead sponsor, explained, "This has nothing to do with President Trump, this has to do with protecting our elections." Crapo, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, was unmoved.
"The mechanisms in this bill have been designed more to attack the Trump administration and Republicans than to attack the Russians and those who would attack our country and our elections," the Idaho Republican argued.
I'm not altogether sure how Crapo arrived at that conclusion, or why exactly he believes a bipartisan proposal to impose sanctions on Russia would, as a practical matter, effectively represent an "attack" on the Trump administration and Republicans.
What's more, if these circumstances seem familiar, it's because the DETER Act isn't the only election-security measure to be rejected by Senate Republicans.
As regular readers may recall, the Democratic-led House passed 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.
In October, however, when Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) tried to pass a package of election-related measures -- including a Senate companion to the SHIELD Act -- Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) blocked the effort.
Soon after, the House also passed the Stopping Harmful Interference in Elections for a Lasting Democracy (SHIELD) Act, which would, among other things, require candidates to notify law enforcement authorities in the event of a foreign power offering campaign assistance.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) -- who picked up the "Moscow Mitch" moniker after balking at other bills on election security -- said his GOP-led chamber would ignore this bill, too.
Occasionally, Republican lawmakers will make the case that they're genuinely interested in doing something on the issue, especially in the face of warnings from U.S. officials about the likelihood of further Russian intervention, but they simply cannot go along with the Democratic-led proposals, even the ones with GOP co-sponsors.
In fact, even Crapo, while blocking a bipartisan bill yesterday and claiming the bipartisan bill wasn't bipartisan enough, said "maybe" senators can "come together" at some point to pass an election-security bill.
What it would take to make Republicans happy as they reject one bill after another is unclear.