Blue Dogs Assail McConnell On Election Security, Warning ‘Time Is Running Out’

September 13, 2019 by Dan McCue
Rep. Tom O'Halleran, of Arizona, listens as Rep. Stephanie Murphy makes a point at a pen and pad session with reporters held by the Blue Dog Coalition of House Democrats. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – A group of centrist House Democrats best known for espousing bipartisanship to get things done on Capitol Hill, sharply criticized Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell Thursday for his continued refusal to allow election security bills to get a vote on the Senate floor.

The Democrats, all leaders of the Blue Dog Coalition in the House, said with just five months to go before the start of the presidential primaries, Congress is running out of time to pass legislation that will insulate the 2020 election from Russian and other foreign interference.

“This shouldn’t be a partisan issue … and it’s way past time for it to be addressed,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy, the Blue Dog’s co-chair for administration, during a session with reporters in the Longworth House Office Building.

“The Senate needs to act,” she said.

Joining Murphy were Reps. Tom O’Halleran, of Arizona, co-chair of the Blue Dog’s policy task force; Anthony Brindisi, of New York, the group’s co-chair for Whip; and Kendra Horn, of Oklahoma, co-chair of the Blue Dog’s national security task force.

The lawmakers noted the House has already passed H.R. 2722,  the Securing America’s Federal Elections Act, which among other things would authorize $600 million to assist states in enhancing their election security ahead of the 2020 election.

It includes language that would require the use of voter-verified paper ballots, ban voting machines from being connected to the internet or that have been produced in foreign countries.

“But we obviously think there’s more that needs to be done,” Murphy said.

In June, the coalition released a package of legislative proposals in response to the conclusions presented in Volume 1 of the Mueller report regarding Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election.

The proposals are based primarily on a set of 11 bills endorsed by the Blue Dog Coalition and which have bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. They include enhancing coordination between federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies to assess the threat of election interference, new transparency rules for political advertising, the closing of legal loopholes to ensure foreign entities cannot participate in the U.S. electoral process, and imposing sanctions on the bad actors who continue to try to disrupt U.S. elections.

“We need to send a strong message that attempts by foreign powers to interfere in our elections, whether it is via social media or by interfering in our election systems themselves, won’t be tolerated,” said Rep. Horn, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee.

“These bills get to the heart of that and ensure that we are taking the necessary steps to secure our homeland, but that’s only a piece of it,” she said. “These bills are also intended to ensure that everybody knows when they go to the polls, their vote is going to be counted and counted fairly.”

While Murphy and her colleagues stressed the strong bipartisan support for election security legislation in the House, their comments became more pointed when it came to Senate Majority Leader McConnell, whom they say is blocking consideration on the bills in his chamber for purely political reasons.

McConnell has repeatedly pushed back against Democrats, calling their criticism of his refusal to allow votes on election security legislation “modern-day McCarthyism.”

“No matter how hard they bully, I will not be intimidated,” he said recently.

Rep. O’Halleran said McConnell’s position just doesn’t make sense to him.

“I am a father and when I see a threat to my home, I protect it,” O’Halleran said. “The same goes for my community, and the same goes for the integrity of our elections.

“This is a threat to our nation and the underlying Constitutional rights of our citizens. Our citizens faith in their election system is the basis for the whole thing. So to have Mitch McConnell say ‘We’re just not going to hear it’ goes against everything we’re supposed to be working for,” he said.

“In my view, the question that should be asked of Mr. McConnell day in and day out is, ‘Why are you not wanting to protect this nation’s electoral system?'” O’Halleran said.

Horn agreed.

“We all took an oath to protect and defend our democracy and our Constitution and this issue goes right to the heart of it,” she said. “McConnell is not taking action to protect our democracy.”

“We know based on the Mueller report that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 elections in three key ways,” Rep. Murphy said. “The first was through social media and disinformation … then they hacked the DNC and campaign accounts and released that information … and finally, they successfully penetrated election systems … undermining voter confidence.”

Murphy said given all we now know about what happened in 2016, McConnell’s refusal to act on any election security proposals suggests he’s “more comfortable having Russia engaged in our elections than he is in having the federal government work with the states to protect them.”

The withering attacks on McConnell by lawmakers accustomed to working well with moderate Republicans on fiscal and national security issues revealed just how heated the battle over election security has become as the calendar inches deeper into the fall before many of the key players are up for reelection.

But Rep. Brindisi suggested perhaps it’s time to look past McConnell on election security and a whole host of issues.

“I think a message has to be delivered to those Republican senators who are up for reelection in 2020,” he said. “They’re going to have to go before their voters in places like Maine and Colorado over the next year and a half and explain what they’ve been doing to make their constituents’ lives better and more secure.

“Right now, they don’t have a lot of accomplishments to show for themselves, despite the number of bipartisan pieces of legislation we’ve passed in the House and referred to the Senate,” he said. “If we’re getting things done in the House, and we’re getting support from Republicans on some of these things, what excuse is there for them not moving in the Senate? How does that Republican senator go back to his voters and say, ‘Well, the leader didn’t want to do it because he didn’t want to make the president mad.’ I don’t think voters are going to respond very favorably to that.”

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