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Election security bill faces uncertain future in Senate

Updated June 26, 2019 - 4:07 pm

WASHINGTON — A bill backed by House Democrats that would send millions to states for election security measures and create cybersecurity standards for voting machines is expected to pass, but appears headed for the dustbin in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Democratic leaders used the elections bill on Wednesday to highlight President Donald Trump’s reluctance to acknowledge Russian meddling that was detailed in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

Republicans, while calling for election security, derided the Democratic legislation as a messaging bill that faces no chance of passing in the Senate where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has refused to take up a flurry of Democrat-passed House measures.

The House is expected to vote on the bill Thursday, and it is expected to pass along party lines.

Senate Republicans blocked a similar bill on Tuesday.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Trump has failed to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the election meddling and is unlikely to do so when the two leaders meet at the G-20 Summit this week in Japan.

“American people have little confidence that President Trump will stand up to Putin, so Congress must act,” Schumer told a news conference to highlight Democratic efforts to pass legislation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Russians systematically attacked America’s election system in 2016 “and they are doing it again.”

“Top intelligence and law enforcement officials warn the Russians are waging another attack as we speak,” she said.

An indictment filed by Mueller charged a Russian Internet agency and more than a dozen Russian officials with interfering the 2016 election with the aim of supporting Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The indictment outlined a conspiracy by the Russians, who traveled to U.S. states, including Nevada, to collect intelligence and disrupt the election with false online messages.

The House bill would provide $600 million in grants to states and local governments to tighten election security. It would also require a national strategy to protect against cyberattacks on election systems.

“Nevadans should never doubt that their votes count,” said Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev. “I hope these funds will provide peace of mind for Nevadans at the ballot box and will address any concerns they have about election safety going forward.”

But Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, said he would block legislation that takes state authority over elections and hands it to the federal government.

Other Republicans, in both the House and Senate, accused Democrats of playing politics with the bills that should be free of partisanship.

McConnell had refused to take up legislation passed by the Democrat-led House on gun control, health care and campaign finance reforms that were promised when they won back control of the chamber in 2018.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said McConnell has blocked every piece of election security legislation “since the Earth cooled.”

Republicans in the House and Senate have worked on bipartisan legislation to provide funding to states to upgrade their systems. Democrats insist a bill could pass in the Senate if McConnell would agree to bring it up.

Schumer said at the news conference that public awareness of Russian election meddling and the expected passage of the House bill could force McConnell to act.

“Pressure for him to act on election security mounts every day,” Schumer said.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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