Dems’ Partisan Approach To Election Security Undermines Our Bipartisan Progress

Thanks To Important Work By The Senate, The Trump Administration, The Intelligence Community, And Local Officials, Our Elections Are Safer Than They Were In 2016, When The Obama Administration Fell Down On The Job, But Prominent Democrats Refuse To Acknowledge That, Choosing Instead To Sow Division And Fear For Partisan Purposes


“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday accused Senate Democrats of furthering election interference goals of foreign adversaries by downplaying the U.S. progress on election security. In a four-page letter to Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), McConnell wrote that Democrats are ‘sowing the kind of divisions’ in U.S. society about the Democratic process that the leaders of Russia and China have aimed to do by expressing repeated concerns around the security of elections.” (“McConnell Accuses Democrats Of Sowing Division By 'Downplaying Progress' On Election Security,” The Hill, 9/17/2020)

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH McCONNELL (R-KY) Letter to SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): “Americans must have confidence their state and local authorities are doing everything possible to conduct safe, fair, and secure elections. That’s why Congress, the Trump administration, the Intelligence Community, and the private sector have spent four years working together to help election authorities prepare for this year’s general election. Serious threats remain … But as you have heard countless times in the many briefings you and I have received from nonpartisan experts, and as the Democratic Vice Chairman of the Intelligence Committee has publicly affirmed many times, our nation is far better prepared now than the Obama-Biden administration had us prepared for 2016. The list of improvements is massive, from high-tech cyber sensors to streamlined bureaucracies. Today, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, the Intelligence Community, all 50 states, thousands of local authorities, and private-sector partners such as social media companies collaborate intensely on a daily basis. These coordinated defenses were nonexistent in 2016. The Senate and the Trump administration have imposed painful foreign policy costs on Russia for their election interference and other misdeeds…. The Trump administration has also directly involved the Department of Defense in election security…. In sum, on President Obama’s watch, as Vice Chairman Warner of the Intelligence Committee put it, ‘we were caught flat-footed.’ Nobody thinks the threats are behind us, but America is not flat-footed anymore.” (Sen. McConnell, Letter to Sen. Schumer, 9/17/2020)

  • SEN. McCONNELL: “As you know, the Senate has led at every stage. Our colleagues on the Intelligence Committee spent years studying what led up to 2016. They conducted roughly 200 interviews, received dozens of briefings, and produced a five-part, 1,300-plus-page bipartisan report. Federal and local officials have already taken some of their recommendations. The Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee has held numerous hearings and member and staff briefings on election security. Our colleagues on the Rules Committee and their staff have been in constant contact with officials and stakeholders at every level and have held major hearings themselves. Then there is the matter of funding. Since 2016, Congress has set aside more than $1 billion to shore up elections. The latest data suggest that we have approved this funding faster than the authorities on the ground can even spend it. This March alone, we set aside $400 million more for elections, specifically to cope with the pandemic.” (Sen. McConnell, Letter to Sen. Schumer, 9/17/2020)

SEN. McCONNELL: “This significant progress should not be ignored for political purposes. It should be acknowledged and applauded by everyone…. When our adversaries meddle in American politics, their main goal is to divide us and erode trust in our government. As Russia expert Dr. Fiona Hill explained to Congress, they want to ‘divide us against each other, degrade our institutions, and destroy the faith of the American people in our democracy.’ Dr. Hill also explained that ‘when we are consumed by partisan rancor, we cannot combat these external forces’ as we ought.” (Sen. McConnell, Letter to Sen. Schumer, 9/17/2020)

  • SEN. McCONNELL: “Leading Democrats and prominent media voices have spent years downplaying our progress on election security, casting doubt on the legitimacy of elections that Democrats do not win, and abusing this crucial issue as a platform for partisan finger-pointing…. This endless parade of partisan hysterias has furthered our adversaries’ goals to a degree that Putin, Xi, and the mullahs in Tehran could scarcely have dreamt of achieving themselves. Even the most sensitive matters have become grist for the mill of cheap partisanship.” (Sen. McConnell, Letter to Sen. Schumer, 9/17/2020)


Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA): ‘We Are Safer,’ ‘Our Elections Are Far More Secure Today Than They Were In 2016’

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman: “When the Russians attacked elections systems in 2016, neither the federal government nor the states were adequately prepared. Our bipartisan investigation identified multiple problems and information gaps that hindered our ability to effectively respond and defend against the Russian attack in 2016. Since then – and in large part as a result of the bipartisan work done on this issue in our Committee – the intelligence community, DHS, the FBI, and the states have taken steps to ensure that our elections are far more secure today than they were in 2016.” (Sen. Warner, Press Release, 7/25/2019)

CNN’s JIM SCIUTTO: “Is our election any safer from Russian interference today than it was 4 years ago?”
SEN. WARNER (D-VA): “Well we are safer. We’ve seen dramatic improvement in the security of our election system. Most states have got a paper ballot backup, for example…. And clearly, the intelligence community has got literally hundreds of people working on this. So that’s all to the good.” (CNN’s “Newsroom,” 8/20/2020)

  • SEN. WARNER: “Now, we are safer because election officials of both parties across the state or across the country have stepped up. We are safer because while not perfect, the social media companies are doing better at trying to ferret out some of the most abusive misinformation. We are better because literally hundreds of intelligence -- counterintelligence professionals are doing their job.” (MSNBC, 8/18/2020)

GEN. PAUL NAKASONE, NSA Director and Commander of U.S. Cyber Command: “The National Security Agency is a critical Cyber Command partner…. The power of this partnership can be seen in how Cyber Command and the NSA worked together to protect against meddling in the 2018 midterm elections. Experts from both organizations formed the Russia Small Group (RSG), a task force created to ensure that democratic processes were executed unfettered by Russian activity. It shared indicators of potential compromise, enabling DHS to harden the security of election infrastructure. It also shared threat indicators with the FBI to bolster that organization’s efforts to counter foreign trolls on social media platforms. And Cyber Command sent personnel on several hunt forward missions, where governments had invited them to search for malware on their networks. Thanks to these and other efforts, the United States disrupted a concerted effort to undermine the midterm elections. Together with its partners, Cyber Command is doing all of this and more for the 2020 elections.” (Gen. Nakasone and Michael Sulmeyer, “How to Compete in Cyberspace,” Foreign Affairs, 8/25/2020)


Congress Has Passed $805 Million For Election Security In The Last Two Years

2018: “Congress provided $380 million in election security funding as part of its massive spending bill, a move that reflects the growing consensus in Washington that more needs to be done to ensure the integrity of America’s elections…. It’s the largest distribution of funds from the federal government to states in the area of election security since Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002 …” (“A Rare Bipartisan Effort In Congress Would Help States Fight Hackers Ahead Of The 2018 Midterms,” Business Insider, 3/22/2018)

2019: “Congress will approve a total of $425 million in election security funding, according to two sources familiar with the deal…. It’s the biggest influx of cash to bolster US election infrastructure since the 2016 election … Congress also passed $380 million for election security in the appropriations bill of 2018.” (“Congress To Approve $425 Million For Election Security Upgrades,” CNN, 12/16/2019)

SEN. PAT LEAHY (D-VT), Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member: “Importantly, the agreement includes $425 million for Election Security grants … This funding will build upon funding provided in fiscal year 2018 to continue to help states upgrade election technology, improve cybersecurity, and help prevent future cyberattacks.” (U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations Minority, Press Release, 12/19/2019)

And The CARES Act Included Another $400 Million To Help States With Elections During The Pandemic

“The [CARES Act] provides $400,000,000 to the Election Assistance Commission to provide grants to the States in response to the coronavirus for the 2020 election cycle.” (U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, Release, 3/25/2020)

  • U.S. ELECTION ASSISTANCE COMMISSION: “The Act includes $400 million in new Help America Vote Act (HAVA) emergency funds, made available to states to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus for the 2020 federal election cycle. This supplemental appropriation funding, distributed by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), will provide states with additional resources to protect the 2020 elections from the effects of the novel coronavirus.” (“2020 CARES Act Grants,” U.S. Election Assistance Commission Website, Accessed 9/16/2020)


The Senate Passed Bipartisan Bills To Boost The Intelligence Community’s Ability To Secure Elections, To Strengthen Laws Against Hacking Election Systems, And To Block Individuals Who Meddle In U.S. Elections From Being Able To Enter The United States

“The IAA for Fiscal Years 2018-2020 represents a bipartisan effort by the Senate Intelligence Committee to authorize the U.S. Intelligence Community’s funding, personnel, and activities, and to ensure continued Congressional oversight of critical programs. The bill improves our Intelligence Community’s ability to protect and defend our country, including in the following key areas: … Securing our elections from foreign meddling by requiring strategic assessments of Russian cyber threats and influence campaigns, and facilitating increased information sharing between state, local, and federal government officials.” (U.S. Senate Select Committee On Intelligence, Press Release, 5/14/2019; U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Press Release, 6/27/2019)

Strong election security provisions were included in the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), including expediting security clearances for state elections officials (Sec. 10507), requiring the ODNI to review the intel community’s election security posture (Sec. 10502), mandating that the federal government develop a whole-of-government strategy to counter threat of Russian cyber-attacks (Sec. 10504), improves Congressional reporting of active measures (Sec. 10508), and required the ODNI to establish an Intelligence Community Election Threats Executive (Sec. 10509), and also establishing the need for the ODNI, CIA, NSA, FBI, and DHS to report to Congress on threats facing federal elections 180 days before each election. (Sec. 10503) (S. 1790, 116th Congress)

“The Senate took another small step to improve election security Wednesday evening… [S]enators passed by unanimous consent a bipartisan bill out of the Senate Judiciary Committee designed to make sure that hacking election systems is actually a federal crime. The bill would amend current law on computer hacking to specify that hacking a computer designated as part of a voting system or for the administration of a federal election is a crime.” (“Senate Seeks To Make Sure That Hacking Election Systems Is A Federal Crime,” Roll Call, 7/18/2019

“The Senate cleared legislation on Monday night to block individuals who meddle in U.S. elections from being able to enter the United States. The legislation, known as the Defending Elections against Trolls from Enemy Regimes Act (DETER Act), easily passed the Senate by unanimous consent … The bill, spearheaded by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), would block individuals from being able to obtain a visa if they were attempting to or had engaged in ‘improper interference in U.S. elections.’ According to the legislation, that would include violating voting or campaign finance laws or trying to interfere in elections or a campaign while under the direction of a foreign government.” (“Senate Passes Bill To Deny Entry For Individuals Who Meddle In US Elections,” The Hill, 6/3/2019)


‘Caught Flat-Footed,’ ‘The Obama Administration Failed To Do Enough To Stop The Russians’ In Their 2016 Attempts At Election Interference, And ‘Putin Was Left Largely Undeterred’

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s Bipartisan Report Found The Obama Administration Was Unprepared To Respond To Russian Interference

ABC: “The Obama administration failed to do enough to stop the Russians from meddling in the 2016 presidential elections, according to a bipartisan conclusion reached by members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.” (“Obama Administration ‘Flat-Footed’ As Russians Meddled In 2016 Election: Senate Panel,” ABC News, 6/20/2018)

POLITICO: “Senate report faults Obama administration’s paralysis on Russian election interference” (Politico, 2/06/2020)

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman: “As we examine the policy questions faced by the Obama administration and this Congress during the 2016 campaign, it’s evident that in many ways we were caught flat-footed at the outset and our collective response was inadequate to meet Russia’s escalation. At the end of the day, it’s hard to see the Russian influence campaign as anything but a success for Vladimir Putin.” (U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Hearing, 6/20/2018)

After Obama Administration Officials Were Alerted To Russian Interference Attempts, They Were Paralyzed By Indecision And Did Little To Respond

“Widespread paralysis in the Obama administration prevented the U.S. from developing an effective response to combat Russian hacking in the 2016 election, according to a new, bipartisan report from the Senate Intelligence Committee.” (“Senate Report Faults Obama Administration’s Paralysis On Russian Election Interference,” Politico, 2/06/2020)

BIPARTISAN SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “While some policy options were ready to execute on short notice--in part because they had been developed, but not used, in response to earlier acts of Russian aggression--a more comprehensive set of options took time to formulate and prepare. The extremely restricted nature of the discussions by cabinet level officials hampered the administration’s ability to prepare complex response options. Policymakers were also concerned about escalation and believed their options for sending a nuanced message to Moscow prior to the election were limited.” (Report Of The Select Committee On Intelligence, United States Senate, On Russian Active Measures Campaigns And Interference In The 2016 U.S. Election, Volume 3: U.S. Government Response To Russian Activities, 2/06/2020)

“The reluctance of the Obama White House to respond to the alleged Russian intrusions before Election Day upset Democrats on the Hill as well as members of the Clinton campaign. Within the administration, top officials from different agencies sparred over whether and how to respond. White House officials were concerned that covert retaliatory measures might risk an escalation in which Russia, with sophisticated cyber-capabilities, might have less to lose than the United States, with its vast and vulnerable digital infrastructure.” (The Washington Post, 12/09/2016)

BIPARTISAN SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “[White House Chief of Staff Denis] McDonough stated that he did not recall any specific proposals for pre-election response actions though he noted that ‘it was a decision to not act before the election ... although there was work that we had to do, which obviously informed then the timing of when we do take the steps we take in December.’” (Report Of The Select Committee On Intelligence, United States Senate, On Russian Active Measures Campaigns And Interference In The 2016 U.S. Election, Volume 3: U.S. Government Response To Russian Activities, 2/06/2020)

  • “In a hearing held by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence [in 2018], former assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, who also served in the George W. Bush administration as the U.S. ambassador to NATO, said that apart from issuing a ‘stern and personal’ warning to Putin during a September G-20 summit, President Obama chose to wait until after the election to launch an investigation and a retaliatory response.” (“Former Obama Officials Say Putin Was Largely Undeterred In Election Meddling Efforts,” CBS News, 6/20/2018)

“Several administration officials told the Committee that they believed they had exhausted the non-escalatory actions they could take prior to the election …” (Report Of The Select Committee On Intelligence, United States Senate, On Russian Active Measures Campaigns And Interference In The 2016 U.S. Election, Volume 3: U.S. Government Response To Russian Activities, 2/06/2020)

Instead, Obama Officials Repeatedly Issued Ineffective Warnings To The Russians That Were Simply Ignored

BIPARTISAN SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT: “Actions undertaken prior to the November 8, 2016, presidential election were limited to admonishing the Russians at various levels, providing federal assistance to secure state election infrastructure, and issuing a public statement attributing the penetration of the DNC and the disclosure of illicitly obtained information to Moscow.” (Report Of The Select Committee On Intelligence, United States Senate, On Russian Active Measures Campaigns And Interference In The 2016 U.S. Election, Volume 3: U.S. Government Response To Russian Activities, 2/06/2020)

“The Committee found that after the warnings, Russia continued its cyber activity, to include further public dissemination of stolen emails, clandestine social media-based influence operations, and penetration of state voting infrastructure through Election Day 2016.” (Report Of The Select Committee On Intelligence, United States Senate, On Russian Active Measures Campaigns And Interference In The 2016 U.S. Election, Volume 3: U.S. Government Response To Russian Activities, 2/06/2020)

Obama Administration Officials Now Admit: ‘It Is The Hardest Thing About My Entire Time In Government To Defend’

FORMER SENIOR OBAMA ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL INVOLVED IN WHITE HOUSE DELIBERATIONS ON RUSSIA: “It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend … I feel like we sort of choked.” (“Obama’s Secret Struggle To Punish Russia For Putin’s Election Assault,” The Washington Post, 6/23/2017)

SUZANNE SPAULDING, Then-Under Secretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD), Department of Homeland Security: “There is certainly room for criticism in the way the administration responded…. It’s a fair criticism, certainly fair to say that we did not have the focus on possible Russian interference in our election that we came to have later in the year.” (“Senate: Obama Officials Hamstrung By Russia Election Attack,” The Associated Press, 2/06/2020)

“Two former Obama administration officials said Wednesday that a failure to recognize the ‘scope and scale’ of Russia’s disinformation and influence campaign – alongside a reluctance to punish the Kremlin at a politically sensitive time – meant president Vladimir Putin was left largely undeterred during the 2016 presidential election.” (“Former Obama Officials Say Putin Was Largely Undeterred In Election Meddling Efforts,” CBS News, 6/20/2018)


Related Issues: NDAA, Campaigns & Elections, Homeland Security, Cybersecurity, National Security, Russia, Senate Democrats