(Bloomberg) -- The Democratic-led House of Representatives passed the first of a series of bills aimed at securing U.S. elections before 2020, responding to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s findings that Russia acted to swing the 2016 vote in President Donald Trump’s favor.
The bills are an attempt to pressure Senate Republicans into joining efforts to protect state voting systems and punish foreign actors that try to interfere. While some provisions could pick up support from individual Republicans, GOP Senate leaders are unlikely to put the measures to a vote in their current form.
“The president has said that the charge of Russians interfering in our elections was a hoax, and indeed, he gave a green light to the Russians to do more,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday. “That is not going to fly.”
Democrats have differed on how to respond to Mueller’s findings, with some insisting that Trump must be impeached for the actions outlined in the special counsel report and for stonewalling House investigations. Pelosi has resisted calls for impeachment and is trying to turn the Mueller report into a political and policy victory by focusing on securing the election system from foreign interference.
The House passed the first bill, H.R. 2722, Thursday on a 225 to 184 vote. The measure sponsored by House Administration Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren would create new requirements for the states to improve their election infrastructure.
Lofgren said she’s working on another package of bills to act on next month, possibly including sanctions on Russia and creating a duty to report offers of campaign help from foreign intelligence agencies.
“We know that foreign nefarious actors continue to meddle in our democratic systems and we have been put on notice that previous efforts were only a trial run presumably for our next election,” Lofgren told reporters.
The issue took on increased political urgency earlier this month when Trump said in an ABC News interview that he would accept damaging information on political opponents from foreigners. He partially walked back the comment after an outcry.
A group of moderate House Democrats known as the Blue Dog Coalition unveiled a series of proposals this month to address election security as part of an effort to encourage Pelosi to highlight the issue. The proposals include possible sanctions on Russia’s sovereign debt, similar to legislation that has thus far failed to advance in the Senate.
Florida Representative Stephanie Murphy, who’s spearheading that group’s election security push, said that the package was not offered as an alternative to impeachment.
“This is not an ‘instead,’” she said. “This doesn’t in any way impede the investigation or oversight responsibilities that Congress has.”
The Democratic focus on election security has gained little traction so far with Republicans, something Democrats hope to change through a series of public events over the July 4 recess. House Republicans objected to the Lofgren bill, saying it would allow the federal government to usurp the election powers of states and localities.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has shown little interest in advancing the legislation and has committed only to a briefing by the administration for all senators about efforts to prevent foreign interference in the 2020 elections.
He’s also dismissed some Democratic proposals as designed to give Democrats advantages over Republicans at the ballot box.
“We know that Mitch McConnell has opposed every single election reform since the day the Earth cooled,” said Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon.
Still, some Republicans have said they’re interested in passing a bill.
“I feel very strongly that we should pass an election security bill,” said Maine Republican Susan Collins. “If you look at the ongoing efforts by the Russians and other foreign adversaries, they are not giving up.”
Collins said she’s talking to Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, about supporting his bill that requires campaigns to notify the FBI about any attempts by a foreign government to interfere in U.S. elections.
There are also a number of bipartisan measures already introduced or in the works.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, and Senator James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, are planning to reintroduce legislation that improves cybersecurity information sharing between states and the federal government. Klobuchar is also seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2020.
Klobuchar, Warner and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have a bipartisan “Honest Ads Act” that would ensure ads on platforms like YouTube and Facebook are covered by the same rules as TV or radio, allowing the public to know who is paying for them and how much was spent.
Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida introduced a bill that would implement sanctions if Russia interferes in the 2020 elections. Graham and Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, also proposed a separate sanctions bill.
It would take 60 votes in the Senate to pass legislation, so some support from both parties will be needed. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has said he’ll seek to bring up proposals on the Senate floor to pressure McConnell. Those proposals could be blocked by the objection of a single senator, though.
Unless more Republicans get on board and pressure McConnell to do the same, Democrats may have their best chance to make an impact in the federal spending debate. Congress already approved $380 million to help states improve their election security systems after the 2016 elections, and Schumer has expressed optimism about getting more this year.
To contact the reporters on this story: Erik Wasson in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org;Laura Litvan in Washington at email@example.com
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