Congress

Senate Democrats prioritize defense amendments to boost election security

Schumer makes public push for McConnell to allow NDAA votes on election security

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer is prioritizing election security amendments to the NDAA. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

In one of the few chances they have to offer amendments this year, Senate Democrats are trying to prioritize efforts to keep Russia from further meddling in U.S. elections.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer made that clear Tuesday morning, highlighting Democrat-led efforts to amend the fiscal 2020 national defense authorization measure that is in line for floor consideration after several nomination votes.

[Mueller departs with warning: Don’t forget Russia’s election meddling]

“NDAA, as I said, has always been about protecting national security,” Schumer said. “And if protecting our elections from foreign interference isn’t a national security issue, then what the heck is?”

Schumer, a New York Democrat, anticipated the start of the real work on the defense bill could come Wednesday. While a robust amendment process used to be the norm for the annual Pentagon policy bill, that has not been the case in recent years — even though the mammoth packages still ultimately become law.

“Simply put, it is Congress’ solemn obligation to protect our elections, the wellspring of our democracy, and any leader who doesn’t do that is abdicating their responsibilities to our grand democracy,” Schumer said. “If Russia or any other country is able to interfere in the 2020 elections, it’s going to shake the confidence in our democracy. It endangers the future of this democracy.”

Schumer was ready to rattle off a list of Senate Democrats who would have relevant amendments lined up for the defense measure, though if a test of germaneness ultimately applies, they could fall by the wayside for procedural reasons.

“I am calling on Leader McConnell to allow votes on amendments to the NDAA, the defense bill coming up this week, related to securing our elections from foreign interference. This is a national security issue. Make no mistake about it, it belongs in the NDAA,” Schumer told reporters. “Many of my colleagues: Blumenthal, Feinstein, Warner, Klobuchar, will seek to make sure the Senate acts on their amendments to the bill to secure our elections from foreign interference.”

Those Democratic senators mentioned by Schumer (Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Dianne Feinstein of California, Mark Warner of Virginia and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota) include the ranking members of several key committees.

The effort to get votes on the fiscal 2020 defense policy bill is one of the three prongs of the approach that Schumer outlined Tuesday morning. He also said Democrats would keep making unanimous consent requests to get election security-related legislation called up in a standalone fashion, also highlighting bipartisan Russia sanctions proposals.

[‘My way or the highway’: An approach to the NDAA debate]

Warner, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, made one such request seeking to advance his election legislation last week, but Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn objected.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has declined thus far to make floor time available for standalone debates on boosting election security in 2019.

Schumer also said he would be pushing for additional funding for election security as part of the ongoing discussions on fiscal 2020 spending levels, and he said he plans to bring it up at a Wednesday meeting with other top congressional leaders and the White House.

“Two years ago, Democrats secured $380 million in the appropriations process. It was well spent, all spent, everyone agrees it was effective. Last year, Republicans blocked additional funding. We’re going to demand additional funding in this upcoming budget negotiation,” Schumer said.

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