Key Senate panel approves $250 million for election security
WASHINGTON — A key Senate panel on Thursday approved $250 million to help states beef up their election systems, freeing up the money after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell came under criticism from Democrats for impeding separate election security legislation.
The Kentucky Republican announced in a floor speech in advance of the Appropriations Committee vote that he would support the funding, claiming the Trump administration has “made enormous strides” in protecting the nation’s voting infrastructure.
The committee approved the money on a bipartisan voice vote. The panel’s top Democrat, Patrick Leahy, said “funding election security grants is a matter of national security.”
Democrat Chris Coons said the funding would help states invest in updated voting systems and combat cyberattacks from foreign actors such as Russia, whose widespread efforts on behalf of President Trump’s campaign were documented by special counsel Robert Mueller.
“We are simply responding to what I know to be an unmet need,” Coons said. “In 2016 we all know the Russian government’s military intelligence branch directed extensive activity against our election infrastructure and I think there is important undone work in providing modest federal support that will make some progress in assuring that our election infrastructure is protected.”
An earlier version of a spending bill that funds the Federal Election Assistance Commission did not include the money. But Leahy appeared to have GOP allies on the powerful Appropriations panel and the committee’s top Republican opted for bipartisan negotiations.
“Funding election security grants is a matter of national security, preserving our democracy, and maintaining full faith in our elections,” Leahy said, calling the grants “a vital issue this Committee has not funded since fiscal year 2018, despite a persistent — and confirmed — threat of interference in our elections by foreign adversaries.”
The House has passed significantly broader election security legislation, but McConnell opposes the measure and has discouraged the Senate Rules Committee from acting on a companion bill.
“The Trump administration has made enormous strides to help states secure their elections without giving Washington new power to push the states around,” McConnell said.
Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said “it is significant that Sen. McConnell and Republicans have finally backed down and acknowledged the Senate must act to secure our elections from foreign interference.”
But Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said there is about $250 million in unspent funds from a $380 million appropriation for the 2018 budget year. He said oversight is needed given the loose strings on the grants to states.
Democrats and their allies in liberal interest groups have taken to calling McConnell “Moscow Mitch” over his refusal to bring the separate election security measure up for a Senate vote.