Politics & Government

Republicans use McConnell allies to try and force his hand on election security

A conservative group is increasing pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to put election security legislation up for a vote in the Senate by airing ads that target the Kentucky Republican and four other Republican senators in their home states.

Republicans for the Rule of Law is unveiling new spots that urge Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, to push McConnell for a vote, urging them “don’t let Mitch McConnell stand in your way.” The group is also re-airing a 60-second ad that calls on McConnell to act.

The 30-second spots will air nearly daily on Fox & Friends starting Wednesday. They’ll also run on Fox News Sunday and NBC’s Meet the Press in the senators’ home cities on Sunday as part of a $400,000 ad buy that includes digital ads.

The ads note the senators’ support for election security legislation.

“McConnell and all Republican Senators have no greater responsibility than protecting our elections from foreign enemies like Russia and Iran,” said Republicans for the Rule of Law legal advisor and spokesman Chris Truax.

Bill Kristol, a member of the group and the former editor of the Weekly Standard, said Republicans for the Rule of Law believes the issue deserves a hearing on the Senate floor.

“How do you defend not letting these bills come to the floor for debate and discussion?” said Kristol. “What’s the rationale for literally doing nothing?”

Rubio, Graham and Lankford all support various election security bills to counter election tampering by foreign governments in the wake of the 2016 election and Blunt chairs the Senate Rules Committee that has jurisdiction over the legislation.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress largely agree that Russia sought to interfere in the election, but McConnell has been reluctant to take up any election-related legislation.

McConnell’s office said his views were captured in a five-page letter he wrote earlier this month to Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes that detailed “significant steps” the Trump administration had taken to defend against election meddling. He also noted the Senate has passed election security legislation since the 2016 election, including giving the Department of Justice more tools to investigate and prosecute individuals who hack into election systems.

Democrats have suggested McConnell doesn’t want to take up the legislation because it would embarrass President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly cast doubt on whether Russia interfered in the election, despite a unified assessment from U.S. intelligence agencies that it did.

Blunt has blamed House Democrats for McConnell’s hardline stance, saying they overreached in January when they passed a sweeping measure focused on voting rights, campaign finance, and government ethics. Blunt accused Democrats in a July floor speech of trying to turn a serious issue into a “political football” and said that the Senate is committed to election security.

The criticism of McConnell intensified last month when he rejected efforts by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, to have the Senate unanimously pass the House bill. That request came as former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified that Russia is still trying to intervene in U.S. elections.

McConnell has routinely derided the legislation and says it represents a “Trojan horse for partisan wish-list items that would not actually make our elections safer.” His refusal to take up the legislation led MSNBC Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough, a former Florida congressman, to dub McConnell “Moscow Mitch” and prompted McConnell to hotly defend his record on Russia.

The legislation referenced in the ads include a bill sponsored by Rubio and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland which would impose stiff sanctions on Russia’s banking, energy and defense industries if there was evidence of election meddling.

The legislation, known as the DETER act, also calls on the administration to present Congress with a strategy on preventing interference in U.S. elections for China, Iran, North Korea and “any other foreign state of significant concern.”

Rubio’s office said it has talked with the White House and Senate leadership in hopes of getting the bill on the Senate floor.

Another bill is co-sponsored by Graham which would boost transparency of political and campaign ads that run on the web by requiring them to publicly disclose who paid for them.

Some conservatives, however, say the legislation, dubbed the Honest Ads Act, overreaches and could stifle free speech.

And Lankford, along with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, has legislation that would streamline cybersecurity information-sharing between federal intelligence agencies and state election authorities and provide security clearances to state election officials.