/Senate removes measure demanding campaigns report foreign election help

Senate removes measure demanding campaigns report foreign election help

WASHINGTON – A measure requiring presidential campaigns to report any attempts by foreign entities interfering in U.S. elections was stripped by Senate Republicans as a condition of passing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in a “backroom deal” Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA., said Tuesday.

The NDAA, which is being debated on the Senate floor this week, will include the Intelligence Authorization Act but not the amendment requiring campaigns to report foreign help to the proper authorities after that provision was stripped from the bipartisan defense bill.

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Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that his Republican colleagues had forced the deletion of the foreign assistance reporting provision as part of a condition to combine the intelligence legislation with the annual defense policy bill.

“I fear the Senate is about to fail once again to protect our elections from foreign interference,” Warner said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Earlier in June, the intelligence committee narrowly approved the amendment from Warner and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, behind closed doors which added the provision to the Intelligence Authorization Act. 

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This amendment was an espoused version of Warner’s Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections (FIRE) Act, which he had introduced in 2019. The FIRE Act would require all presidential campaigns to report any contact with foreign entities that sought or attempted to coordinate help or make donations to the campaigns to the FBI and the Federal Election Commission (FEC). 

Warner had attempted to bring this legislation to the floor over the past year, but his GOP colleagues objected to each attempt. 

The Virginia Democrat said he’ll press for a vote to add his provision as an amendment to force senators to go on the record for or against it.

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“If my Republican colleagues want to strip this legislation out of the NDAA behind closed doors, then I’m going to offer it up as an amendment to force an up-or-down vote and put every member of this body on the record,” Warner said.

Warner continued, “In a different time, with a different president, this bill wouldn’t be controversial at all,” citing President Donald Trump asking Ukraine to investigate his Democratic rival, Joe Biden and his son, and his call for Russia to find former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 election.

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He said that when foreign entities offer to help campaigns, “the appropriate response is not to say ‘thank you.’ The appropriate response is ‘call the FBI’. What a sad statement about partisan politics in our country when we can’t even agree on that.”

Earlier in June, acting Intelligence Chairman Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the provision went beyond the committee’s authority, and that Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who is on the Intelligence panel, raised objections while arguing the issue should be within his panel’s jurisdiction.

Rubio said then, “It’ll probably be stripped out because it doesn’t belong” and that if they “start putting things in our bill that belong in other committees’ jurisdiction, they’re going to start doing the same thing to us.”

Additionally, Warner accused Republicans Tuesday of continually blocking the legislation to “earn applause from the president on Twitter.”

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Ten., called it a “blatant political stunt” when she blocked Warner’s legislation in 2019. This stopped it from receiving unanimous consent in order to move forward. Trump tweeted his appreciation, thanking Blackburn for blocking the bill and “fighting obstructionist Democrats.”

“Democrats continue to look for a do-over on the Mueller Report and will stop at nothing to distract the American people from the great accomplishments of this Administration!” Trump tweeted then.

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Warner also noted that some of his Republican colleagues said the president was wrong to seek Ukraine’s help in investigating the Bidens during the Senate’s impeachment trial, but they didn’t vote to convict and remove him from office.

“If we can’t trust the president of the United States and his campaign to do the right thing and report foreign interference, then we need to require it by law,” Warner stated.

Contributing: Andrew Wigdor, The Tennessean