The House’s most moderate Democrats are rolling out a detailed policy plan on Friday aimed at countering foreign election interference, in hopes that they can refocus the post-Mueller Report discussion away from impeachment and instead revive election security measures languishing in Mitch McConnell’s Senate.
In the plan, which was provided to The Daily Beast, the Blue Dog Coalition lays out a specific agenda for addressing a variety of election security concerns that pulls proposals from 11 pieces of legislation—each of which has bipartisan backing, according to the group.
Having GOP buy-in is key, according to Blue Dogs, in removing any whiff of partisanship from the election interference discussion. Moderates have largely sought to steer far clear of the Mueller investigation, particularly the second half of the report, which covers possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.
The Blue Dog Coalition is made up of two dozen House Democrats at the party’s political center. Some of them represent districts Trump carried by double digits in 2016, putting them at the top of the GOP’s 2020 target list.
Only one Blue Dog, Rep. Filemon Vela (D-TX), has voiced support for impeachment; others have dismissed it as a pipe dream. As momentum builds among the rest of the caucus toward launching an impeachment inquiry—something many Blue Dogs are convinced their constituents don’t want and could hurt Democrats politically—the moderates are shining a fresh light on interference to keep the ongoing investigation into obstruction at bay.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a freshman Blue Dog and former CIA official who represents a Trump-leaning Virginia district, told The Daily Beast that Republicans and Democrats agree on an indisputable premise—that election interference was and continues to be a threat to the integrity of U.S. democracy—and cast the new policy push as something both sides can gather around, drawing an implicit comparison with the politically charged obstruction investigation being carried out by the House Judiciary Committee.
“In choosing to make it bipartisan, we’re hopeful people will recognize this is a legitimate problem we’re trying to address in a measured, bipartisan, and solutions-focused endeavor,” said Spanberger.
The Blue Dogs’ plan aims to give state and local governments more tools to combat interference, improve coordination and response to attacks among relevant federal and state agencies, introduce new statutes in the criminal code for election security violations and strengthen existing ones.
Their proposals also include beefing up sanctions against Russian and other foreign entities for past meddling, putting a plan in place for future sanctions if needed, and clarifying the kinds of meddling that should require U.S. retaliation—namely, purchasing political ads, hacking election-related entities, and releasing sensitive information like campaign emails.
Top-line parts of the agenda consist of existing bills that have been pushed by Democrats and Republicans but have stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate, where McConnell has all but declared that election-security bills are dead on arrival.
The Honest Ads Act, for example, is supported by a range of Democrats and has buy-in from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). But the legislation, which would expand the public’s knowledge of who pays for political ads that appear online, has been stalled in the Senate for years. That’s the same fate meeting a modest bill, from Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and James Lankford (R-OK), which proposes the use of paper ballots, post-election results audits, and other measures.
Despite the harsh political reality of the Senate, some Blue Dogs were optimistic about their chances to move the agenda forward.
“What I do believe is that [McConnell] responds to a few things,” said Rep. Max Rose, a freshman Blue Dog from New York. “He responds to money, he responds to public pressure. I don’t think he’ll take a max-out from me.”
“My colleagues,” Rose said of Republican lawmakers, “are ready and willing to do the right thing.”
Other Blue Dogs are arguing that McConnell’s stance shouldn’t make their push any less serious. Spanberger argued that lawmakers “shouldn’t have to second-guess McConnell on every corner because he refuses systematically to do his job and bring this legislation forward.”
“We, as members of Congress have an obligation to protect this country,” said Spanberger. “We’ve identified a vulnerability. We’re trying to protect this country.”