The Senate on Wednesday rejected a bid by Democrats to appropriate an additional $250 million in grants to individual states to bolster the security of their voting systems.
The rejection of new funding comes less than 100 days before the 2018 midterm elections, and as President Donald Trump’s intelligence chiefs are sounding the alarm about the continued threat of election interference emanating from Russia. Last week, The Daily Beast revealed that Russian hackers unsuccessfully targeted Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for re-election this year, making her the first identified target of Moscow’s interference in the 2018 midterm elections.
“The fact that we have to battle for election security funding is ridiculous,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said in an interview. “I hear a lot of my Republican colleagues say that this is a bipartisan problem. But it seems that Democrats are the only ones who are willing to put up significant money to protect our elections.”
All Republicans, except for Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), voted against the measure. Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and John McCain (R-AZ) were not present for the vote. The amendment, offered by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), received 50 votes. It needed 60 to pass.
Earlier this year, the Senate set aside $380 million for similar protective measures to guard against election interference and cyberattacks launched by foreign governments. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said the additional $250 million was not necessary at this time.
“We haven’t spent the $380 million yet,” Cornyn said. “This was just a big check without much detail when we’ve already generously funded those efforts and they haven’t spent the money that we already appropriated.”
Last month, House Republicans defeated a similar amendment that would have approved more funding for election-security grants aimed at deterring foreign election interference.
Corker, the only Senate Republican to vote for the measure, said it was necessary for Congress to set aside more money for states to safeguard their election systems.
“Even though states have not yet fully completed using the 2018 money, we still have the 2020 election coming up,” Corker told The Daily Beast. “It just seemed to me to be the right vote. We’re talking about $250 million, a very small amount of money.”
Congress has struggled with how to respond to the continued threat of Russian interference, even after it was revealed that at least one lawmaker was the target of a Russian cyberattack.
Lawmakers have been reluctant to rally behind a more biting sanctions regime proposed by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), citing existing sanctions already in place that Congress passed overwhelmingly last year. Additionally, the Trump administration has not approved offensive measures aimed at pushing back on Moscow more effectively.
At the same time, Cornyn and others on both sides of the political aisle are arguing that the existing sanctions regime, while robust, is “not working” because it is not deterring Russian active measures to interfere in the 2018 elections.
“We’re reluctant to fight fire with fire. We don’t play by the same rules the Russians do. And that’s because we’re not the Russians. We’re different, and we should stay different,” Murphy told The Daily Beast. “But at some point, we need to think about offensive capabilities... to counter their persistent attacks on us.”