Dec 18 2019
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) took to the Senate floor today to draw attention to the plight of Vietnam-era veterans who are struggling to get veterans benefits for illnesses related to toxic herbicide Agent Orange. In his speech, Warner called on the Trump Administration to reverse its decision to block an expansion of approved Agent Orange–related conditions that automatically qualify a veteran for benefits.
According to documents obtained by the Military Times, in early 2018 White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney blocked a request by then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin to add three medical conditions (bladder cancer, Parkinson’s-like symptoms and hypothyroidism) to the list of approved Agent Orange–related conditions. The documents reveal that an estimated 83,000 veterans would have been made eligible for coverage if the decision had gone through.
“There is more than enough evidence to expand the list of Agent Orange–related conditions. We should be thanking these veterans for their service, not nickel and diming them,” said Sen. Warner on the Senate floor. “I urge my colleagues to listen to the veterans in their states. And I urge the White House to let the V-A provide these veterans with the benefits they’ve earned.”
In his remarks, Warner also shared the stories of two Hampton Roads veterans, William Badgett and Sam Harvey, and one Richmond-area veteran, Dorman Watts of North Chesterfield, VA. In recent months, Sen. Warner’s office has helped these veterans with their Department of Veterans Affairs (V-A) claims related to Agent Orange.
“My office hears regularly from veterans facing health problems like prostate cancer… like Parkinson’s… and other conditions that have been linked to Agent Orange. Time and again we hear how the V-A tries to deny benefits on the basis of a technicality,” continued Sen. Warner. “Mr. President, this is just not right. Unfortunately, this administration is far from the first to ignore the evidence about Agent Orange in order to save a few bucks.”
From 1962 to 1975, the U.S. Military sprayed over 20 million gallons of Agent Orange across Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. This toxic chemical had devastating health effects on millions of American service members in Southeast Asia, as well as to the civilians who were exposed. In 1991, Congress passed a law requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide presumptive coverage to all Vietnam veterans with illnesses that the Institute of Medicine has directly linked to Agent Orange exposure, including those who were stationed on ships off the Vietnamese coast, also known as Blue Water Navy veterans. In June, the President signed into law the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, a Warner-sponsored bill that ended the exclusion of these “Blue Water” veterans. This bipartisan legislation clarified the existing law so that Blue Water Navy veterans will be granted V-A coverage equitable to those who are already covered.
Congress is poised to vote on appropriations legislation this week that will provide $153.6 million to fund the V-A’s implementation of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act. That funding package also includes language requiring the V-A to report to Congress within 30 days 1) the reason for the two-year delay in expanding the presumptive list; 2) a cost estimate for adding new diseases; and 3) the date the VA plans to implement a decision.
Sen. Warner’s remarks as prepared for delivery can be found below:
Mr. President, I rise today to draw attention to a group of veterans who served this country decades ago, but who continue to suffer to this day as a result of their service. I’m talking about the hundreds of thousands of veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during their service.
From 1962 to 1975, the U.S. sprayed over 20 million gallons of Agent Orange across Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
Millions of our service members, not to mention Vietnamese civilians, were exposed.
Fifty years later, hundreds of thousands of Vietnam-era veterans are still paying the price.
From the start, the federal government has tried to slow-walk attempts to cover the care these veterans earned. It wasn’t until 1991 that the VA recognized the connection… between Agent Orange exposure and several diseases and conditions, finally allowing these veterans to seek medical treatment from the VA.
Currently the list of conditions recognized by the VA stands at 14. But the science tells us that the list is far from complete.
In 2017, then-Veterans Affairs Secretary Shulkin called for three more conditions to be added to the list: bladder cancer, underactive thyroid, and Parkinson’s-like symptoms.
Now, these weren’t randomly chosen. They were conditions found by the National Academy of Science… to be connected to Agent Orange exposure.
The science was there, the VA was there. Yet, the White House and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney have blocked this effort to expand the list of conditions.
Do you know what the deciding factor was? It wasn’t the scientific evidence. It wasn’t the advice of VA doctors.
No, Mr. Mulvaney decided that the cost of providing care to 83,000 veterans suffering from these conditions was just too high.
And for that, Mr. President, this administration turned its back on 83,000 veterans who answered the call to serve.
Unfortunately, this is just the latest example of the federal government trying to avoid paying for the care…of men and women our nation sent to war. My office hears regularly from veterans facing health problems… like prostate cancer… like Parkinson’s… and other conditions that have been linked to Agent Orange.
Time and again we hear how the VA tries to deny benefits on the basis of a technicality.
Mr. President, this is just not right. Unfortunately, this administration is far from the first to ignore the evidence about Agent Orange in order to save a few bucks.
I want to share a few stories from my state of Virginia, which more than 204,000 Vietnam-era veterans currently call home. In many cases, veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange have been fighting multiple administrations to get these life-or-death benefits that they earned decades ago.
One veteran, William Badgett, of Hampton, Virginia, was exposed to Agent Orange during his service in Vietnam with the Army.
He was in the 101st Airborne, 1st cavalry… where he served as a helicopter mechanic and supply sergeant. He has been diagnosed with a number of health conditions, including enlarged prostate, osteoporosis, kidney disease, and hardened arteries – none of which are on the VA’s presumptive list.
While the VA considers prostate cancer to be on the list, Mr. Badgett’s enlarged prostate is not presumed by the VA… to be connected to his exposure to Agent Orange… because it is not cancer.
Sam Harvey from Newport News, VA was exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1966 to 1970 aboard the USS Constellation.
He was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer. Yet despite prostate cancer being on the presumptive list, he has struggled to get VA approval for the treatment he needs.
Finally, I want to talk about Dorman Watts from North Chesterfield, VA, a Vietnam veteran, who has struggled for years…to get the disability rating from the VA… that would qualify him for comprehensive healthcare from the VA.
He has prostate cancer and heart disease and is currently undergoing radiation treatment from a private provider.
Mr. President, this is unacceptable. That’s why I’m glad that Congress included important accountability measures, as part of the defense appropriations legislation we passed this week.
Finally, after years of reluctance, years of ignoring the science, these veterans are going to get some answers about the conditions that resulted from their service.
Mr. President, there is more than enough evidence to expand the list of Agent-Orange-related conditions. We should be thanking these veterans for their service, not nickel and diming them.
I urge my colleagues to listen to the veterans in their states. And I urge the White House to let the VA provide these veterans with the benefits they’ve earned.
Thank you, Mr. President.
On Senate Floor, Warner Highlights Virginians who Could be Affected by Trump Admin. Rule Undermining Health Care
Oct 23 2019
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) took to the Senate floor today to highlight a number of Virginians with preexisting conditions who will be affected if the Senate neglects to overturn a Trump Administration waiver rule that destabilizes our health insurance market, weakens protections for Americans with preexisting conditions, and increases costs for millions Americans with quality health plans.
Today’s floor speech comes in advance of a move by Sen. Warner, who will use a legislative maneuver to force an up-or-down vote in the Senate next week, putting every Senator on the record as to whether they stand with Americans with preexisting conditions, or with the Trump Administration in its effort to undermine our nation’s health care system.
“For the last three years, this President has used every tool at his disposal to try to undermine the ACA. He tried to repeal it twice through Congress. When that failed, the Administration joined a lawsuit that would strike down the ACA with no plan to replace it. The truth is, this Administration is unfortunately actively working to destabilize the insurance market,” Sen. Warner said on the Senate floor. “One way the Administration is attempting to undermine the ACA is with these so-called “short-term” plans. Thanks to this administration, these “junk” plans allow insurance companies to once again discriminate against Americans with preexisting conditions. Make no mistake: these plans are a threat to the stability of the insurance market and to every American with a preexisting condition.”
“Madam President, I fear some members of this body have forgotten what it was like before the Affordable Care Act when an unexpected surgery or a diagnosis of a chronic illness could mean a one-way ticket out of the middle class. Unfortunately, this is not a hypothetical. Recently one of my constituents, a man named Jesse, received a $230,000 medical bill for his back surgery. Unbeknownst to him he had purchased a plan that he thought would cover this, but this plan was unfortunately a junk plan that considered his back injury as a preexisting condition,” he continued. “Jesse is one of the more than 3 million Virginians with a preexisting medical condition. I’ve got 3 daughters. Two of my three daughters have preexisting medical conditions that would not be covered under these junk plans. And today I want to share some of those stories to remind my colleagues of what real people will face if we allow this Administration to continue dismantling these protections that folks count on.”
In his floor speech, Sen. Warner shared several stories from Linda in Warren County; Mindy in Henrico; Sharon in Norfolk; Justine in Loudoun County; Katherine in Blacksburg; Michael in Abingdon; James in Danville; and Lynn in Lynchburg.
In July, Sen. Warner led the entire Democratic caucus in introducing the Protect Pre Existing Conditions Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution, which, if approved, would roll back a Trump Administration waiver rule that undermines our nation’s health care law and threatens protections for Americans with preexisting conditions. Last month, Sen. Warner successfully filed a discharge petition to bring the CRA resolution to the floor for a vote.
The Trump Administration’s waiver rule currently gives states the green light to use taxpayer dollars to push “junk plans” – bare-bones plans that don’t meet federal consumer protections and therefore raise premiums for quality insurance plans, increasing costs for older Americans and people with preexisting conditions who need comprehensive coverage. Additionally, under these junk plans, insurance companies can charge people more if they have a preexisting condition, or refuse to cover specific benefits or deny them coverage altogether.
Congressional Review Act resolutions exercise Congress’ authority to review and overturn rules implemented by the executive branch. Unlike other legislation on the Senate floor, a Congressional Review Act resolution only needs a simple majority to pass and can be brought to the Senate floor for a vote with 30 signatures.
Sen. Warner’s remarks as prepared for delivery can be found below:
Madam President, I’m here today because protections for Americans with preexisting medical conditions are under attack from this administration.
For the last three years, this President has used every tool at his disposal to try to undermine the ACA. He tried to repeal it twice through Congress. When that failed, the administration joined a lawsuit that would strike down the ACA — with no plan to replace it.
The truth is, this administration is actively working to destabilize the insurance market.
One way the administration is attempting to undermine the ACA is with these so-called “short-term” plans. Thanks to this administration, these “junk” plans allow insurance companies to once again discriminate against Americans with preexisting conditions.
Make no mistake: these plans are a threat to the stability of the insurance market and to every American with a preexisting condition.
That’s why I’ve introduced a resolution that will force an up-or-down vote on the administration’s rule that pushes more of these junk plans on unsuspecting consumers and significantly increases costs for other Americans.
Madam President, I fear some members of this body have forgotten what it was like before the Affordable Care Act when an unexpected surgery or a diagnosis of a chronic illness could mean a one-way ticket out of the middle class.
Unfortunately, this is not a hypothetical. Recently one of my constituents a man named Jesse received a $230,000 medical bill for his back surgery. Unbeknownst to him he had purchased a junk plan that considered his back injury as a preexisting condition.
Jesse is one of the more than 3 million Virginians with a preexisting medical condition.
And today I want to share some of their stories…to remind my colleagues of what real people will face… if we allow this administration to continue dismantling these protections that folks count on.
Recently I got an email from Linda in Warren County, VA. She is a cancer survivor with multiple preexisting conditions. She wrote:
“Due to the housing fallout in 2008, we lost our health coverage and I could no longer get health coverage because of my cancer diagnosis.”
Mindy from Henrico is also a cancer survivor. She writes:
“Even though my cancer is in partial remission, I remain on treatment for fear of the cancer returning again. As I prepare for retirement, it scares me to think that this cancer would be considered a preexisting condition and I could be denied health care or would be required to pay through the nose for insurance.”
Sharon in Norfolk told me about her struggle with behavioral health issues. She writes:
I am a functioning member of society, however that will not last long if I lose this access to medical help. I went off my medications in 2000 as I couldn't afford a doctor and medication and it was a very thin line between me and homelessness.
Justine from Loudoun County is worried she could lose coverage for her diabetes. Here’s her message for the members of this body:
What if you or a loved one was diagnosed with a “preexisting condition?” How would you feel being denied health coverage?
It’s a good question that we should all ask ourselves, Madam President. As a father, I’ve dealt with the scary reality of having a child with juvenile diabetes and a child with asthma. But I’m also an extraordinarily lucky individual. I knew that because of insurance and because I had the resources, they would be taken care of.
Katherine in Blacksburg, VA told me about her daughter who was diagnosed at age three with juvenile diabetes. She writes:
“Until there is a cure for diabetes, I cannot imagine how costly it will be for her to stay alive and manage her health if there are limitations on coverage for people with preexisting conditions.”
Madam President, Katherine’s daughter deserves access to care just as much as mine does.
I got a letter from a pharmacist in Abingdon named Michael. He treats diabetics every day, and he also knows what it’s like… because he’s lived with the disease for 38 years. He writes:
“Without insulin we will die…If coverage for preexisting conditions goes away, you will see a large decline in the health of type 1 diabetics, and more dependence upon Medicaid.”
I have far too many of these stories to share them all today.
James from Danville told me about his 10 separate preexisting conditions.
Lynn from Lynchburg is on three separate medications due to a brain tumor. She could die if her insurance didn’t cover them.
The list goes on.
In closing, Madam President, when we talk about preexisting conditions, we are talking about people’s lives.
That’s why we must pass the resolution I’ve introduced to reverse the Administration’s harmful rule changes…and defend protections for folks with preexisting conditions.
Next week, we will all have the opportunity to go on the record with an up-or-down vote to defend these protections and restore these critical guardrails.
My colleagues across the aisle insist that they actually support protections for folks with preexisting conditions – well this will be their chance to prove it.
Thank you, Madam President.
Warner Submits Paperwork to Force Senate Vote to Reverse Trump Administration Rule that will Eviscerate Protections for People with Pre-Existing Conditions
Sep 25 2019
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today filed paperwork that will force a Senate vote to protect people with pre-existing conditions from another attempt by the Trump Administration to gut the Affordable Care Act.
“Under the pretext of so-called ‘short-term’ plans, the Trump administration is pushing healthcare plans that once again allow insurance companies to discriminate against Americans based on their medical history. These skinny plans, or how I refer to them as ‘junk plans,’ also undermine the Affordable Care Act’s requirements that insurance cover things like emergency room visits, maternity care, and other essential benefits,” said Sen. Warner on the Senate floor. “Let me be clear, the reason that this market has suddenly been flooded with these junk plans, many cases advertising in low-income markets that these are ACA, or Obamacare plans, is not because Congress passed any law. The President tried and failed twice to pass legislation ending these protections for folks with pre-existing conditions. And since they couldn’t get their way in Congress, now they’re using executive action to try to undermine the Affordable Care Act.”
Today, Sen. Warner filed a discharge petition on a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would roll back the 1332 waiver rule, another Trump Administration effort to sabotage Americans’ health care and undermine the critical pre-existing condition protections that 130 million Americans rely on. The rule gives states the green light to use taxpayer dollars to push junk health insurance plans that cost more and cover less. Under these plans, insurance companies can charge people more if they have a pre-existing condition, can deny specific benefits – or they can deny them coverage altogether.
“In Virginia alone – more than one million people live with a pre-existing condition. Before the Affordable Care Act, an insurance company had every right to deny these individuals coverage, charge them unaffordable premiums, or when they got that condition, terminate their plan. I think we all agree we cannot go back to those days. The Administration knows perfectly well that these ‘junk plans’ don’t offer real benefits. They’ve been warned repeatedly by hundreds of patient groups, physicians, hospitals, and insurers including the American Heart Association, AARP, The American Academy of Pediatrics, just to name few of the organizations who have come out against these plans,” Sen. Warner continued. “My Republican colleagues insist that they actually support protections for folks with pre-existing conditions. Ok, with this CRA I think there’s a chance to prove it. This resolution we are introducing today will force an up-or-down vote on these junk plans that explicitly undermine protections for pre-existing conditions. If my Republican colleagues truly support these protections, they should vote yes. It’s that simple.”
Congressional Review Act resolutions exercise Congress’ authority to review and overturn rules implemented by the executive branch. Once a rule is finalized, the Congressional Review Act provides Congress 60 legislative days to vote on it. Unlike other legislation on the Senate floor, a Congressional Review Act resolution only needs a simple majority to pass and can be brought to the Senate floor for a vote with 30 signatures. As a result of the petition filed by Sen. Warner today, Senators must vote on overturning the rule by November 12.
Sen. Warner’s remarks as prepared for delivery can be found below:
Mr. President, I want to turn now to protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions, because these protections are under threat by this President.
Under the pretext of “short-term” plans, the Trump administration is pushing healthcare plans that once again allow insurance companies to discriminate against Americans based on their medical history.
These “junk plans” would also undermine the Affordable Care Act’s requirements that insurance cover things like emergency room visits, maternity care, and other essential benefits.
Let me be clear, this is not a law passed by Congress. The President tried and failed twice to pass legislation ending these protections.
Since they couldn’t get their way in Congress, now they’re using executive action to undermine the Affordable Care Act.
Mr. President, I’ve introduced a resolution under the Congressional Review Act, which would stop this deliberate effort to destabilize the health insurance market, and weaken protections that Americans count on.
And today I’m filing a discharge petition to that will bring this resolution to the Senate floor for an up-or-down vote.
The truth is, every member of this body knows someone with a pre-existing condition – if we don’t have one ourselves.
In Virginia alone – more than one million people live with a pre-existing condition. Before the Affordable Care Act, an insurance company had every right to deny those individuals coverage, charge them unaffordable premiums, or terminate their plan.
We cannot go back to those days.
The Administration knows perfectly well that these “junk plans” don’t offer real benefits.
They’ve been warned repeatedly by hundreds of patient groups, physicians, hospitals, and insurers — The American Heart Association, AARP, The American Academy of Pediatrics, the list goes on.
All of these stakeholders are telling us the same thing: the Trump Administration’s plan will weaken consumer protections and disproportionately hurt sick and older Americans.
My Republican colleagues insist that they actually support protections for folks with pre-existing conditions.
Ok, then. Here’s their chance to prove it.
This resolution we are introducing today will force an up-or-down vote on these junk plans that explicitly undermine protections for pre-existing conditions.
If my Republican colleagues truly support these protections, they should vote yes. It’s that simple.
Instead of undermining the stability of the healthcare market, let’s focus on targeted, bipartisan fixes that will bring down costs and expand access to affordable health care coverage.
Thank you, Mr. President.
Senate Republicans Block Warner Attempt to Immediately Pass Legislation Requiring Reporting of Foreign Elections Interference
Jun 13 2019
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, took to the Senate floor today to request immediate passage of a modified version of his Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections (FIRE) Act that would require campaigns to report to the appropriate federal authorities any contacts from foreign nationals seeking to interfere in a presidential election. Immediately after Sen. Warner requested unanimous consent, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) objected and thereby blocked the immediate passage of this essential legislation.
Sen. Warner’s request comes on the heels of alarming comments by President Trump, who said on Wednesday that he would not alert the FBI if a foreign government tried to offer damaging information on his 2020 election opponents.
“President Trump's own FBI director and his Director of National Intelligence have said that Russia, or others, will likely be back in 2020 because their tactics in 2016 were both cheap and effective. We're now 17 months before the 2020 elections and personally, we are not prepared,” Sen. Warner said on the floor. “One of my colleagues on the other side said they don't want to re-litigate 2016. There will be other times and places to further litigate whatever happened in 2016. In terms of today, I don't want to either. I just want to make sure that we are safe from foreign intervention in 2020.”
He continued, “The mantra at our airports that the TSA and Homeland Security always try to promote is, ‘if you see something, say something.’ This is not an undue burden on our traveling public, and because of that involvement, I think airports are safer. Shouldn't we have the same de minimis standard to protect the integrity of our election system? If you see something, say something. All my legislation is requiring is if there is indications that agents of foreign governments are trying to intervene in our elections, tell law enforcement, tell the FBI.”
Sen. Warner also stressed that his legislation would not interfere with any official government activities, and urged his colleagues to work together to pass bipartisan election security legislation and to put guardrails on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google to prevent them from being used by bad actors for the widespread dissemination of misinformation.
Below are Sen. Warner’s floor remarks as originally prepared for delivery:
Mr. President, in a moment I will ask unanimous consent for the Senate to take up and pass by bill, the FIRE Act, S.1562, as amended. But before I do that, I want to address the President’s recent comments regarding foreign election interference.
We all take an oath when we get sworn into these jobs to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign or domestic. Our own political ambitions, our partisan affiliations — that all should take a back seat to defending our democracy.
Unfortunately, this President doesn’t see it that way. His recent comments that he would once again welcome dirt on an opponent from a foreign government fly in the face of that oath.
Let me be clear. If a foreign adversary attempts to offer assistance to your campaign, you have a moral obligation to call the FBI.
And if the President, or his son-in-law, or other members of his campaign can't be trusted to do the right thing and report their foreign contacts, then we need to make it a legal requirement. That’s what this amendment is all about.
Mr. President, I am not here to re-litigate the 2016 election or second-guess the Special Counsel’s findings. This is a question of how we defend our democracy on a going-forward basis.
But I do want to recall the facts of what we learned through the Mueller investigation, as well as the Senate Intelligence Committee’s bipartisan investigation.
After two years of investigating, we now know that the Trump Campaign had a series of inappropriate and unreported contacts with the Russian government and its proxies, who were part of the Kremlin’s election interference efforts.
This should have come to light far sooner, but the Trump Campaign intentionally hid these contacts from the American people and law enforcement.
Another thing we learned through the investigation is that when then-candidate Trump made his infamous “Russia, if you’re listening” plea — on that very same day, Russian operatives began sending illegal phishing emails to members of his opponent’s campaign.
Mr. Trump’s comments this week are not trivial. These are the words of the President of the United States, spoken in the Oval Office. That still means something to the world.
And frankly, what it means here is that this President is once again giving Russia and other bad actors the greenlight to interfere in the 2020 elections.
This sends a message to the American people and foreign governments that this conduct is acceptable. Not only is this morally wrong, it also undermines the crucial counterintelligence work of our federal law enforcement agencies.
Recently, FBI Director Chris Wray testified that such attempts to offer assistance or “dirt” would be “something that the FBI would want to know about.”
He’s right. Because, the truth is, when a foreign adversary like Russia is peddling dirt on an American candidate, they are not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. They’re trying to undermine our democracy, and the FBI is our first line of defense against that threat.
Mr. President, that is what this amendment is about — safeguarding our democracy from those who wish us harm. I ask my colleagues to take a step back, take off our Republican and Democratic hats for a minute, and support this amendment.
My bill, the FIRE Act — creates a first-of-its-kind requirement to make sure that foreign contacts during a presidential election are promptly reported to the FBI and FEC.
It would serve a vital intelligence need and make sure that all individuals involved in a presidential campaign understand both the existing law on foreign contributions and their affirmative obligation to report suspicious foreign contacts.
The FIRE Act is not about prohibiting innocent contacts or the exercise of First Amendment rights. It is about restoring Americans’ trust in the democratic process.
If a candidate is receiving or welcoming help from the Kremlin, I think the American people should have a right to know that before they head to the polls.
And in a world where campaigns are a target for foreign espionage, I think our law enforcement and counter-intelligence professionals should have the tools they need to protect the integrity of our presidential elections.
The Senate must take a stand against foreign attacks on the democratic process. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue; it is an issue of America’s national security.
And I hope the Senate can come together at this moment to send a clear message that we will defend our Democracy, even if this President won’t.
Washington, D.C. – As Congressional Republicans and Democrats continue to call on Leader McConnell to bring election security legislation up for a vote on the Senate floor, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, delivers this week’s Weekly Democratic Address. In the address, Warner highlights the importance of securing our elections and explains why it is critical that the Senate vote on bipartisan election security legislation. In closing, he emphasizes that the Senate must act on this issue in order to secure the 2020 elections, and cannot allow critical, bipartisan bills to protect our democracy to die in Leader McConnell’s legislative graveyard.
Senator Warner’s remarks as delivered follow:
“Hi, I’m Senator Mark Warner. I’m proud to represent Virginia in the United States Senate. I also serve as Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting the only bipartisan investigation into Russia’s interference in our 2016 presidential election.
“Our intelligence community, the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller have all concluded that Russia mounted an unprecedented attack on our democratic process. Russian intelligence conducted hacking operations against Democratic targets and then released the stolen documents to influence the election. Using an army of Internet trolls, Russia flooded social media with fake news and propaganda designed to sow discord and divide Americans through our news feeds.
“We also know that, as part of its interference campaign, the Kremlin also targeted election infrastructure in all 50 states. The Intelligence Community’s Assessment in January 2017 concluded that Russia secured and maintained access to multiple elements of U.S. state and local electoral boards. For example, in Illinois, Russian hackers were able to penetrate a voter registration database and access 90,000 voter registration records. Using spearphishing emails, Russia was able to access the network of at least one county in Florida. Now, there is no evidence that Russians were successful in changing vote totals in 2016 or in 2018 – but we can certainly expect them to try again in 2020.
“While the Department of Homeland Security has improved information-sharing with states and Congress has allocated some additional funding for election security, there is still more work to do to secure local election equipment ahead of the presidential election.
“In 2016, Russia exploited platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube to manipulate and divide Americans, to smear Hillary Clinton, and to aid Donald Trump. As we enter another presidential election cycle susceptible to foreign interference, Congress needs to put in place some commonsense guardrails on social media. We should start with the bipartisan Honest Ads Act, which I introduced, which would prevent foreign actors from purchasing online political ads, and bring much-needed transparency to the online ad ecosystem.
“There is already a bill to protect our elections systems that has strong bipartisan support. The Secure Elections Act from the last session of Congress would establish some common-sense measures to ensure the sanctity of the ballot-box.
“It would provide states with money to replace old, insecure voting machines that don’t leave a paper trail, and make sure that elections can be audited, so that Americans can have confidence in the results. It would also take several steps to improve sharing about threat information between the Department of Homeland Security, and states that administer the vote. And it would require election agencies to promptly report suspected cybersecurity incidents to proper state and federal authorities.
“The truth is the Secure Elections Act that was introduced last session were brought to the floor today for a vote, it would pass overwhelmingly. But the White House and Senate Republican leaders have been blocking a vote.
“Unfortunately, that’s just part of a pattern with a White House and a President that has shown no interest in tackling this problem. According to reports, the former Secretary of Homeland Security was instructed not to even raise the issue of election security with the President, and when she tried to convene a Cabinet-level meeting ahead of the 2018 midterms, the White House chief of staff nixed the idea.
“What happened in 2016 will happen again in 2020 if we are not prepared. In the face of White House inaction to secure the vote, Congress must work together to protect our democracy and reassure Americans that their votes will be counted in 2020. We cannot let election security become another tombstone in the Republican Senate’s legislative graveyard.”