Amid GOP Blockade of Election Security Bills, Warner Submits Amendment to Prevent Foreign Election Interference
Jun 30 2020
WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, spoke on the Senate floor and offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) aimed at preventing foreign election interference. The amendment would incorporate into the annual defense bill Sen. Warner’s Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections (FIRE) Act, which would require campaigns to report to the appropriate federal authorities any contacts from foreign nationals seeking to interfere in a presidential election.
The FIRE Act was initially set to be included in the NDAA as part of Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA), which passed out of the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month and was later incorporated into the NDAA. Over the weekend, Senate GOP leadership removed the FIRE Act from the NDAA, which is currently being debated on the Senate floor.
Sen. Warner, who has attempted to pass the FIRE Act several times over Republican objections in the past year, took to the Senate floor today to decry the backroom deal and offer the FIRE Act as a floor amendment, setting the stage for a possible up-or-down vote in the coming week.
In a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Warner said in part, “In a different time, with a different president, this bill would not be controversial. It would simply say to all presidential campaigns going forward: if a foreign power reaches out to your campaign offering assistance or offering dirt on a political opponent, the appropriate response is not to say ‘thank you.’ The appropriate response is to call the FBI. What a sad statement about partisan politics in our country, when we can’t even agree on that.”
He continued, “The [Intelligence] Committee voted 14-1 to pass an intel authorization bill that included theFIRE Act. So, you can imagine my surprise and frustration when I learned of a backroom deal to strip the FIRE Act out of the Intelligence Committee’s legislation because of a supposed turf war with another Committee. Mr. President, I am back again today because the security of our elections cannot wait. Let’s not hide behind process and turf wars. The stakes are far too high to continue the partisan blockade of election security legislation that we’ve seen over the last three years.”
The full text of Sen. Warner’s remarks as prepared for delivery appears below:
Mr. President, I’m here today because I fear the Senate is about to fail once again…to protect our elections from foreign interference.
For the last three years, I’ve worked as Vice Chairman of the Intel committee to investigate Russia’s attack on our democracy in 2016. We are the only bipartisan investigation of Russian election interference to make it to the finish line.
Any member of the public can read our declassified conclusions. And any member of this body can read additional classified materials.
Our report offers a stark warning of Russia’s intent to interfere in future U.S. elections… and a clear roadmap for how to defend our democracy from Russia or other adversaries copying their playbook.
Unfortunately, the White House and the leadership of the United States Senate seem to be the only ones not taking this threat seriously. Since 2016, this body has failed to vote on a single piece of standalone election security legislation.
So, four times in the last year, I have come to the floor in an attempt to pass my bipartisan election security legislation, known as the FIRE Act, by unanimous consent.
And each time, those efforts were blocked by my Republican colleagues— earning applause from the President on Twitter.
In a different time, with a different President, this bill would not be controversial.
It would simply say to all Presidential campaigns going forward: if a foreign power reaches out to your campaign offering assistance…or offering dirt on a political opponent the appropriate response is not to say ‘thank you.’ The appropriate response is to call the FBI.
What a sad statement about partisan politics in our country when we can’t even agree on that.
Mr. President, I introduced this bipartisan legislation months before the facts came to light… about the President pressuring Ukraine into announcing politically motivated investigations into the Bidens.
I’m not here to rehash the impeachment trial, but I do want to note one thing.
A number of my Republican colleagues justified their votes by saying that, while not impeachable, it was wrong for the President to solicit foreign interference in our elections.
I take my colleagues across the aisle at their word that they believe foreign interference has no place in our elections.
But at some point, you have to put your money where your mouth is.
We know the President tried to trade election favors with Ukraine. According to the new book from John Bolton, the President tried to trade political favors with Xi Jinping during trade negotiations. Maybe that happened, maybe it didn’t.
But I’d be much more inclined to give the President the benefit of the doubt, if he hadn’t asked China to investigate the Bidens on national television; if he hadn’t asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 campaign; or if he’d shown even a shred of interest in defending our democracy from foreign interference over the last four years.
Mr. President, we are under attack from adversaries who see this new era of cyberwarfare and disinformation as a golden opportunity to undermine American democracy.
We cannot afford to have a system that allows Presidential candidates to welcome this interference with open arms. 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.
I’ve spent over a year inviting my colleagues across the aisle to work with us on this already bipartisan legislation. I’ve answered every objection and worked through the right channels to get this legislation to the floor as part of the NDAA.
We went back to the Intelligence Committee—the only committee engaged in serious efforts to prevent foreign election interference. We made sure that this year’s intel authorization bill included several provisions to strengthen our defenses ahead of the November elections.
The Committee voted 14-1 to pass an intel authorization bill that included the FIRE Act.
So, you can imagine my surprise and frustration when I learned of a backroom deal to strip the FIRE Act out of the Intelligence Committee’s legislation… because of a supposed turf war with another Committee.
So, Mr. President, I am back again today because the security of our elections cannot wait. Let’s not hide behind process and turf wars. The stakes are far too high to continue the partisan blockade of election security legislation that we’ve seen over the last three years.
If my Republican colleagues want to strip this legislation out of the NDAA behind closed doors, then I’m going to offer it as an amendment… force an up-or-down vote and put every member of this body on the record.
More than ever, it is time to put country over party… and defend our democracy from those who would do it harm. I encourage my colleagues to support this amendment and send a clear message: foreign interference has no place in our elections.