Congress is wrestling with more than 30 proposals “to combat different angles of the foreign election meddling issue,” according to Senate Judiciary chairman Chuck Grassley.
The logjam of legislation — much of it pushed by House and Senate bipartisan efforts — comes as the 2018 midterm election season accelerates toward its November finale that will determine the balance of power in Congress and in statehouses across the nation.
“There have been no fewer than 18 pieces of legislation proposed to combat different angles of the foreign election meddling issue in the Senate alone,” Mr. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said Tuesday during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing exploring election safety and foreign influence.
“In addition to the bills offered into the Senate,” he said, “16 have been offered in the House, and there have been many hearings in many other committees.”
Mr. Grassley noted that state and federal officials readily acknowledge that the shadows that hung over the 2016 vote have not cleared, including Kremlin-directed disinformation efforts, abuse of social media and attempts to hack state electoral systems.
While Department of Homeland Security officials admit Russian agents attacked elections systems in 21 states two years ago, Mr. Grassley praised improvements DHS has made to increase inter-agency coordination in addition to streamlining communications with individual state election agencies scrambling to assure high-stakes midterm elections across America run smoothly.
But on Tuesday, Mr. Grassley blasted opponents of many election security bills now stalled on Capitol Hill, including one he is pushing — the Disclosing Foreign Influence Act — which would significantly tighten up the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA.
Originally passed by Congress in 1938 to combat Nazi propaganda aimed at influencing the U.S. government, FARA has come under intense scrutiny in the past year of Russian election meddling chaos and confusion that has swept Washington.
Election transparency experts have long argued the 80-year-old legislation’s vague language regarding what constitutes actual work as a foreign agent has made the law hard to enforce. Special counsel Robert Mueller has also indicted former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his business partner Richard Gates on multiple charges, including money laundering and failure to register with FARA.
Mr. Grassley, who has criticized the DOJ and FBI in the past for their “lax” enforcement of FARA — is proposing DOJ officials develop a comprehensive strategy to improve enforcement. He faces hurdles, however
“We’re running into opposition from some business groups that I don’t think have a legitimate reason to oppose it,” Mr. Grassley told Adam Hickey, a DOJ deputy assistant attorney general testifying before the committee.
“I wish you’d look at it and consider supporting it,” he said.
Multiple other stalled bipartisan election security bills were also highlighted, including another FARA improvement proposal by the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California and Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, also noted that her bipartisan bill aimed at protecting state election systems from foreign cyber attacks is staled in the Senate despite a list of co-sponsors including Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican; Sen. Kamala Harris, California Democrat; Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican; Martin Heinrich, New Mexico Democrat; and Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican — in addition to Intelligence committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina, and the panel’s leading Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat.
Ms. Klobuchar said Tuesday the bill was being hung up “for reasons I do not understand.”