The House on Wednesday approved an election security bill that has been a top demand from Democrats’ most vulnerable members.
But the legislation — touted during this summer's Mueller mania as a way to respond to Russian intrusions in the 2016 election — has been eclipsed by the impeachment inquiry involving an entirely new election scandal in Donald Trump’s White House. The bill, passed on a 227-181 vote, would require campaigns to report illicit offers of campaign assistance from foreign governments and restrict campaign-related communication between candidates and foreign governments.
The bill, passed on a 227-181 vote, would require campaigns to report illicit offers of campaign assistance from foreign governments and restrict campaign-related communication between candidates and foreign governments.
Election security legislation was once seen as a lifeline for centrist Democrats, particularly battleground freshmen who wanted to avoid the impeachment furor in their caucus that was fueled by special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
Less than six months later, the push to combat foreign interference in elections is now a small part of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into Trump’s efforts to solicit political help from Ukraine in his 2020 reelection bid.
“We have a president who welcomed assistance from the Russians in 2016, and then, remarkably, said again in June, that he would do that again,” House Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) said ahead of the vote Wednesday.
The caucus that was once divided over how to handle Mueller’s findings is now on the path to impeaching Trump over new revelations related to Ukraine, underscoring how rapidly the ground has shifted in Washington.
After Mueller released his findings in April, a group of centrist Democrats pushed Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her deputies to focus on the Russian threat rather than the impeachment fight that was backed by just one-quarter of their caucus at the time. Now, many of those moderate Democrats are among the strongest voices backing the impeachment inquiry.
Some moderate Democrats had argued that zeroing in on the threat of foreign interference — which they saw as an indisputable conclusion of Mueller’s report — was the caucus’ best bet to bringing on GOP support.
The election bill on Wednesday, however, garnered zero Republican votes, with Trump and GOP leaders adamantly opposed to what they see as unnecessary restrictions on campaigns. The White House threatened to veto the bill ahead of the vote.
The legislation is going nowhere in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell described it on Wednesday as an attack on the First Amendment.
Democrats, however, also see a chance to squeeze House Republicans, as some in the GOP become increasingly uncomfortable with the drip-drip of revelations on Ukraine.
That includes Tuesday’s damning closed-door testimony from William Taylor, the top U.S. envoy to Ukraine, in which he told lawmakers that that Trump withheld U.S. military aid to Ukraine in order to secure investigations into his political rivals like former Vice President Joe Biden.
“The bill presents Republicans with a very crucial opportunity,” freshman Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) told reporters Wednesday. “They can start to work together with us Democrats to honor our sacred oath to the Constitution and keep our country safe, or they can bow down to foreign influence.”
The House passed a sweeping elections and campaign finance bill, H.R. 1, in the early weeks of their majority. But Democratic leaders have long planned to vote again on key pieces of that bill in a bid to pressure on Republicans while reminding the public about a signature proposal.
Some vulnerable Democrats would still rather call for stronger legislation protecting U.S. elections than formally join their party’s impeachment push.
Reps. Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.) and Kendra Horn (D-Okla.) — neither of whom support the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry — introduced a bipartisan bill on Thursday that would prohibit foreign ownership or control of U.S. elections systems.