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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

McConnell inaction helps the enemy

Isn't our nation's defense priority No. 1?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell  speaks during

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell  speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capital in Washington, D.C. on June 27, 2019. Photo Credit: Bloomberg/Andrew Harrer

I admit to a deep well of cynicism regarding the notion of bipartisanship, especially in Washington.

Most Americans say they want to see it, many politicians invoke it, but it often seems to be heartily embraced only by the party in the minority.

Still, some things are truly bipartisan. Like the opioid crisis. And criminal justice reform, as it turned out. Soaring prescription drug prices and crumbling infrastructure, too, a lack of agreement to date on how to combat them notwithstanding.

And our nation’s defense. That’s No. 1, right?

When it comes to tanks and guns and missiles, you bet. But when it comes to fighting off cyber attacks on the nation’s election security, not so much.

Consider last week’s events.

  • On Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned Congress that Russia is still interfering in our elections.
  • On Wednesday, former special counsel Robert Mueller told Congress, “They’re doing it as we sit here and they expect to do it during the next campaign,” adding that Russia has company in the meddling mosh pit. This year, Twitter has removed 7,000 phony accounts from Iran alone.
  • On Thursday, the Senate Intelligence Committee reported that Russia targeted election systems in all 50 states in 2016. While it found no evidence the Russians changed any votes or other information in databases they breached, intelligence officials said their biggest worry is that the hacking, disinformation and social media influence campaign was a dress rehearsal for something more malicious in 2020.

Amid all that, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — who takes an anti-bipartisan pill regimen daily — blocked three more bills intended to make our voting systems more secure.

So, to recap:

Russia attacked our elections three years ago. Since then, the total number of votes the Senate has taken on bills to protect our elections is zero.

McConnell said the bills were “highly partisan” and “not a serious” effort. You judge.

The bills would:

  • require campaigns to tell the FBI about foreign offers of help — in other words, require them to report a crime;
  • authorize $775 million for states to bolster election security by mandating postelection audits and the use of paper ballots as backup;
  • help senators and their staff secure their personal devices.

Another measure McConnell has blocked would require Facebook, Google and their ilk to disclose publicly who paid for the (oft-misleading) political ads on their platforms.

To be fair, some members of the GOP want to pass these bills. So perhaps this is more of a Mitch problem. Wouldn’t be the first time that was true.

McConnell, like many Republicans, has an aversion to dictating to states, which run their own election systems. The Senate report refers to “states’ primacy in running elections.” But an individual state vs. Russia is not close to a fair fight. And the federal government regularly demands states do things a certain way, especially in cases of national interest. Running a safe national election would seem to be one of those things.

Republicans are quick to talk about other people’s patriotism. What does it say about theirs that they won’t act to safeguard our election process in service to a president who considers any talk about Russian meddling in 2016 as diminishing his victory, and who says he still would consider information on an opponent that comes from a foreign adversary and that he might not tell the FBI about it?

But let’s look at the bright side. The Russians are pro-Trump. The Iranians are anti-Trump. If we let them fight it out in our cyberspace, maybe they’ll cancel each other out.

What would Mitch McConnell think about that kind of cooperative effort?

 Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.


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