House Democrats pass election security bill amid impeachment

The 227-181 vote comes as lawmakers pursue an impeachment inquiry centred on President Donald Trump

House Democrats pass election security bill amid impeachment

The House approved legislation Wednesday to better protect the country’s elections from foreign interference, the third major bill the Democratic-controlled chamber has passed this year addressing problems that arose in the 2016 presidential election.

The 227-181 vote comes as lawmakers pursue an impeachment inquiry centred on allegations that President Donald Trump improperly solicited election help from Ukraine ahead of the 2020 vote. It also comes months after special counsel Robert Mueller finished his report on 2016 election interference, finding numerous contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia but not enough evidence to establish a conspiracy between the two. Democrats want to prevent such actions in the future and ensure that campaigns know they are illegal.

The Stopping Harmful Interference in Elections for a Lasting Democracy, or SHIELD Act, would require that candidates and political committees notify the FBI and other authorities if a foreign power offers campaign help. It also tightens restrictions on campaign spending by foreign nationals and requires more transparency in political ads on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

And it would explicitly prohibit campaigns from exchanging campaign-related information with foreign governments and their agents. The latter provision was aimed at reports that officials in Trump’s 2016 campaign shared polling data with a person associated with Russian intelligence.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., the bill’s chief sponsor, said it would close loopholes that allow dishonest behaviour, increase disclosure and transparency requirements, and ensure that anyone who engages with foreign actors to influence the outcome of an election will be held accountable by law.

“Most Americans know that foreign governments have no business interfering in our elections,” said Lofgren, who chairs the House Administration Committee. “We should all be able to agree that we need to protect our democracy — and with a sense of urgency. This is not a partisan opinion. Nothing less than our national security is at stake.”

But Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, the top Republican on the Administration panel, called the bill a thinly disguised bid by Democrats to prop up impeachment. “That’s why we’re here today: not to make real, legislative progress on preventing foreign interference in our elections, but to push partisan politics for the Democratic agenda,” he said.

The White House threatened to veto the bill if it reaches the president’s desk, saying it was redundant, overly broad and unenforceable. The bill’s “expansive definitions seem designed to instil a persistent fear among Americans engaged in political activity that any interactions they may have with a foreign national could put them in legal jeopardy,” the White House said.

Democrats are also reviewing special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on 2016 U.S. election interference. Mueller said there wasn’t enough evidence to establish a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign despite numerous contacts between the two sides. Democrats say they want to prevent such interactions in the future and ensure that campaigns know they are illegal.

Davis called the bill’s language on social media overly broad and said Facebook and other private companies are already taking significant steps to help prevent election interference on their platforms. As written, the Democratic bill poses a threat to the First Amendment, he said, noting that it is opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups.

The ACLU said in a statement that the SHIELD Act “strikes the wrong balance, sweeping too broadly and encompassing more speech than necessary to achieve its legitimate goals” of preventing foreign interference in U.S. elections.

The bill comes as a bipartisan Senate committee said Russia’s large-scale effort to interfere in the 2016 election was a “vastly more complex and strategic assault on the United States than was initially understood.”

In a report earlier this month, the Senate Intelligence Committee described Kremlin-backed social media activities as part of a “broader, sophisticated and ongoing information warfare campaign designed to sow discord in American politics and society.”

Senators urged Trump to warn the public about efforts by Russia and other countries to interfere in U.S. elections — a subject he has largely avoided — and take steps to thwart attempts by hostile nations to use social media to meddle in the 2020 presidential contest.

The House approved a separate bill in June that would require paper ballots in federal elections and authorize $775 million in grants over the next two years to help states secure their voting systems.

Lawmakers also approved a bill in March aimed at reducing the role of big money in politics, ensuring fair elections and strengthening ethics standards. The measure would make it easier for people to register and vote, tighten election security and require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns.

Republicans called the bill a power grab that amounts to a federal takeover of elections and could cost billions of dollars. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the proposal was dead on arrival in the Senate. McConnell has declined to bring up a stand-alone bill on election security, though he supported an effort to send $250 million in additional election security funds to states to shore up their systems ahead of 2020.

House Democrats are conducting an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, including his request on a July phone call for the country to open an investigation into his potential 2020 Democratic rival Joe Biden and his family. Trump says he did nothing wrong and calls the conversation “perfect.”

Matthew Daly, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kendra Willems, seen here Nov. 5, created a Facebook page to help facilitate social supports such as clothing donations in an informal manner that supplements existing supports and charities. (Jake Wray/Terrace Standard)
Skeena Voices | ‘We could all use that kind of goodness’

Kendra Willems, new to Terrace, founds charitable Facebook page

Firefighters work to cool a semi truck engine that caught fire at the corner of Eby St. and Hwy 16 around 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 26
Semi truck engine catches fire in Terrace

Hwy 16 briefly closed between Sande Overpass and Eby St.

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross at his swearing in on Thursday (Nov. 26), with his wife, Tracey, left, mother, Frieda, and grandson, Parker. (Ellis Ross photo)
Ellis Ross sworn in as Skeena MLA

Ceremonies happening virtually rather than all in-person in Victoria

Several students in the Nisga’a Elementary Secondary School community have tested positive for COVID-19. (Nisga’s Lisims Government photo)
Students at Nisga’a school test positive for COVID-19

Families with students requested to self-isolate

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 887 new cases

Another 13 deaths, ties the highest three days ago

After twice have their wedding plans altered due to COVID-19 restrictions, Suzanne Schmidt and Andrew Sturgess got married in Bakerview Park last weekend, with the only guests being their two daughters, Zoey (foreground) and Tessa. (Darren Ripka photo)
From New Zealand to Bakerview Park, B.C. couple weds in ‘backyard’

Twice scaled-down wedding ‘proof that good things still happen during bad times’

Arthur Topham has been sentenced to one month of house arrest and three years of probation after breaching the terms of his probation. Topham was convicted of promoting hate against Jewish people in 2015. (Photo submitted)
Quesnel man convicted for anti-Semitic website sentenced to house arrest for probation breach

Arthur Topham was convicted of breaching probation following his 2017 sentence for promoting hatred

Langley School District's board office. (Langley Advance Times files)
‘Sick Out’ aims to pressure B.C. schools over masks, class sizes

Parents from Langley and Surrey are worried about COVID safety in classrooms

The baby boy born to Gillian and Dave McIntosh of Abbotsford was released from hospital on Wednesday (Nov. 25) while Gillian continues to fight for her life after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
B.C. mom with COVID-19 still fighting for life while newborn baby now at home

Son was delivered Nov. 10 while Gillian McIntosh was in an induced coma

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Premier John Horgan, a Star Trek fan, can’t resist a Vulcan salute as he takes the oath of office for a second term in Victoria, Nov. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
Horgan names 20-member cabinet with same pandemic team

New faces in education, finance, economic recovery

The corporate headquarters of Pfizer Canada are seen in Montreal, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. The chief medical adviser at Health Canada says Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine could be approved in Canada next month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Health Canada expects first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved next month

Canada has a purchase deal to buy at least 20 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine,

Most Read