WASHINGTON ― Republicans on Wednesday rejected a bid to direct another $250 million to election security ahead of the November midterms, maintaining that funds Congress previously allocated for the effort have not yet been spent.
In March, lawmakers approved $380 million to help safeguard state voting systems from cyberattacks in the wake of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. Democrats proposed an amendment that would have appropriated an additional $250 million to bolster election systems, replace outdated equipment and undertake other protective efforts. Last month, a bipartisan group of attorneys general from 21 states urged Congress to commit more funding to the effort ahead of the midterms.
“It is time that we heed the clear warning of the intelligence community and take action,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the author of the amendment, said in a statement. “It is our obligation to take these attacks on our states seriously, and to step in with the necessary resources to defend our elections.”
Leahy’s amendment failed to garner the necessary 60 votes for passage on Wednesday, however, because of nearly unanimous Republican opposition.
“There’s $380 million that’s already allocated that hasn’t been spent ― not a dime,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told HuffPost. “No one explained to me why we needed $250 million more.”
Citing similar reasons, House Republicans also voted down a Democratic request last month to increase election security spending.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), meanwhile, said he feared the amendment would lead to “the running and interfering with elections by the federal government” if the funds were contingent on lawmakers in Washington telling states how to conduct their elections.
The 50-47 vote took place as the Senate intelligence committee was holding a hearing on the use of social media by foreign actors to influence U.S. elections. The debate followed an unexpected announcement by Facebook on Tuesday, in which the company said it had removed more than a dozen pages, profiles and accounts from “bad actors.” While the company didn’t point fingers, it said the interference bore a resemblance to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
“Some feel that we as a society are sitting in a burning room, calmly drinking a cup of coffee, telling ourselves ‘This is fine.’ That’s not fine,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the committee’s chairman, said at the hearing in regard to Russia’s continued attempts to interfere with U.S. election systems. (Burr was apparently referring to a popular image by the cartoonist KC Green.)
The ongoing threat to voting systems and the U.S. election infrastructure became even more apparent this week after it was revealed that two senators had already been targeted with hacking attempts: Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who is running for re-election this year, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who is an outspoken critic of the Kremlin.
Democrats said that because of the ongoing threats, more funding is needed to harden election security.
“Clearly the threat is larger and we should be taking a lot more efforts to secure the ballot,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a potential 2020 presidential candidate, told HuffPost. “We have a real ongoing threat by a foreign power that’s trying to undermine the security of our elections.”