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A bill proposed in the Senate would require Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to say within a month of an election whether a foreign power had interfered with it. Susan Walsh/AP hide caption

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Susan Walsh/AP

A new Senate bill would require America’s spy bosses to report within one month of a federal election on whether a foreign power had interfered with it.

That’s part of a proposal by Florida Republican Marco Rubio and Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen, who say Congress must do more to safeguard elections following the attack by Russia on the presidential race in 2016.

Another part: more deterrence.

“Protecting the integrity of our elections is an issue that knows no party,” Van Hollen said. And with the midterm elections less than a year away, we have no time to waste.” The bill, he said, “sends an unequivocal message to Russia and any other foreign actor who may follow its example: if you attack us, the consequences will be severe.”

If the director of national intelligence found that Russia, China or any other foreign adversary has tried to disrupt the American political process, the legislation would trigger automatic punishments.

The bill singles out Russia: if it interfered, the legislation mandates “major” new sanctions on Russian finance, energy, defense and other sectors. Plus it would blacklist Russian oligarchs from entering the U.S. and freeze their assets and require other actions.

If the intelligence community found another nation had interfered — the bill cites the cyber-threats posed by China, Iran and North Korea — it would mandate a plan for countering it within 90 days.

“We cannot be a country where foreign intelligence agencies attempt to influence our political process without consequences. This bill will help to ensure the integrity of our electoral process by using key national security tools to dissuade foreign powers from meddling in our elections,” Rubio said.

The legislation draws from the 2016 experience to define and detect what would be considered interference.

Foreign governments would be targeted if they purchased ads to influence an election; use social media to spread false information to American voters; hack campaign emails; or hinder access to elections infrastructure such as websites providing information on polling locations, the bill says.

The political prospects for the Rubio-Van Hollen bill aren’t certain. Members of Congress have toughened sanctions on Russia but otherwise have largely stayed away from taking action about the 2016 interference campaign.

The politics are tricky; President Trump goes back and forth about whether or not he accepts that there was an attack, making it difficult to know whether he might sign a bill that targeted foreign interference.

And other members of Congress have said they wanted to wait to take more action against foreign interference until after the various committees investigating the 2016 attack conclude their work.

So if the House and Senate were to take up Rubio and Van Hollen’s proposal, they might not do so for several more months, if they ever did.

Democrats have been trying to draw attention to the threat of foreign interference now, including with a report last week that documented examples from across the West.