WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's reversal on funding election security is drawing criticism from some Democrats and watchdog groups who contend an additional $250 million won't be enough to protect the 2020 vote from foreign interference.
"This money can be used for anything relating to elections," tweeted Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee and a senior member of the Intelligence Committee. Wyden said states could even buy more voting machines that lack proper security. "This isn't election security, it's a sham."
Public Citizen on Friday said the funding won't be nearly enough to upgrade voting equipment across the country. Unlike the House version, which allocates $600 million, it doesn't prioritize upgrading machines that lack paper ballot backups, the organization said.
"It makes no sense to give states and counties so little to stop cyberattacks compared to the funding given to our military, police and first responders to protect us physically," said Aquene Freechild, co-director of Public Citizen's Democracy Is For People Campaign.
After taking heat for months from opponents who labeled him "Moscow Mitch" and accused him of not doing enough to keep Russia or other U.S. adversaries from meddling in the 2020 election, McConnell highlighted the funding Thursday and called election security "a crucial issue."
"The Trump administration has made enormous strides to help states secure their elections without giving Washington new power to push the states around," the majority leader said. "That's how we continue the progress we saw in 2018 and that's exactly what we're doing."
McConnell had weeks earlier taken the Senate floor to strongly object to the "Moscow Mitch" label, pointing to a long record of opposing Russia.
The money is included in a Financial Services spending bill that could move to the Senate floor in the next several weeks. McConnell noted Thursday that more than $350 million had previously been allocated to election security.
Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, chairman of the Rules Committee, said he doesn't expect McConnell to allow other election measures to come to the floor, even those with Republican support.
McConnell has repeatedly suggested that Democrats are trying to have the federal government control state elections for partisan gain. His staff put out a fact sheet touting bills the Senate has passed by unanimous consent, including a one making hacking election systems a crime and another blocking visas for people who meddle in U.S. elections.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said they are pushing for much more than $250 million in funding.
Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who like McConnell is up for reelection next year, said she was "very relieved" by the bipartisan agreement for funding. But she said many more steps are needed "to make sure foreign adversaries don't have free rein to interfere in our democratic process. I hope today's breakthrough leads to further bipartisan cooperation to defend our democracy."
One idea that earlier drew McConnell's interest but hasn't made progress for more than a year is the Deter Act sponsored by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen. That bill would trigger fresh sanctions if the director of national intelligence determines a foreign government interferes in a future U.S. election. But it has yet to get out of the Senate Banking Committee.
(Nancy Ognanovich contributed to this report.)
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