Legislation imposing sanctions on foreigners who attempt to interfere in U.S. elections cleared a House committee Wednesday in spite of Republican opposition.
The Safeguard Our Elections and Combat Unlawful Interference in Our Democracy Act, or the SECURE Our Democracy Act, was approved by voice vote during a markup hearing held by the Democratic-controlled House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Introduced by the panel’s chairman, Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the legislation would require the State Department to compile a list of foreigners to be subjected to asset freezes and travel restrictions for interfering in U.S. elections from abroad.
“The message from this bill is clear: if you meddle with an American election from overseas, there are going to be consequences,” Mr. Engel said in a statement.
Passage of the bill in its current form would affect foreign nationals and entities who, since Jan. 1, 2015, have been directly or indirectly “complicit in foreign interference” in a U.S. election.
Republicans pushed to include an amendment that would revise the bill’s language to apply only to future elections, but that measure was ultimately defeated by Democrats.
“Focusing on the 2016 election, I think, is more about political points than actual results,” said Rep. Tim Burchett, Texas Republican and sponsor of the failed amendment. “Passing this bill as is sends a message to the career civil servants and Treasury, the lawyers and investigators at the Department of Justice and to the administration that your work is insufficient and half-hearted.”
Mr. Burchett noted that the Justice Department has filed criminal charges against several Russians accused of interfering in the 2016 race won by President Trump, including a dozen suspected state-sponsored hackers and several employees of a so-called “troll farm” that meddled in the election via social media.
The Treasury Department, meanwhile, has previously imposed sanctions on 18 people for interfering in the 2015 race, Mr. Burchett said.
“As written this legislation has more about politics and policy, and it seems to ignore the substantial actions taken by both Congress and the administration,” argued Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the committee’s ranking Republican.
Several election security bills have been introduced on Capitol Hill as a consequence of the 2016 race, and senior members of the Trump administration briefed members of both the House and Senate last week about threats facing next year’s presidential contest.
More recently, the Senate voted with unanimous consent Wednesday to pass a bill that would make it a federal crime to hack any voting system used in a federal election.
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