Congressional Democratic leaders on Wednesday called for more than $300 million in new funding to help safeguard this November’s elections against Russian interference. But they stopped short of courting any shutdown battles over the issue ahead of next month’s must-pass government spending bill.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) outlined their bid for extra money for the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Election Assistance Commission in a letter to GOP leaders that made no mention of President Donald Trump.
But the Democrats’ request was clearly intended as a barb toward Trump, who has seemingly lashed out at every target besides Moscow in the days since special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals and three companies for an alleged systematic campaign to disrupt the 2016 election
Trump should take the lead on efforts to protect the midterm elections from Russian influence “rather than obsessing over the legitimacy of his election, tweeting and relitigating the 2016 campaign,” Schumer told reporters.
After a politically messy three-day shutdown last month, however, Democrats made no ultimatums for extra FBI and DHS funding to battle Russian meddling. Asked about the possibility that Democrats would withhold their votes on government funding legislation if Republicans don’t heed their request, Schumer demurred. Broad budget caps were lifted earlier this month, but Congress still needs to act by March 23 to keep the government open.
“We’re not drawing lines in the sand,” he told reporters, adding that “we hope we can get bipartisan support” given both parties’ interest in protecting the midterm vote from foreign interference.
Similarly, Democrats have also made few moves toward renewing their hard-line stance on aid to the undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers as a condition for supporting an omnibus appropriations package next month.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) noted that the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, is among the Republicans supporting legislative efforts to boost spending on election security.
“There is some support out there, but it has never gotten to the Republican leadership level,” Klobuchar told reporters. “If they want to do this, they could get it done — but instead of just having introduced bills, they’re going to have to take this on and help us.”
Democrats developed the scope of their funding request in consultation with the FBI, Schumer said Wednesday. In addition to his letter with Pelosi on the issue, Democrats released a letter from Schumer, Klobuchar and other top Senate Democrats asking Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to “release a public report identifying how Russia is working to interfere in the 2018 elections,” with a classified addendum for senior lawmakers and state election officials.
Republicans declined to immediately endorse Democrats’ demands.
“This request will be carefully considered along with the thousands of individual choices and decisions that will have to be weighed and made as a FY2018 omnibus bill is written,” a Senate GOP aide wrote in an email.
AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), said the House Intelligence Committee’s review of Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well as parallel probes at the Senate Intelligence Committee and FBI, “will inform lawmakers on ways to protect the 2018 election. We won’t be negotiating the omnibus through the press.”