Toward the end of his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, former special counsel Robert Mueller responded to Democratic Representative Peter Welch, who asked: “Have we established a new normal from this past campaign that is going to apply to future campaigns, so that if any one of us running for the U.S. House ― any candidate for the U.S. Senate, any candidate for the presidency of the United States ― aware that a hostile foreign power is trying to influence an election, has no duty to report that to the FBI or other authorities?”
Mueller responded: “I hope it’s not the new normal, but I fear it is.” During his testimony, Mueller added that “we are expecting [Russia] to [interfere] again during the next campaign.”
As if sensing an opportunity to prove Mueller correct, on Wednesday Republican senator Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi blocked two election-security bills and a measure regarding cybersecurity for Senate staff. Democrats hoped to pass two bills requiring campaigns to alert the FBI and the Federal Election Commission if they received offers of assistance from abroad. Within the Senate, their bill would allow the sergeant-at-arms to offer voluntary assistance to help secure the personal devices and accounts of lawmakers and their staff.
Hyde-Smith blocked all the bills without giving an explanation for her action or stating if she made the motion by herself or on behalf of her party. Though a motion to block is a minor obstacle to a bill’s passage, The Hill notes: “Election interference bills face an uphill climb in the Senate, where Republicans aren’t expected to move legislation through the Rules Committee, the panel with primary jurisdiction, and have warned about attempts to ‘federalize’ elections.”
Senate Intelligence Committee vice-chairman Mark Warner condemned Hyde-Smith’s motion: “Mueller’s testimony should serve as a warning to every member of this body about what could happen in 2020, literally in our next elections.” Without updated laws in place requiring a campaign to report contacts like that of Trump-Russia in 2016, it’s quite possible that at least one campaign could flirt with foreign intelligence all over again. (Namely, the one whose candidate recently told George Stephanopoulos that if foreign agents “have information, I think I’d take it.”)
With the bills, Democrats hoped to stave off the “new normal” that the Trump campaign brought about with its web of Russian contacts and lies to obfuscate them. By blocking the measures, the GOP appears to want to usher that era in.