President Trump issued an executive order Wednesday that will allow him to impose new sanctions on foreign countries or entities that interfere in November’s midterm elections by compromising America’s electoral infrastructure, or disseminating covert propaganda.
But, unlike a bipartisan bill currently making its way through Congress, the order does not require Trump to issue stiff sanctions on such meddlers. And that’s led some to suspect that the order is motivated less by the president’s earnest opposition to foreign interference in American elections, than his desire to head off legislation that would have restricted his discretion on how such interference should be punished.
“An executive order that inevitably leaves the president broad discretion to decide whether to impose tough sanctions against those who attack our democracy is insufficient,” Democratic senator Mark Warner said Wednesday.
In a joint statement, senators Chris Van Hollen and Marco Rubio — who co-sponsored legislation that would mandate heavy sanctions for election meddling — seconded Warner’s assessment.
“Today’s announcement by the Administration recognizes the threat, but does not go far enough to address it,” they argued. “We must make sure Vladimir Putin’s Russia, or any other foreign actor, understands that we will respond decisively and impose punishing consequences against those who interfere in our democracy.”
Congress’s push to mandate new election security measures gained steam in July, when Trump said he didn’t see “any reason to believe” Russia had interfered in the 2016 election, during a press conference with Vladimir Putin. Trump subsequently walked back those remarks, insisting that he does, in fact, take the word of America’s intelligence agencies over that of the Russian president. But he has said that several times before, only to revert back to an agnostic view of the matter.
Meanwhile, the White House derailed a bipartisan election security bill last month, by encouraging congressional Republicans to abandon the measure. Now, it appears that the administration might have drained political momentum from a separate, bipartisan effort to strengthen penalties on foreign entities who attempt to compromise American election security.