House Republicans are set to vote Thursday on a new spending bill that will not renew funding for election security. If the bill passes, election security funding will be lost in the midst of a national uproar over Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Currently, the federal Election Assistance Commission oversees a grant program whose purpose is to aide in state elections and ultimately improve the safety of voting systems. This was just one of the election assistance grants created under the 2000 Help American Vote Act. However, this spending bill would cut funding to the grant.
On Wednesday, Republicans and Democrats fought it out in a floor debate. The Republicans argued that the program had been fully funded and the states still held enough money to make safety improvements in the next election. House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Tex.) stated that Congress had spent over $3.5 billion since 2000 and would potentially have to spend more, depending on the results of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. $380 million worth of funds were given to the grant in the 2018 budget year. The funds have been distributed throughout the states and they have not spent all of it yet. For now, the Republicans argue there is no need to fund the grant.
However, the Democrats urged for the grant to continue to be funded through 2019, arguing that states haven’t spent the funds yet because a lot of them just received them. They went on to argue that Republicans were abetting Trump after he publicly sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin at this week’s summit. Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) said:
The American people should be very worried about the commitment of this president and his Republican allies in Congress to securing our elections. This is a party that has worked with this administration to undermine and minimize the investigation surrounding Russian interference in our presidential election.
On Wednesday, a dozen Democrats took turns individually demanding $380 million worth of election security funds to be added to the 2019 spending bill before Thursday’s vote. One by one, Republicans denied their requests. Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) said, “There is no crisis. There are funds available.” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) urged, “History is going to look back on the inaction of this Congress with great shame.” Sessions called the Democrat’s attempt to maintain funding a “shrewd political shenanigan that has no merit to it.” He went on to say:
Maybe the special counsel will announce something in two weeks: ‘Oh, here’s what the Russian indictments really are.’ If we learn something, authorizing committees will come right back to it and we’ll go to it. But there is no new data or information, it’s at the end of 3½ billion dollars, and there are no requests.
As House Republicans shot down the Democrats requests on the floor, Trump held a cabinet meeting in the White House. During the meeting, Trump attempted to correct statements he made at the recent press conference with Putin. In an attempt to walk back a statement acknowledging that he believes Russia didn’t interfere in the 2016 election, he slipped up again and appeared to declare that Russia is not a threat to the U.S. Sarah Huckabee Sanders then attempted to paper over Trump’s statements, inciting further backlash and worsening the already-disastrous Trump and Putin situation.