On Wednesday, just two months ahead of the midterm elections, President Donald Trump signed an executive order authorizing sanctions against foreigners who meddle in U.S. elections. It addresses not only interference with campaign and election infrastructure but also propaganda efforts.
Now the responses are rolling in from Capitol Hill as the Senate struggles to roll out its own bipartisan election meddling bill, the DETER Act, introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). Announced in July, the bill’s development has proven slower than the speed of Trump’s pen.
The executive order puts into place a 90-day process to levy sanctions. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence will have 45 days to assess evidence of election interference, and after that, the attorney general and the Department of Homeland Security will then have 45 days to execute sanctions.
It’s broad language, which National Security Adviser John Bolton and National Intelligence Director Dan Coats say is key.
“We do think the President has broad discretion in this area. We think it’s critical for the effective conduct of American foreign and defense policy to be able to be flexible,” Bolton told reporters Wednesday.
Recently, Bolton spoke to over two dozen members of Congress about this executive order and even as the Senate struggles with the DETER Act, he received support for the administration’s move because he says, “You never know how long legislation is going to take. It can take a lot longer than people think.”
The DETER Act
Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) a co-sponsor of the DETER Act, said the executive order is simply heading off legislation at the pass:
“I’m afraid this executive order is aimed more at deterring congressional action on the DETER Act than on deterring Putin’s interference in our election.”
The bill would require the Director of National Intelligence to issue Congress a report after every federal election stating whether there is a reason to believe the process was tampered with. And especially where Russia is concerned, the administration would be required to lay heavy sanctions on Russian businesses and oligarchs within 1o days — giving the president nowhere near the amount of discretionary power.
Yet after the executive order’s announcement, Rubio tweeted:
The @WhiteHouse & @POTUS deserve credit for taking this action. They did as much as they could do with an executive order but are limited from going further without legislation. We still need the #DeterAct & are open to making reasonable changes to pass it https://t.co/wJAuBLAUVU
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) September 12, 2018
Making A Point…NOW?
The Trump administration says that after years of criticism for not taking foreign meddling in the 2016 US presidential election seriously enough, this is evidence that election system security is a top priority.
“We felt it was important to demonstrate that the president has taken command of this issue, that it’s something he cares deeply about, that the integrity of our elections and our constitutional process are a high priority to him. And so this order, I think, is a further demonstration of that,” said Bolton.
Two months before election day is a worryingly tight deadline.