Senate Intel Committee calls on lawmakers to safeguard elections: “The need to act now is urgent”
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, recommends safeguards against election interference with members of his panel on Tuesday. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday announced a series of recommendations to safeguard future elections against foreign interference, telling reporters in a press conference that there is an “urgent” need to prevent adversaries from engaging in the kind of meddling Russia undertook in 2016.

“We are already in an election year,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said in the press briefing Tuesday. “The need to act now is urgent.”

In a two-page draft report released ahead of the briefing, the committee called on lawmakers to better empower states to run elections and to build a more robust defense against election interference and cyberattacks.

Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) — the chairman of the committee — and Mark Warner (D-Va.) — outlined the report while flanked by a bipartisan group of panel members.

The recommendations — based on the group’s examination of the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election — wrap up just “one piece” of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Russia probe, according to Burr. Members were “not prepared to talk about any other aspect of the investigation,” he said, seemingly referring to outstanding questions of collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin.

But Burr did confirm the United States intelligence community’s findings that Russia intervened in the 2016 presidential election to “undermine the confidence in our election system,” though he noted that there is no evidence that any votes were changed.

“It is clear the Russian government was looking for the vulnerabilities in our election system and highlighted some of the key gaps,” Burr said. “We need to be more effective at deterring our adversaries.”

Warner, the committee’s vice chairman, added that the panel was “disappointed that states, the federal government and the Department of Homeland Security were not more on their game” before and after the 2016 elections.

“It took the Department of Homeland Security nearly nine months to notify top election officials that their states’ systems had been messed with,” Warner said. “I think DHS has picked up its game, but there’s still much more to do.”

The committee’s recommendations included increased funding for state election security; developing stronger defenses against cyberattacks; improving communication between the federal government and state and local officials; and replacing “outdated and vulnerable” voting systems.

Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), seated on the left, and Mark Warner (D-Va.), seated next to him, meet with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday before a press briefing on the panel’s first set of findings out of its ongoing Russia investigation.
Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), seated on the left, and Mark Warner (D-Va.), seated next to him, meet with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday before a press briefing on the panel’s first set of findings out of its ongoing Russia investigation. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The Senate Intelligence Committee is conducting one of two ongoing Capitol Hill Russia investigations.

A third, by the House Intelligence Committee, was shut down by Republicans March 12 following more than a year of political controversy.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, by contrast, has so far maintained at least an outward appearance of bipartisanship — an image the panel reinforced in its press briefing Tuesday.

Where Republicans and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have been divided on the findings of their investigation, the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday presented a united front, calling on their colleagues to put forth urgent reforms and praising the leadership of Burr and Warner for “conducting this committee and its work in such a bipartisan way.”

“Certain issues are nonpartisan,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said Tuesday. “And this is one of them.”