Anyone who’s paying attention knows that Russians meddled extensively in America’s 2016 elections.
Anyone who’s paying attention knows it’s likely that Russians and maybe others will be doing everything they can to interfere in next year’s elections.
Anyone who cares about the United States and our democracy — anyone who is truly patriotic, in other words — should want our government to do everything in its power to protect the integrity of our elections.
Somehow, though, protecting elections has become a partisan issue, with key Republican leaders ignoring or even disputing what has happened and the dangers that loom.
It doesn’t help that the administration’s only high-level official in national intelligence and national security who has been willing to speak out about the dangers is on his way out, courtesy of President Donald Trump. Dan Coats, a former Republican U.S. senator from Indiana, deserves praise for the integrity and courage he displayed in his role as national intelligence director.
With quiet resolve. Coats told the president what he needed to hear, not always what he wanted to hear. In fact, Coats contradicted Trump publicly several times, most notably by insisting that this was not a “witch hunt” — that Russia did meddle in the 2016 elections and continues to pose a threat.
But the man Trump has nominated to replace Coats has been mouthing the party line, loudly. U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, a Texas Republican with six months experience on the House Intelligence Committee, is one of Trump’s most vocal supporters. And that’s what this president values above all. Trump likes Ratcliffe because when former special counsel Robert Mueller testified before the House about Russian interference and warned that he believes they will try it again, Ratcliffe attacked Mueller rather than urging action to improve election security.
It may all be moot. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — another key Republican who values short-term political gain over the integrity of our elections — won’t let a reasonable election security bill get to the Senate floor. McConnell hasn’t budged, even though the Senate Intelligence Committee has issued a bipartisan report describing how unprepared the U.S. election infrastructure was to ward off “extensive activity” by Russia that started as early as 2014. U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the Republican chairman of that committee, issued a statement noting that the U.S. “was unprepared at all levels of government for a concerted attack from a determined foreign adversary” on our elections. His colleague, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the committee, has said he believes a sensible election security bill would easily pass the Senate, if McConnell simply would allow a vote. But McConnell won’t. The president, who apparently thinks reports of Russian meddling tarnish his election, continues to pretend it didn’t happen. And Coats, who has countered Trump’s egotistical bluster with the truth, is leaving.
Free, fair elections and the country’s faith in them are at the very heart of our democracy. You would think that beefing up election security would be one thing we could all agree on.