The Trump administration’s latest effort to deter foreign interference in U.S. elections is falling flat with lawmakers, who are prepared to pursue even tougher punishments against Russia and other adversaries who seek to disrupt U.S. politics. Democrats — and at least one Republican — said President Trump’s order Wednesday authorizing additional sanctions against foreign entities that interfere in elections is too weak because it gives Trump discretion over when to impose the harshest penalties, as my colleagues Anne Gearan and Felicia Sonmez reported. The lawmakers seized on the opportunity to renew calls for legislation that they argued would more effectively deter election cyberattacks.
“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,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. “If we are going to actually deter Russia and others from interfering in our elections in the future, we need to spell out strong, clear consequences, without ambiguity. We remain woefully underprepared to secure the upcoming elections, and an executive order is simply no substitute for congressional action.”
Indeed, the announcement — timed right around two hearings on separate sanctions bills– seemed to be an attempt to hold off congressional action that would require harsher and more immediate penalties. Congress is weighing a handful of bills that are tougher on election interference than what the administration is threatening. But the critiques of Trump’s order send a strong signal that lawmakers are prepared to move on the legislation anyway.
Trump said in a statement Wednesday that his order “ensures a quick, forceful, and proportionate response” to “any foreign meddling.” The order would allow the president to sanction countries or individuals who interfere in U.S. elections, covering efforts to meddle in election infrastructure and attempts to influence voting from abroad.