The Senate wants to turn up the pressure on President Trump and his military chiefs to strike back against Russian hacking. The massive defense policy bill the Senate approved Monday night calls on Trump to curb Russian aggression in cyberspace. It gives Trump the green light to direct U.S. Cyber Command to “disrupt, defeat and deter” cyberattacks by the Russian government, conduct surveillance on Kremlin-backed hackers and partner with social media organizations to crack down on disinformation campaigns such as the ones that disrupted the 2016 election. It would also require the administration to send quarterly reports to Congress about the progress of its efforts.
But the measures may have limited impact. There’s little Congress can do through the legislation to force the administration to take action. As it stands, the non-binding provisions in the annual defense authorization bill are simply a signal to Trump that lawmakers are unsatisfied with his stance on Russia’s cyberoffensives.
“Some Senate Armed Services Committee members have been frustrated by what they see as insufficiently strong deterrence policy in general, and especially with respect to Russian actions in cyberspace,” said Matthew Waxman, a cybersecurity expert at Columbia University and former senior national security official in the George W. Bush administration. Although the provisions in the bill are “a formal expression of that frustration,” Waxman said, they likely won’t have an immediate and direct practical effect on Trump’s policy.