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Vote on Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Date: Oct. 22, 2020
Location: Washington, DC


The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Braun). The Senator from Maryland. Unanimous Consent Request--S. 1060

Mr. VAN HOLLEN. Mr. President, every day we see more Americans dying from COVID-19 and more Americans contracting this virus. As of today, we have hit the awful mark of over 220,000 Americans dead from COVID- 19, the highest death level in the entire world, and, with that, we are also experiencing the economic fallout and pain that has come with it.

It did not have to be this way. President Trump knew about this deadly virus early on, and he could have and should have acted. But even at this moment, there are things that this U.S. Senate can be doing to both stop the spread of the virus and ease the economic pain. We could be taking up and voting on the legislation that passed the House of Representatives called the Heroes Act, which is a comprehensive emergency relief package for the American people--both addressing testing and contact tracing and other issues to stop the spread of the virus and providing essential economic relief to American families, workers, and businesses that are struggling from the fallout.

But we haven't even had a chance to vote on that bill here in the U.S. Senate. The Heroes Act was passed by the House more than 5 months ago, and then, recently, the House passed a revised version called Heroes 2.0. We tried to get a vote on that just this past Tuesday here in the U.S. Senate. It was blocked by the Republican leader, Senator McConnell, and here we have 12 days to go until the election. Instead of focusing on that relief, we are trying to rush through and use an illegitimate process to put another Justice on the Court.

But there is something else that we should also be doing now instead of rushing a Justice on the Court, in addition to the Heroes Act, and that is defending the integrity of our democratic process and the integrity of our elections.

That is what brings me to the floor today because we have, of course, a few days to go--12 days, to be exact--to get to the election. Yet it has been years--not just 1 year, not just 2 years, not just 3 years-- years when some of us have been pushing to enact legislation here to defend against foreign interference in our elections--Russian interference, which we have known about since 2016, and interference from other adversaries.

So, yesterday, we heard from the Director of National Intelligence that there are foreign actors interfering in our elections and attempting to disrupt our process--Russia and Iran. Well, the question for the U.S. Senate is not the issue of whether we were going to have foreign interference. The question for the U.S. Senate is, Why did we sit back and do nothing about it for 3 years--for 3 years?

Senator Rubio and I introduced a bipartisan bill. It is called the DETER Act, which is very straightforward. It says that if we catch Russia and Putin interfering in our elections again, there will be automatic, swift sanctions, so if you are Vladimir Putin and you are thinking about interfering in our elections, you will know there will be a certain price to pay. Right now, it is cost-free to the Russians and cost-free to other adversaries.

Our bill called for the executive branch to put together a plan to respond and establish upfront penalties not just for Russian interference but for interference from any adversary. That is the way you deter interference in the first place. You can't stop interference if there is no cost to be borne by the adversary seeking to disrupt your process. That is pretty simple.

We have used the idea and concept of deterrence in many other cases to try to keep the peace. Yet, here we are, talking about safeguarding our democracy by putting in place a very simple mechanism to say to anyone who wants to undermine faith in the democratic process or support a particular candidate--as Russia did in 2016 and as they have worked to do over the last couple of years in favor of President Trump--to put in place a process where they know if they get caught, they will be punished, and I don't mean punishing a few oligarchs. I am not talking about punishing a few bureaucrats who may be responsible for actually doing the disruption, but creating penalties on the Russian economy--the banking sector, the energy sector--because we all know that you don't have Russian bureaucrats and intelligence officials interfere in our elections without the green light from the very top, and that is true of other adversaries who seek to interfere in our elections.

So the real question is, Why do we continue to see stonewalling on this simple legislation? Why does the Trump administration continue to oppose it? And why doesn't the Senate do its job as an independent body, supposedly, to protect the integrity of our elections?

Here is what President Trump said just a few years ago in Helsinki when he was side by side with President Putin. President Trump said:

My people came to me--Dan Coats came to me and some others--they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it's not Russia.

I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be. . . . I have confidence in both parties.

Then he went on to say:

I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

This was years ago, yet we hear from our intelligence officials that Russia is still interfering. We heard that just yesterday and that other adversaries are interfering.

But the Trump administration didn't want to do a damn thing about it, and, unfortunately, this body has been complicit in doing nothing-- doing nothing--to seriously protect the integrity of our elections. We have to keep asking ourselves the question why we would leave ourselves defenseless. The only thing you can keep going back to are these continuing statements by President Trump talking about how he respects his friendship with Vladimir Putin and President Trump's actions time and again favoring the Russian position.

We have a last-minute opportunity here. There are 12 days to go before our election. Let us, finally, in light of the information we got yesterday and the information we have gotten on a monthly basis, let us, as the U.S. Senate, at least say today: If we catch you, Russia, if we catch you, Iran, we don't care who you are, if you are an adversary interfering in our elections, there will be a price to pay.

That was a bipartisan idea more than 2 years ago. We still get a lot of lipservice in favor of it here on a bipartisan basis. But when it comes to actually doing something about it and holding a vote, time and again we are denied that opportunity.

What is interesting is when this issue came up just last year as part of the national defense authorization bill, we had a motion on this floor to instruct the conferees from the House and the Senate that as part of the Defense authorization bill, we thought it was important to also protect our democracy from interference. We said that you should include a provision like the DETER Act. But as soon as that got behind closed doors, there was a furious effort by the Republican Senate leader and the Trump administration to prevent that from happening. I had numerous conversations with my colleague from the House side, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and it was opposed by the administration and opposed by the Republican Senate.

So here we are. Nobody should be surprised by what we heard yesterday. The surprise for the American people has got to be: Why the hell didn't we do anything about this for 3 years? We brought everybody together after 2016. I remember we lined up all the intelligence officials, including recent appointees by President Trump, and they all told us what had happened in 2016. Everybody said we are going to work really hard to stop it from happening in 2020. Yet one thing that we could do to make it clear upfront that there would be a price to pay, we have not done. Shame on the U.S. Senate for not moving forward.

There are 12 days left. The clock is ticking. Let's finally take action so at least our adversaries will know that there will be a price to pay if they continue in these final 12 days to try to interfere in our election process.

1060, the DETER Act, and the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration.