Senate Bill Promises Retaliation If Russia Again Meddles in Elections

Sen. Marco Rubio

Sen. Marco Rubio Carolyn Kaster/AP

The bill would force the U.S. to sanction Russian industries.

A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate Wednesday aims to deter Russia and other nations from meddling in future U.S. elections.

The Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Readiness Act, or DETER—introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.—threatens a range retaliatory actions the government can take if a foreign government meddles in another election as well as Russia-specific sanctions that can be doled out.

The bill would require the Director of National Intelligence to ascertain whether any foreign government interfered in any federal election within 60 days of the election date. The DNI would also have to provide the identities of any senior political figures who knowingly contributed to interference in a U.S. election.

The bill outlines several actions that merit retaliation: buying ads to influence an election; using social media to spread information to Americans under a false identity; hacking or modifying election and campaign infrastructure, including voter registration databases or campaign emails and blocking access to elections infrastructure.

The bill is an updated version of legislation initially introduced in the Senate last year, though the Senate never voted on it. It comes weeks after Special Counsel Robert Mueller wrapped up his report on Russian election meddling, which included charges and indictments against several Russian government personnel.

“The one clear message we can all take away from the Mueller Report—along with the consensus of our intelligence chiefs—is that Russia worked to manipulate the American people and undermine our democratic process in 2016,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “As we head into the 2020 election cycle, we must be vigilant against attacks from the Kremlin or anyone who seeks to follow their example. By making it clear in advance that attempts to interfere in our elections will be met with swift, harsh consequences, we can deter hostile foreign powers from taking future interference—but we must act now.”

The DETER Act lists a plethora of Russian-specific sanctions for the administration to take should the DNI again determine Russia interferes in an election. This includes sanctions on major sectors of the Russian economy, including defense, energy and finance, as well as sanctions on leading Russian political figures and oligarchs. The administration would also be required to work with the European Union to “broaden the impact” of any sanctions undertaken.

“Because the only thing that Vladimir Putin understands is deterrence, the DETER Act of 2019 makes it crystal clear to Russia and other hostile governments that the United States will respond immediately and overwhelmingly to future attempts to interfere in or undermine our elections,” Rubio said in a statement. “I urge Congress to come together and decisively protect our elections and the American people for years to come against foreign adversaries that are determined to tear us down and divide us in order to build themselves up.”

If passed, the legislation would also ask the administration to present a strategy for preventing election interference from China, Iran, North Korea and other countries of concern.