THE MORNING PLUM:
With President Trump continuing to claim the Russia scandal is a “hoax,” this question deserves more attention: What will Trump and Republicans do about the likelihood that Russia will attempt to undermine our elections again next time?
Democrats are now taking new steps to increase the pressure on Republicans to take this prospect a lot more seriously.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which oversees House races, has issued a formal request to its Republican counterpart, asking it to join in showing a “united front” and creating a “joint plan” against any Russian efforts to undermine the 2018 elections, I’ve learned.
DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján (N.M.) has sent a letter to Rep. Steve Stivers (Ohio), the chair of the NRCC, asking him to work with Democrats in a unified effort to guard against Russian efforts to undermine next year’s congressional races. In the letter, Democrats ask Republicans to pledge not to use any information obtained via Russian hacking against Democratic candidates, and to create a joint plan in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to guard against Russian interference. The letter was passed on to me by a Democratic source.
Democrats are also taking a range of new steps themselves to guard against the likelihood of Russian sabotage efforts, I’m told. The intelligence community has repeatedly warned that Russia may try to strike again to undermine future elections, and state officials have also sounded the alarm, warning that the Trump administration is not adequately preparing for such attacks.
Since 2016, the DCCC has focused significant time and resources to bolster our data security. However, the threat of cyber-attacks remains, and we must work together to take bold steps to protect the American political system from future intrusions. This cannot be a partisan issue.
First, I ask for your steadfast commitment that the NRCC will refrain from the use of any stolen or altered documents or strategic information as part of any past or potential future hack on our Committee or campaigns.
Second, we must work together as proud Americans — not as Democrats or Republicans — to protect against future attacks. Specifically, I ask that we convene in the near future to discuss how to best establish a united front against foreign governments and collaborate with DHS, the FBI, and other institutions to protect our elections. By the year’s end, we should establish a joint plan to protect our committees and keep foreign adversaries and criminal actors out of our elections.
The letter also points out that Democrats sent a similar request by letter to Republicans during the 2016 election, which criticized Republicans for using data obtained by hackers in ads targeting a Democratic House candidate. The new letter renews the Democratic demand that the GOP’s use of “any illegally obtained information be prohibited and strongly rebuked.”
The question now is how — or whether — Republicans will respond. Our intelligence services have concluded that such a Russian effort in 2018 is a real possibility. Their January report concluded that Russian sabotage efforts directed at our elections have become a “new normal.” And former FBI director James B. Comey recently testified to Congress that Russia currently constitutes “the greatest threat of any nation on Earth” to our democratic process, adding that Russia will try to do it again: “They will be back.”
Trump continues to send conflicting signals as to how seriously he takes the Russian election threat. In an interview with Reuters, he did say that we have to find out what happened during 2016, because “we can’t allow a thing like that to happen to our election process.” But he again dismissed the Russia story as a “hoax,” suggesting that his adamant denials of collusion are rendering him less willing to take the prospect of interference seriously. Indeed, after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he seemed eager to put the Russia meddling question behind us.
What’s more, it’s unclear how seriously the Trump administration is taking the threat of future Russian sabotage. NBC News and ABC News have both reported that state officials — in both parties — are worried about the security of upcoming elections, and they report getting little guidance from the Trump administration in this regard.
It’s true that the Obama administration was also criticized, justifiably, for failing to act sufficiently on Russian interference in the 2016 election. But if Trump is going to criticize this failure — as he has done — that opens his administration up to questions as to what they are doing about upcoming interference. And remember, during the 2016 campaign, Democrats similarly asked congressional Republican leaders to present a united front against Russian meddling. They refused, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) questioning whether it even happened.
Democrats take new steps to guard against hacking
Meanwhile, a senior Democrat tells me that the DCCC is taking a whole range of new steps to shore up its defenses against Russian interference. This includes a training program that is designed to teach operatives and staff how to better detect hacking efforts and safeguard personal and other information, and efforts to provide direction in this regard to the campaigns of Democratic House candidates. The Democrat tells me that the lessons of 2016 have taught the party that preparation for such interference is now considered an essential aspect of running a professional contemporary campaign.
To be sure, the possibility of future Russian hacking efforts raises all sorts of complicated questions for campaigns. Should campaigns use information that is injected into the public domain by Russian hacking efforts, since after all news organizations cover them as newsworthy information? Or should they refrain? This question will likely be debated seriously in coming months. But one thing we do know is that one of Russia’s key goals in meddling in our elections, as the intelligence services put it, is to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process.”
You’d think both parties would have an interest in cooperating to create a joint plan to safeguard our democracy against that outcome.
* WHAT DID TRUMP KNOW, AND WHEN DID HE KNOW IT? The New York Times points out that hours after Donald Trump Jr. held the June 2016 meeting in which he’d been promised information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government, this happened:
Three hours later, his father, Donald J. Trump, claimed victory in the final primary races propelling him to the Republican presidential nomination and a general election contest against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In his victory speech, Mr. Trump promised to deliver a major address detailing Mrs. Clinton’s “corrupt dealings” to give “favorable treatment” to foreign governments, including “the Russians.”
The White House claims this is a mere coincidence. But investigators will sort out what Trump knew and when he knew it.
* TRUMP’S LAWYERS NOW WARNING WHITE HOUSE STAFF: Politico reports that Trump’s legal team has told top White House staff that the stakes are a lot higher now, and they’d really better watch their every move:
Trump’s legal team is attempting to separate the president from Donald Trump Jr. and the son’s legal team on Russia matters, as well from Jared Kushner and his legal team, over concerns that the blurred lines could create unnecessary problems, according to these sources. They have tried to block Trump’s warring band of aides from joining meetings with his lawyers, warning that they could become witnesses or be forced to hire lawyers if they attend.
Things will likely get a lot more tense once special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigators start knocking on some of these people’s doors.
* NEW GOP HEALTH BILL KEEPS MEDICAID CUTS: Today, Senate GOP leaders roll out the new version of their health bill, and the Associated Press previews it:
The new package would keep most of the original bill’s Medicaid reductions and eliminate tax increases Obama’s statute imposes on the health care industry. But it would retain Obama tax boosts on upper-income people, and use the revenue to help some lower earners afford coverage, provide $45 billion to help states combat drug abuse and give extra money to some hospitals in states that didn’t use Obama’s law to expand Medicaid.
Given that GOP moderates strongly objected to the Medicaid cuts on moral grounds, it’s hard to see how they can get to Yes, but never underestimate their ability to abandon their own stated principles.
* RAND PAUL AND SUSAN COLLINS LOOK LIKE NO VOTES: The immediate question is whether the new health bill can get 50 votes to proceed to debate. But Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins look like confirmed Nos even on that:
“We promised the American voters that we would repeal Obamacare,” Mr. Paul said. “But when you’re keeping half the taxes, most of the regulations and creating a brand-new insurance bailout superfund, that to most people just doesn’t look like repeal.” Ms. Collins has been a vocal critic of the bill for very different reasons. “If the Medicaid cuts remain the same in the new version of the Senate bill, I will vote no on the motion to proceed,” she said.
If that holds, Republicans cannot lose one more — and Dean Heller of Nevada, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rob Portman of Ohio all have serious concerns.
* PRETTY MUCH EVERYONE OPPOSES GOP HEALTH BILL: The Post takes stock of the tremendous opposition that has come together against the disastrous GOP repeal-and-replace plan:
Most corners of the U.S. health-care industry have stood steadfastly opposed for months to Republican efforts to revise the Affordable Care Act. … But in recent weeks, a last gasp of advocacy has come from an even wider range of groups and individuals trying to block the Senate health-care bill. Community hospitals have held information sessions. Pediatricians have starred in videos. Patient associations have flown in hundreds of Americans with chronic illnesses to meet with lawmakers and their aides.
All this because Republicans dug themselves into a massive hole with years of lies about the ACA, and because Trump (who doesn’t care about the specifics in the least) needs to proclaim a “win.”
* TRUMP MAY TRY TO SCALE BACK LEGAL IMMIGRATION: Politico reports:
Trump plans to get behind a bill being introduced later this summer by GOP Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia that, if signed into law, would, in 2027, slash in half the number of legal immigrants entering the country each year, according to four people familiar with the conversations. Currently, about 1 million legal immigrants enter the country annually; that number would fall to 500,000 over the next decade.
No doubt the real motive here is to help struggling workers in Appalachia and the Rust Belt.
* AND WHO WILL TELL THE PRESIDENT ‘NO’? E.J. Dionne Jr. notes that Democrats pressed Trump’s nominee for FBI director, Christopher A. Wray, with a simple question: Will you say “no” to the president? And Dionne adds this worrying point:
There is good reason to feel uneasy about having anyone appointed by Trump lead the FBI at this moment. It is obvious to all except the willfully blind that we now have a president who observes none of the norms, rules or expectations of his office and will pressure anyone at any time if doing so serves his personal interests.
And as Dionne says, there are no indications that congressional Republicans will ever say “no.” I don’t think we’ve begun to see just how bad this could get, once the Russia probe seriously advances.