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Klobuchar On Congressional Efforts To Combat Russian Interference In Elections


The White House has spent much of this week trying to make the case that President Trump takes Russian efforts to interfere in U.S. elections seriously. The president has suggested recently that he may not be entirely convinced by his own intelligence agencies' warnings about Russia. His national intelligence director, Dan Coats, has been unequivocal. On Monday, Coats accused the Russians of, quote, "ongoing pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy." For more on how the U.S. can combat these efforts, we turn to Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota. She's the ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee, which has jurisdiction over elections. And she has introduced legislation that she says could protect U.S. elections from Russian interference. Senator, good morning.

AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, good morning, Noel. It's great to be on. And, yes, Senator Lankford and I have come together across the aisle and introduced this bill. We've already had a hearing on the bill. And it's really ready to go.

KING: Tell me what's in the bill. The idea that we could have legislation to secure our elections sounds good. What's in it?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, first of all, as you know, elections are state by state. And we know the Russians have tried to hack into 21 states just last time. They got as far as the voter data. And we know that they actually got voter information on 500,000 voters, according to the Justice Department. So what we've done is, one, is helping the states. We don't have federal elections with the same equipment. There's a virtue to that. So what this bill does is it says we're going to give some more funding to the states to help them.

KING: More money. OK.

KLOBUCHAR: Yes, and we were very successful in getting $380 million that's already gone out to the states just a few months ago to help them with things like paper ballots. Fourteen states don't even have paper ballots statewide. And that is one way to protect ourselves if something happens. Secondly, it mandates election auditing so that after the election, you can check to make sure it's accurate and go back in. That is another good way to protect ourselves. And then the third is that it basically says, hey, Homeland Security, you knew all this was going on in 2016, and you didn't even tell the states for a year. So it requires Homeland Security to in real time share hacking information with state officials so that...

KING: Let the states know that something is - has gone wrong, is not going right, so three concrete things that you're talking about there. You've been working on this legislation for a while, and I wonder, given the events of this past week, the indictments, the confusion, the president sort of back and forth, are you hearing from an increasing number of Republicans that they would support your legislation?

KLOBUCHAR: Yes, we are. And we already have - Senator Lindsey Graham is on the bill, as well as, by the way, Kamala Harris, who helped us with this bill. We've got Senator Burr, the head of the Intelligence Committee, Republican, along with Senator Warner, and we've got Senator Collins and Senator Heinrich, and we have Senator Nelson and Rounds just joined the bill. And they are the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services cyber subcommittee.

KING: Now, there's a...

KLOBUCHAR: So we have a lot of leaders on this bill.

KING: A lot of leaders, bipartisan - there is a wrinkle here. I'm assuming that you and other Democrats are hoping that the issue of security may help you win Democratic seats in the midterms, but is it then counterproductive if what you want is bipartisan agreement, a bipartisan bill?

KLOBUCHAR: Not at all. What we want is to have elections that are fair, and we don't want them hacked into by a foreign country. You think of everything that Russia did in 2016 - not just the hacking but also the social media and influencing our election. This is not a partisan issue. This is about America's democracy, and a strong democracy is good for everyone. And I think that's why you see Democrats and Republicans on this bill because, you know, as Marco Rubio once said, they messed around with one party and one candidate one time. They're going to go the other way the other time.

KING: Why does this appear, then, that it has not - that election security has not been made more of a priority if everyone agrees?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, I have been frustrated for the whole year that we haven't had a hearing. And finally Senator Blunt, who just took over the Rules Committee, and I work with him - I'm the ranking - highest ranking Democrat on it - we finally had a hearing on this bill. And Senator Lankford and I got the money, the $380 million, that's literally - it's not a grant program. It has gone out to the states.

KING: This is money that's going to the states.

KLOBUCHAR: It already has gone out.

KING: Republicans have said that there's still money left in the coffers from previous allocations. And I wonder is there a problem getting money to the states?

KLOBUCHAR: No, not this money. We were really very quick in how we did it through the Election Assistance Commission. And we got it done, and we got it out to the states, and they're using it now. And that's the kind of thing we have to do because, see, I don't expect Arkansas to be able to have to put up all their own state's money to protect themselves from what is really an act of war from a foreign power. And I don't expect North Carolina or North Dakota to do that. And that's why this is really a federal issue. And that $380 million, that was 3 percent of one aircraft carrier, just to give you a sense.

KING: It'll be interesting to see once that money gets there what's done with it, and we'll keep following this, of course. Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, Democrat, thank you so much for joining me.

KLOBUCHAR: It was just great to be on, Noel. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: July 18, 2018 at 11:00 PM CDT
The original headline on this story misspelled Sen. Klobuchar's name as Klobachar.