Senate Dems to McConnell: Tying Hacking Measure With Defense Bill Is ‘Ridiculous’

“This is a pure political ploy that does nothing to advance America’s national security.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks during a news conference earlier this month in Washington.
National Journal
June 10, 2015, 12:26 p.m.

Just a week after an emo­tion­al de­bate over gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance drove Con­gress to the edge, Demo­crat­ic an­ger is again quickly mount­ing against Mitch Mc­Con­nell.

Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship wrote to the ma­jor­ity lead­er on Wed­nes­day to urge him to back down from his “ri­dicu­lous” plan to at­tach cy­ber­se­cur­ity le­gis­la­tion to an an­nu­al de­fense policy bill.

The let­ter, signed by Minor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, Minor­ity Whip Dick Durbin, and Sens. Chuck Schu­mer and Patty Mur­ray, asks Mc­Con­nell to not tack the Cy­ber­se­cur­ity In­form­a­tion Shar­ing Act on as an amend­ment to the Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act, which is gen­er­ally viewed as “must-pass” le­gis­la­tion.

(RE­LATED: Sen­ate Dems to Mc­Con­nell: Ty­ing Hack­ing Meas­ure With De­fense Bill Is ‘Ri­dicu­lous’

“Adding CISA to the Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act (NDAA) in a man­ner that al­lows neither de­bate nor amend­ment is ri­dicu­lous,” the Demo­crat­ic lead­ers wrote. “This is es­pe­cially true giv­en the Pres­id­ent’s com­mit­ment to veto the NDAA for un­re­lated reas­ons. This is a pure polit­ic­al ploy that does noth­ing to ad­vance Amer­ica’s na­tion­al se­cur­ity. We urge you to re­con­sider your ef­forts to jam through this im­port­ant le­gis­la­tion in a man­ner that renders it mean­ing­less.”

Mc­Con­nell on Tues­day an­nounced that he would add CISA — which passed the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee in March on a 14-1 vote — as an amend­ment to NDAA, not­ing the re­cent hack of the Of­fice of Per­son­nel Man­age­ment that ex­posed the per­son­al in­form­a­tion of some four mil­lion cur­rent and former fed­er­al em­ploy­ees.

But that tac­tic has put Mc­Con­nell un­der siege from Demo­crats, some of whom are gen­er­ally sup­port­ive of the cy­ber­se­cur­ity le­gis­la­tion but ques­tion the mer­its and motives of the ma­jor­ity lead­er’s pro­cess.

(RE­LATED: Mc­Con­nell to Pair Cy­ber­se­cur­ity Meas­ure With De­fense Bill

CISA seeks to ca­jole com­pan­ies in­to in­creas­ing their shar­ing of “cy­ber­threat” data with the gov­ern­ment by of­fer­ing them ex­pan­ded li­ab­il­ity pro­tec­tions, an ar­range­ment the bill’s back­ers say could help mit­ig­ate and po­ten­tially pre­vent dev­ast­at­ing cy­ber­at­tacks. Two sim­il­ar ver­sions of the bill eas­ily passed the House last month with bi­par­tis­an sup­port.

Pri­vacy ad­voc­ates warn that ex­pan­ded pub­lic-private in­form­a­tion shar­ing could en­hance the gov­ern­ment’s sur­veil­lance cap­ab­il­it­ies, par­tic­u­larly at the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency, which will be able to ac­cess the data in or near “real time” as it mi­grates in­to gov­ern­ment serv­ers. Demo­crat­ic Sens. Patrick Leahy, Ron Wyden, and Al Franken have said they have pro­found re­ser­va­tions about the pri­vacy im­plic­a­tions of the meas­ure and have at­tacked Mc­Con­nell for what they say is an at­tempt to lim­it de­bate.

(RE­LATED: Sen. Pat Leahy De­nounces Alarm­ists Over Latest Massive Cy­ber­at­tack

But even some of the bill’s sup­port­ers are lin­ing up to ex­cor­i­ate Mc­Con­nell’s strategy. Earli­er Wed­nes­day, Sen. Di­anne Fein­stein, the top Demo­crat on the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee who for years has pushed for in­form­a­tion-shar­ing le­gis­la­tion, ac­cused Mc­Con­nell of try­ing to stifle de­bate, not­ing that law­makers on both sides of the is­sue “want an op­por­tun­ity to of­fer rel­ev­ant amend­ments.”

“A num­ber of my col­leagues would like to pro­pose amend­ments, as is their right,” Fein­stein said on the Sen­ate floor. “And I ex­pect I would sup­port some of them and would op­pose some of them. But the Sen­ate should have an op­por­tun­ity to fully con­sider the bill, to re­ceive the in­put of oth­er com­mit­tees with jur­is­dic­tion in this area.”

Fein­stein also sug­ges­ted that Mc­Con­nell’s move could im­per­il bi­par­tis­an sup­port for CISA.

A Mc­Con­nell aide dis­missed the no­tion that con­sid­er­ing CISA as an amend­ment was stifling de­bate.

“Ac­tu­ally, there is plenty of time for de­bate. They can go de­bate now in­stead of a quor­um call. And they can amend, we did not fill the tree,” said Mc­Con­nell spokes­man Don Stew­art in an email. “And let’s not for­get that when Sen. Re­id was ma­jor­ity lead­er, he DID fill the tree on cy­ber, block­ing ALL amend­ments.”

Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Chair­man Richard Burr filed CISA as a second-de­gree amend­ment to an­oth­er amend­ment late Tues­day, a man­euver that means it will not be open to fur­ther changes dur­ing de­bate.

This story has been up­dated with com­ment from the ma­jor­ity lead­er’s of­fice.

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