House Democrats are creating an election security task force to study how the government can lock Russian hackers out of the 2018 elections, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.
The task force will hold hearings, collect data on state-level election hacks, and interview election officials and cybersecurity experts. Ultimately, the group aims to turn its findings into legislation.
“Unless we act, they will do this again,” Pelosi said.
House Homeland Security ranking member Bennie Thompson of Mississippi will lead the task force with Rep. Robert Brady of Pennsylvania, the top Democrat on the House Administration Committee, which oversees federal elections.
Thompson said the Trump administration’s failure to present a plan to secure the upcoming election against Russia’s cyber warriors forced the Democrats’ hand.
“Basically this task force is the only option available to us right now,” the Mississippi lawmaker told reporters Thursday. “It’s not proper for the leadership in the White House to sit and try and blame President [Barack] Obama for not doing something, and here we are the later part of June — going into the Fourth of July recess— and there’s nothing definitive from the White House addressing this.”
Thompson’s remarks echo a line of attack Democrats have united behind in recent weeks — that Trump has done nothing to keep Russia’s digital army from invading future elections. Republicans have turned the issue right around, countering that Obama was the one who could have nipped the problem in the bud.
“He stood idly by in the 2016 election,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Wednesday.
Trump has also regularly taken to Twitter to chastise Obama over his handling of the election-year hacking.
Thompson didn’t seem hopeful he would get Republican support for his task force, but invited the GOP to participate.
“If Republicans decide they want to come and join us, they’re absolutely welcome to come and do it,” he said.
The two parties in Congress have feuded for months over how to investigate the apparent Russian hacks and disinformation campaign that targeted the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the digital assault with the eventual aim of helping Trump win the White House.
The Senate and House intelligence panels are both conducting bipartisan investigations into the election-year meddling, including an examination of whether the Trump campaign coordinated at all with the Kremlin. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller is leading a law enforcement probe into the same subjects.
But Democrats are increasingly concerned that specific security steps also need to be taken to ward off a recurrence of the hacking that roiled the 2016 race. Thompson said his task force would try to learn more about the 21 states that the Department of Homeland Security said hackers targeted during the recent election.
The task force, Thompson explained, will “look and really try to find out what has happened, and how do we recommend corrective actions.”
Separately, the Senate Intelligence Committee is also seeking details from states about any election-year digital intrusions. Only two states — Illinois and Arizona — have publicly confirmed online breaches.
Pelosi said she informed House Speaker Paul Ryan of the new task force Thursday morning, telling Ryan that Thompson and his group “have the support of our caucus on this.”
Democrats will soon announce the timing of the task force’s first meetings, Pelosi added.