AUGUSTA, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is the first Republican to sign a bill aimed at improving election security, but it’s one of a handful of Democratic measures on that topic that have been blocked by her party so far and are unlikely to proceed to votes.
Collins announced Tuesday that she became a co-sponsor of the so-called “FIRE Act,” which would require presidential campaigns contacted by foreign national offering campaign contributions, information or services to report those contacts to the FBI and election regulators.
The measure was introduced in May by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, as a response to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The New York Times identified at least 140 contacts mentioned in the report between President Donald Trump’s campaign associates and Russian nationals or Wikileaks, the site that published hacked emails from Democrats during the race.
Collins didn’t mention the Republican president in a statement on the measure, backing up the conclusions of Mueller and the U.S. intelligence community by saying that Russia’s attempts to interfere in elections here “remain relentless” and she was “proud” to join Warner to push for it.
Despite Collins’ support, the bill is still unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate because it is a direct rebuke to Trump. It is also among a handful of Democratic bills aimed at election security that have been blocked from votes by Republicans in the upper chamber.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has long said that election management should be left to states and not the federal government. He has argued more recently that the federal government has responded adequately to the threat of Russian interference.
In a floor speech on Monday, he said that the Democratic measures have been blocked because they don’t have bipartisan support. They also include a measure to require paper ballots in federal elections and authorize millions in grants to states to secure election systems that got one Republican vote but passed the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.
“This kind of objection is a routine occurrence in the Senate,” McConnell said in a Monday floor speech. “It doesn’t make Republicans traitors or un-American. It makes us policymakers with a different opinion.”
All of this could make Collins’ move largely symbolic. Her sponsorship comes as Maine’s senior senator faces a race for a fifth term in 2020 that is heavily targeted by national Democrats and just ahead of the Senate’s recess from early August to early September.
On Wednesday, Collins spokeswoman Annie Clark that her boss “will work to encourage her colleagues in both parties” to support the Warner-sponsored measure.