U.S. administration officials have warned of "active threats" to the 2020 presidential elections as they briefed Congress on measures that the government has taken to improve security following what the U.S. intelligence community said was Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.
Representative Debbie Dingell, a Democrat, said on July 9 that the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, FBI chief Christopher Wray, and other officials "made it clear there are active threats and they're doing everything they can" to stop them.
Dingell called the classified closed-door briefing "very impressive" and said the matter of foreign interference in elections was "one we all need to take seriously."
Coats, Wray, and other officials met in separate sessions with House and Senate leaders. Democrats had sought the sessions as they press for legislation to keep Russia and other foreign powers from meddling in U.S. politics.
Democrats have said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked bipartisan bills to address election security, and they pressed for the briefings as a way to force his hand.
A report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller released in April corroborated U.S. intelligence conclusions of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Intelligence agencies had determined that Moscow interfered in the election to benefit Republican Donald Trump in his campaign against Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton. Russia has denied interfering in the election.
Republican Steve Scalise called the classified briefing helpful and said it reinforced the importance of remaining vigilant against threats to U.S. elections, blaming the previous administration of Barack Obama for not doing enough to prevent foreign meddling.
He said federal agencies "continue to learn from the mistakes of the 2016 election, when the [Obama] administration was flat-footed in their response" to Russian interference. "We need to stay vigilant."
McConnell said he welcomed the briefings. The "smooth and secure execution" of the 2018 midterm elections "was not a coincidence" and showed the success of measures the administration has already taken, he said.
But he said he questioned Democrats' motives in their calls for election security and for bills passed on the matter, saying they give too much control over state and local elections to the federal government.
Democrats "have twice passed bills aimed at centralizing election administration decisions in the federal government, in part on the hope that election attorneys -- not voters -- will get to determine the outcome of more elections," he said.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the classified briefing was important but "by no means sufficient."
Congress must "debate and adopt measures to protect our democracy and preserve the sanctity of elections," Schumer said. He accused McConnell of doing "nothing when it comes to one of the greatest threats to our democracy: that a foreign power would reach in and interfere [with U.S. elections] for its own purposes."
In April, Wray -- the FBI director -- warned that Russia was continuing its attempts to meddle in U.S. elections, saying it was a "malign foreign influence" that poses a "significant counterintelligence threat" to the United States.
In an April 26 speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Wray warned that Russian operations under the direction of President Vladimir Putin were likely to intensify during the 2020 presidential campaign.