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Primary voting in the 2018 elections is set to being in just two months. Is the U.S. voting system secure in case Russia tries to interfere? Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., join Judy Woodruff to discuss their bipartisan effort to protect future elections, as well as President Trump’s call for Republicans to take over the Russia probe and the immigration negotiations.
With primary voting set to begin in just two months, a bipartisan effort to secure the nation's voting system is under way on Capitol Hill, led by Senators Amy Klobuchar and James Lankford, Democrat and Republican.
I spoke with them on Capitol Hill today about their effort, about President Trump's call for Republicans to take control of the Russia investigation, and about immigration negotiations.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator James Lankford, thank you very much for joining us.
I first just want to make sure my eyes don't deceive me, that there is actually a Republican and a Democrat sitting next to each other for an interview.
Sen. James Lankford:
That actually does happen more often than is captured by camera.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar:
It does, and even from Oklahoma and Minnesota, so there you go.
We appreciate your talking to us.
Let's begin by talking about the legislation that the two of you are backing having to do with election security.
Normally, Senator Lankford, people think about ballots and how they're counted. It's mechanical. Why is that a priority right now?
It's a priority because, in 2016, the Russians tried to interfere in our election.
We watched them try to be able to probe through different election systems, to be able to try to reach out to different secretaries of state offices in different states, and to be able to determine how they're doing voter registration, what voting machines are they using.
We should take that as a good fair warning that we should be aware that there are outside entities that do mean to do us harm and try to interfere in our democracy, and we should be better prepared for that in the future.
So, Senator Klobuchar, what are you trying to do with this bill?
We're trying to help the states to shore up their election equipment.
This was basically a cyber-attack from Russia, and we know that. Our intelligence agencies have very strongly, under both President Obama and President Trump, made that clear that they tried to get into our elections.
Twenty-one states, including the two of our states, there were attempts made to hack the states. So, what we do with the bill is this, first of all, better sharing of information. It's unbelievable to me that it took months for state election officials to find out that a foreign government had tried to hack in.
So, this bill says, you have got to share that information, have someone designated in the states that can get this classified information, and, secondly, giving them some resources to scan for vulnerabilities, to get the right election equipment, and also backup paper ballots, which I think would be very helpful for a lot of these states.
Forty-two states haven't upgraded their election equipment in over a decade, and Russia knows it.
I think, Senator Lankford, a lot of people hear paper ballots, and they think, wait a minute, that's the way it used to be.
Are you talking about going back the way it used to be? People are thinking hanging chads in Florida in 2000.
There's a lot of varieties now.
Really, what we're trying to do is say, we should be able to audit an election, that after the election is over, we should be able to evaluate. If we find out that some outside entity was trying to interfere in the election, everyone will immediately back up and say, did they get in?
So there has to be able to have a way to verify that. So, it could be a paper ballot, an optical scanner. It could be a digital machine, as some of them have now, that you punch in your ballot and it prints a piece of paper to confirm, is this what you really voted? You push yes, and then it locks off a paper ballot, as well as your electronic.
There are lots of ways to do it. We just — we're not telling the states how to do it. The states run their own elections. We're just saying there should be a way to audit an election after it's over to make sure that we can verify, if they were attacked in a cyber-means, there is a way to be able to verify we actually have an accurate result.
We're, what, just a couple of months away from the first primary election voting in this country, just 10 months away from the general election, the midterms. Can this happen in time for it to make a difference?
No, not for 2018. That's the unfortunate part.
There's a lot of work that has gone into it already to be able to evaluate what DHS is currently doing to be able to work with states to be able to help them. We are encouraging them to have engagement now, which they have engaged.
DHS has been good about engaging with our states and providing whatever resources and help that they can in communication. We just think there's more to be done.
But the states already have their election equipment right now for the 2018 election. And they're not going to change it right before the election. But we can be prepared for the next presidential election and have it in place and we can start cooperation sooner.
One point, yes, that the two things that could change immediately if we can get this bill done, either in the omnibus or very quickly, would be, one, they could get some money for screening for vulnerabilities of their existing equipment, and, two, as James just pointed out, the sharing of information and just putting the stamp of Congress on this and saying, you must do this, you have got to share this information, and it has to happen now.
But it sounds like bottom line is that the state election systems are vulnerable this year to Russian hacking or hacking from other countries.
Twenty-one states. I mean, that's a lot.
Yes, we don't necessarily know the level of engagement.
Obviously, 21 states were probed. Most of those states, the Russians were not successful in getting through to the system. They were trying to get into the system. Oklahoma is one of those they were trying to get into. They weren't able to actually penetrate the system.
The important thing is, we're better prepared and that aware that we're not just trying to be able to guard and protect security information after it's over. We have to be prepared beforehand. Our states will be better prepared the next time. We want to make sure, though, that they are actually better prepared.
But not completely safe from interference this year.
Well, and we know, in Illinois, they did get into the voter data.
But what — the information we have so far is that this didn't change votes, but they simply attempted to get into the data. And we don't want it to go the next step in the next election. And that's why, remember, while we're doing this, the states are doing a lot of things on their own, but this has to be a national priority.
But you're saying, this year, states are vulnerable?
States are vulnerable if they don't do the work that they need to do ahead of time.
There are 12 states that cannot audit their elections. And that's one of our challenges. We don't know vulnerabilities. They may not be vulnerable at all, but if there is a question after the fact, they can't audit their elections afterwards to verify that. And we think that's very important.
Russia, of course, a big part of this conversation. They were the ones behind what happened in 2016. They are still active.
The president today is tweeting that the Russia investigation, which is connected to this in a way because the Russians ended up trying to help his campaign, that that investigation, he's calling it the single greatest witch-hunt in American history. He's calling on Republicans to finally take control, in other words, get this over and done with.
First of all, I look at it as a truth hunt.
And I — every time we get a question that starts with "the president tweeted today," there's a pause. But, in this case, he has said this before over and over, so this isn't new news. He said it's a witch-hunt. And I think it's a truth hunt.
Mueller is someone that has been first been appointed by a Republican president, has broad support, and is simply trying to do his job. And I think it's important for this country that we get to the bottom of what happened, regardless of what the president tweets.
But when the president says Republicans finally take control, how do you read that?
You know, I don't know how to be able to read that, what he means by that.
I would tell you I serve on the Intelligence Committee. And my responsibility is to not try to be a partisan in that, is to go after the facts on that. The facts need to go where the facts go. We need to follow the facts wherever they may go to be able to get out as many of those out as we possibly can, to be able to run down every lead, again, to be able to establish by the end of this some sense of bipartisan support, we have looked at everything, and this is where we are now.
One other issue I want to ask you both about quickly, and that is immigration.
Senator Klobuchar, the president had kind of a remarkable session at the White House yesterday. Senator Lankford was there.
But what I want to ask you is, the president said at one point in that meeting that he thought there should be movement direct to address DACA. This is the measures to protect young people who came to the United States without documentation. That should be dealt with, and then comprehensive immigration reform.
How did you interpret what he said?
To me, the immediate emergency is DACA because of these 800,000 kids that 97 percent of whom work and are in school in this country.
And then you can go to comprehensive immigration reform. So I viewed it as positive.
It has to be done with border security.
Now, even the president yesterday said he's not talking about a 2,000-mile wall. But there are sections of it that we should have authorization for. Quite frankly, most are already authorized now. There are 650 miles of wall that currently exist that was authorized in 2006.
Senator Klobuchar, is that going to fly?
I think there will be some negotiation on border security. It wouldn't surprise me if there would be something in there with border security.
But this wall along with the whole border, there's a number of Republicans who are opposed to it. There's issues with that. But what I found remarkable about yesterday was just the openness to a discussion, but this focus also on comprehensive reform.
Are we going to see more Republicans and Democrats working together on other issues?
I think we should.
We have a lot of fun doing it. It's good.
There's a lot of areas of common ground. And my great frustration right now in the Senate is, we're not voting on a lot of legislation. We're doing so many things on nominations that are taking so long. We're not getting to anything on real voting on other legislative issues.
There are so many issues of common ground that we have that, if we had the opportunity to be able to cover the floor, debate it out, have a vote, they'd pass with 70, 80 votes. But it's just getting to the point that we can start getting us back to voting again.
Pharmaceutical issues, the price of prescription drugs, issues with apprenticeships, there's just so much we could doing. And I would like to go there as well.
Well, we appreciate both you sitting down to talk to us today.
But we won't talk about college football vs. the Vikings right now.
But the Vikings are doing really well.
Senator Klobuchar, Senator Lankford, thank you both very much.
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