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Senate unanimously passes bill to deny entry to non-citizen 'election meddlers'

Senate unanimously passes bill to deny entry to non-citizen 'election meddlers'
The Senate has unanimously approved a bill barring individuals "who improperly interfere" in US elections from entering the country, in a display of legislative virtue-signaling. It's unclear who the act is supposed to affect.

The cleverly-named DETER (Defending Elections against Trolls from Enemy Regimes) Act sailed through the Senate without a single dissenting vote, buoyed by the bipartisan bluster of its sponsors, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL). 

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If signed into law – and Durbin has vowed to get it on President Donald Trump's desk as soon as humanly possible – the bill would add "improper interference in a US election" to existing lists of disqualifying attributes for foreigners seeking a US visa or residence permit and deportable offenses for those foreigners already here.

"Congress has done little to prevent future efforts by Russia or others to influence and disrupt the 2020 elections," Durbin lamented. While a version of the DETER Act with a slightly more fearsome name (Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines) and the threat of sanctions for any country found to be "meddling" was introduced in both houses of Congress last year, it failed to gain traction.

It's unclear how such a law could actually prevent future "election meddling." Even the thoroughly-debunked Russiagate conspiracy theory alleges most of the “collusion” and all of the "hacking" happened outside US borders, and the 13 alleged Internet Research Agency trolls that Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged last year with conspiracy to defraud the US have already been sanctioned and forbidden from entering the country. As a result, no "foreign agents" have been tried or convicted of "election interference," meaning there's technically no one to bar from entering the US and no one to deport.

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The DETER Act's questionable practicality could be the reason for its broad bipartisan appeal, however. By specifically focusing on foreigners who "improperly" interfere (without defining "proper" interference), it tiptoes around donors and lobbyists who hold actual power to influence American elections – thus allowing both parties to look tough on Russia (even in the continued absence of evidence of its interference) while avoiding embarrassment to their friends.

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