WASHINGTON — Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the senators who once led the call for a select committee to investigate Russian interference in US elections, will not chair a new Armed Services Cyber Subcommittee expected to investigate the matter.
Graham, R-S.C., and ally Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain, R-Ariz., confirmed the news to reporters Tuesday, saying subcommittee chairs will be selected based on seniority. Graham ranks near last on the committee, based on seniority.
“Lindsey has other responsibilities” on the Senate Appropriations Committee, McCain said, “so we just decided to go with seniority.” Graham chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs as well as the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism.
Republican Sen. Mike Rounds is the likely pick for the new committee, McCain said. Rounds, who serves as the junior senator from South Dakota, declined to confirm the news ahead of the committee’s formal announcement.
The reversal comes weeks after McCain told reporters Graham would be vacating the Armed Services Military Personnel chairmanship to helm the cyber subcommittee. In the interim, Graham and McCain have warned President-elect Donald Trump to get tougher on Russia and accept the findings of the intelligence community on Russia hacking, but they also backed off their call for a select committee to investigate.
On Tuesday, Graham told reporters that to chair the cyber subcommittee would have required a waiver from Senate leadership because he chairs three subcommittees.
“I don’t want to give up another subcommittee, but I’ll be on the [Cyber] subcommittee,” Graham said. “Plenty of good people can chair it.”
McCain said an official announcement on the subcommittee gavels is expected within days.
Meanwhile, Sen. James Inhofe has said he is poised to take over the Armed Services Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee, vacated when former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., lost reelection. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., would vacate the Strategic Forces subcommittee chairmanship if the Senate confirms him as Trump’s pick for attorney general.
Rounds has been outspoken on cybersecurity policy gaps over the last year or longer, arguing that while it’s clear the military may respond to an assault on a military target, it is less clear when the target is civilian infrastructure.
“If we have an incoming missile and we shoot it down, that’s defense. If its a software package being delivered to the United States, at what point can we step in and destroy the software package or the servers delivering it,” Rounds said in a Jan. 6 appearance on “Fox & Friends.” “How do you lay that out so that you can do it in advance.”
“Bigger picture, cyber activity is going on, we in the United States need to do a better job of making sure we can defend ourselves,” he said.
In May 2016, Rounds introduced legislation that would have required the administration develop a policy to determine whether a cyber-attack constitutes an act of war. That, he said at the time, “would allow our military to be better able to respond to cyber-attacks and deter bad actors from attempting to attack us in the first place.”
Last April, Rounds and. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., introduced legislation to ensure the Defense Department clarifies procurement rules for complex information technology and engineering services. In February, he introduced legislation to permit faster hiring and higher pay for cyber security professionals.