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McConnell, Schumer back bill to prevent efforts to subvert presidential election results

Sept. 27, 2022 Updated Tue., Sept. 27, 2022 at 9:05 p.m.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., center, walks through the Capitol Tuesday in Washington, D.C.  (New York Times)
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., center, walks through the Capitol Tuesday in Washington, D.C. (New York Times)
By Amy B Wang Washington Post

WASHINGTON – Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have endorsed a bipartisan electoral count reform bill in the Senate, all but cementing its passage and giving the legislation a boost as Congress seeks to prevent future efforts to subvert presidential election results.

The endorsements followed House passage of a similar bill last week. Both measures aim to stop future presidents from trying to overturn election results through Congress and were driven by the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by a mob of Donald Trump supporters seeking to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s win.

The Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act, sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., would amend the Electoral Count Act of 1887 and reaffirm that the vice president has only a ministerial role at the joint session of Congress to count electoral votes, as well as raise the threshold necessary for members of Congress to object to a state’s electors.

Speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon, McConnell said there was a need to make “modest” updates to the Electoral Count Act.

Congress’s process for counting their presidential electors’ votes was written 135 ago. The chaos that came to a head on Jan. 6 of last year certainly underscored the need for an update,” McConnell said. “The Electoral Count Act ultimately produced the right conclusion … but it’s clear the country needs a more predictable path.”

In a statement, Schumer said, “Make no mistake: as our country continues to face the threat of the anti-democracy MAGA Republican movement – propelled by many GOP leaders who either refused to take a stand or actively stoked the flames of division in our country – reforming the Electoral Count Act ought to be the bare minimum of action the Congress takes.”

The Senate Rules Committee, of which Schumer and McConnell are both members, later voted to advance the bill. Schumer voted yes by proxy, while Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was the lone no vote. Speaking minutes after McConnell had expressed his support for the legislation in committee, Cruz went against his party leader and blasted the bill as “bad policy and … bad for democracy.”

“I understand why Democrats are supporting this bill,” Cruz said. “What I don’t understand is why Republicans are.”

The bill already enjoyed strong bipartisan support, with 11 Democratic and 11 Republican senators signing on to co-sponsor it before Tuesday.

“We are pleased that bipartisan support continues to grow for these sensible and much-needed reforms to the Electoral Count Act of 1887,” Collins and Manchin said in a joint statement last week. “Our bill is backed by election law experts and organizations across the ideological spectrum. We will keep working to increase bipartisan support for our legislation that would correct the flaws in this archaic and ambiguous law.”

After the 2020 election, Trump had falsely told his supporters that Vice President Mike Pence had the power to reject electoral votes already certified by the states. Pence did not do so – and has repeatedly emphasized that the Constitution provides the vice president with no such authority. But on Jan. 6, many in the mob that overran the Capitol began chanting, “Hang Mike Pence!” on the mistaken belief that the vice president could have stopped Congress from certifying Biden’s victory.

The House last week passed the similar Presidential Election Reform Act, written by Reps. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., on a 229-203 vote. Cheney and Lofgren argued that the risk of another effort to steal a presidential election remains high, as Trump continues to spread baseless claims of widespread election fraud, and as pro-Trump candidates in state and local elections around the country have embraced those falsehoods.

The Senate and House bills differ chiefly in how much they would change the threshold necessary for members of both chambers to object to a state’s results. Currently, only one member each from the House and Senate are required to object to a state’s electors. The House electoral reform bill would raise that threshold to at least one-third of the members of both the House and Senate, while the Senate version would raise that threshold to at least one-fifth of the members of both the House and Senate.

Schumer had withheld his support because he preferred Democrats’ sweeping voting bill that also addressed access to the polls. But after that bill failed in the Senate because of a lack of Republican support this year, the bipartisan working group forged ahead on a narrower bill that would implement guardrails and clarifications regarding how presidential electors are appointed, submitted and approved.

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, a member of the Rules panel who had worked on his own electoral bill, said Monday that it was “critical” they pass legislation as soon as possible.

“This isn’t comprehensive voting rights reforms, but it is important because of the danger that we experienced on Jan. 6,” King told the Washington Post. “It’s critical we do this before next year when we are in the throes of the presidential election.”

Unlike the Senate bill, the House bill saw little support from GOP lawmakers. Only nine Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the measure, and none of those nine will be members of Congress next year – either because they lost their primaries or chose to retire. Several of the Republicans who opposed the bill, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of California, criticized it as unconstitutional.

On Tuesday, McConnell called the House bill a “non-starter” because of its lack of support from GOP lawmakers.

“It’s clear that only a bipartisan compromise originating in the Senate can actually become law,” he said. “One party going it alone would be a non-starter. In my view, the House bill is a non-starter. We have one shot to get this right.”

The Biden administration issued a statement last week in support of the House bill, calling it another step in “critically needed reform of the 135-year-old Electoral Count Act.”

“Americans deserve greater clarity in the process by which their votes will result in the election of a President and Vice President,” the Office of Management and Budget said. “As (the Presidential Election Reform Act) proceeds through the legislative process, the Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to ensure lasting reform consistent with Congress’ constitutional authority to protect voting rights, tally electoral votes, and strengthen our democracy.”

The Senate is widely expected to vote on the measure in a lame-duck session in December.

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