House tees up first vote on Jan. 6 reform legislation

Members of the House Jan. 6 committee return from a break during a hearing on Thursday, July 21, 2022 to focus on former President Trump’s actions during the insurrection.

The House on Wednesday plans to vote on a bill led by a bipartisan duo on the Jan. 6 panel that would reform the Electoral Count Act, moving swiftly on legislation designed to prevent interference in elections.

The vote comes just two days after the bill from the panel’s vice chairwoman, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) was unveiled Monday.

The legislation — the first bill from a committee that has pledged numerous reforms — would make clear that the vice president’s role in certifying the election is purely ministerial and would require one-third of lawmakers in each chamber to back any effort to object to electors.

“I want to make absolutely clear at the outset that what we saw happen in 2020, what Donald Trump tried to convince the vice president to do, was illegal under existing law, and we begin by affirming that. But we need to then take steps to make sure that another Jan. 6 is something that never happens again,” Cheney said on a call with reporters Tuesday.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, though the House bill includes other proactive measures, including limitations on extending elections.

But the panel’s first legislative foray is already facing resistance from Republicans.

“If you look at the bill, it’s got some components, like it allows more lawsuits to drag out elections, to allow trial lawyers to change states’ election laws that were debated in their legislatures, which goes against the democratic principles that even the Constitution lays out for how elections should work,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) told reporters Tuesday morning, confirming that he will vote against the measure.

Later that afternoon, Scalise’s office officially began whipping against the measure, writing in a memo to House GOP offices that the “flawed” legislation “tramples on State sovereignty and opens the door for destructive private rights of action that will only delay results and inject more uncertainty into our elections.”

The measure — titled the Presidential Election Reform Act — also outlines constitutional justifications for objecting to electoral votes, a move its sponsors say makes clear that such objection can be raised only for a narrow set of issues.

Additionally, the bill allows candidates to obtain a federal court order if a governor fails to transmit slates of electors to Congress and asserts that presidential elections can be extended only if a federal judge rules that the state underwent a genuine “catastrophic event” that influenced enough ballots to change the results of the race.

Other Republicans said they opposed the bill because it was “rushed” in the House given it could be introduced and potentially passed in just three days.

“The proposal before us has been rushed through in a highly partisan manner,” Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), ranking member of the House Administration Committee, said during a House Rules Committee meeting on Tuesday.

“Why rush such a significant piece of legislation when the next presidential certification won’t happen for over two years?” Davis asked. “It’s simple: The midterm elections are just weeks away, and Democrats and the [Jan. 6] committee are desperately trying to talk about their favorite topic, and that is former President Trump.”

Asked about the GOP’s push against the bill, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the Jan. 6 select committee, said, “That’s sad.”

“If they saw what happened on Jan. 6, then it’s obvious this is not who we are as a country, and so much of it was put forth under the assumption that somehow the vice president could stop the will of the people. And so this legislation just stops that absolutely in its tracks. So I wouldn’t see a responsible member of this body not wanting to make sure that something like Jan. 6 never happened again,” he added.

The Lofgren-Cheney bill comes as the Senate has begun to move more earnestly on a similar proposal first introduced in July that likewise tweaks the Electoral Count Act. They have a few key differences — the Senate version would require just one-fifth to back objections to electors — but it has broader support in the upper chamber, gaining 10 Republican co-sponsors. A companion bill has been introduced in the House but has not yet been acted upon.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, Thompson said he thinks the Senate bill has garnered more support than the House bill — despite their striking similarities — because the Senate version was introduced first.

“Ours, for all intensive purposes, just hit this week, and I think once people get an opportunity to see what our bill encompasses versus the Senate bill, I think you’ll see people moving to our side,” he added.

There is one area of the Lofgren-Cheney bill left unexplored by the Senate that outlines requirements for seeking to declare an election failed, something Cheney said would block potential future abuse of those looking to extend an election.

“We wanted to be very clear and specific about the definition of catastrophic event and wanted to make sure that in the future you couldn’t have a situation, for example, where false claims of fraud could be made to allow a state to refuse to certify valid votes,” Cheney said.

“We thought it was very important to be clear about both what constituted a catastrophic event, what the impact of such a thing would be, and, yes, to help ensure that we’re preventing misuse and abuse of those kinds of claims in future elections,” she said.

Emily Brooks contributed.