Long-shot goal of nixing Electoral College picks up steam

Calls to eliminate the Electoral College are gaining traction within the Senate Democratic Conference, but the push is revealing a divide between White House hopefuls and senators from rural states.

A group of Democratic senators introduced a constitutional amendment on Tuesday that would replace the Electoral College with a system that would directly elect the president through the popular vote, marking the second proposal to come out of the chamber in a matter of days. 

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“No one’s vote should count for more based on where they live. The Electoral College is outdated, and it’s undemocratic,” said Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzHillicon Valley: Lawmakers angered over Border Patrol breach | Senate Dems press FBI over Russian hacking response | Emails reportedly show Zuckerberg knew of Facebook's privacy issues | FCC looks to improve broadband mapping Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers angered over Border Patrol breach | Senate Dems press FBI over Russian hacking response | Emails reportedly show Zuckerberg knew of Facebook's privacy issues | FCC looks to improve broadband mapping FCC to vote on proposal for improving broadband mapping MORE (D-Hawaii), who is spearheading the constitutional amendment efforts.

The proposal is backed by Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw The Hill's Morning Report - Trump and House Democrats resume battle MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat; Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinNew push to regulate self-driving cars faces tough road Trump remarks deepen distrust with intelligence community Trump remarks deepen distrust with intelligence community MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee; and Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandBiden calls for equal pay for US women's soccer team Biden calls for equal pay for US women's soccer team Trump steadfast in denials as support for impeachment grows MORE (D-N.Y.), a 2020 contender.

Efforts to nix the current system have gained momentum as progressive groups and a growing number of presidential hopefuls pitch overhauls of institutional pillars such as expanding the Supreme Court and getting rid of the legislative filibuster.

Enacting a constitutional amendment would be an uphill battle, if not an impossible goal. The amendment would first need to win over two-thirds of both chambers of Congress and then be ratified by three-fourths of the states.

Durbin, who said he has been opposed to the Electoral College for decades, acknowledged that trying to get rid of it was likely a doomed effort.

“Perhaps it’s just a protest of what’s happened with candidates winning the popular vote and losing the Electoral College,” he said when asked why Democratic senators were forcing the debate now. 

Tuesday’s proposal comes after Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyDemocratic White House hopefuls push to expand health care in US territories Democratic White House hopefuls push to expand health care in US territories Hillicon Valley: Assange hit with 17 more charges | Facebook removes record 2.2B fake profiles | Senate passes anti-robocall bill | Senators offer bill to help companies remove Huawei equipment MORE (D-Ore.) announced Friday he would be introducing a package of bills that includes legislation to eliminate the Electoral College and establish a "We the People" commission to develop a proposal to provide voting representation for D.C., Puerto Rico, and the territories of Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The Electoral College has been a roadblock for Democratic presidential candidates in recent decades. President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment MORE won the 2016 election despite losing the popular vote to Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate Democrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate House Intel Republican: 'Foolish' not to take info on opponent from foreign ally MORE. Former President George W. Bush also won the presidency in 2000 after losing the popular vote to Democratic nominee Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreDowney: Why I returned stolen campaign material — a lesson for Donald Trump Trump campaign considering making a play for blue state Oregon: report Trump campaign considering making a play for blue state Oregon: report MORE

“I’m for it. I’m for it,” Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott Murphy It's time to let Medicare to negotiate drug prices Senators clinch votes to rebuke Trump on Saudi arms sale Senators clinch votes to rebuke Trump on Saudi arms sale MORE (D-Conn.) said as he got in an elevator to go vote before calling back to clarify that he’s “for getting rid of it.”

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterManchin eyes Senate exit Manchin eyes Senate exit Democrats hope some presidential candidates drop out — and run for Senate  MORE (D-Mont.) said he would want to review any proposed changes while noting that the Electoral College is “antiquated.”

“I think the Electoral College is something that is antiquated, so I would be open to taking a look at it,” he said.

Tester added he wasn’t concerned that getting rid of the current system could negatively impact small or rural states, noting they have two votes in the Senate just like bigger states.

“I don’t think it has any impact whatsoever in this day and age. I just don’t. I mean, I know that’s why it was put in initially, but I don’t think it has any impact,” he said.

The push within the caucus to build support for the constitutional amendment comes as several of the party’s presidential candidates have suggested they are open to reforms.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said during a CNN town hall last week that he believes the person who wins the most votes should be president but added that "we have to win the next election under the rules that are there now. 

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) separately saidshe was "open" to the idea, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) urged supporters to sign a petition supporting "getting rid of the Electoral College."

A growing number of blue states are pledging to band together to commit to awarding their electoral votes to whoever wins the popular vote nationally, regardless of the results in the Electoral College. The plan, known as the National Popular Vote interstate compact, wouldn’t go into effect until it had been passed by enough states to possess a majority, or at least 270, of the electoral votes.

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperBipartisan senators propose forcing EPA to set drinking water standard for 'forever chemicals' Bipartisan senators propose forcing EPA to set drinking water standard for 'forever chemicals' Overnight Energy: Prosecutors drop charges over Flint water crisis | US blames Iran for attack on oil tankers | Air Force diverted M for chemical cleanup costs | Criminal cases referred by Interior at near 25-year low MORE (D-Del.) noted that his state had recently passed the legislation. But when asked if he would personally support getting rid of the Electoral College, he said it was an “interesting idea” but not something that he’s “stayed up nights thinking about.”

Republicans have seized on the debate as another example of Democrats moving to the left ahead of the 2020 election, where a wide-ranging field is competing to secure votes from the party’s progressive base. The Republican National Committee, in a briefing circulated to reporters, called the push to eliminate the Electoral College an example of Democrats’ “rural disconnect.”

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One On The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill On The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill MORE (R-Iowa) warned on Tuesday that abandoning the current approach would be "bad news for Iowa and the Midwest generally."

“The U.S. system of government is based on the idea of creating checks and balances so that no one person, branch of government, political party or geographic region of the country gets too powerful, infringing upon the rights of others,” he said. “America’s Founding Fathers established the Electoral College to make sure smaller, more rural states like Iowa get as much attention from the federal government as bigger, more urban states like New York.”

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The push is also drawing skepticism from some Senate Democrats, underscoring the party divisions when it comes to overhauling the electoral system.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Trump takes heat for remarks on help from foreign governments The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Trump takes heat for remarks on help from foreign governments The Hill's Morning Report - Trump and House Democrats resume battle MORE (D-W.Va.) joked that if the Electoral College were nixed, West Virginia would be “out completely” and people “wouldn’t even know we’re there.”

“I understand people’s thought process on that, but I also understand the Founding Fathers,” he said. “You could naturally believe that a small state like mine would not have any representation at all, we wouldn’t matter at all. So I would not be for it.” 

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineTexas raises age to purchase tobacco to 21 Texas raises age to purchase tobacco to 21 Democrats push to make national security a 2020 wedge issue MORE (D-Va.), who was Clinton’s running mate in 2016, brushed off a question about the Electoral College by noting that an amendment to the Constitution was unlikely. 

“I don’t see how it happens with the constitutional ratification. I just don’t see why small states would do it, and so I’m going to focus on things that I think that I can get done,” he said.

Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion Senate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion Senate Democrat: Trump Mexico tariff threat 'hopefully' a breaking point for GOP MORE (D-Del.), when asked about his colleagues introducing the constitutional amendment, sighed and then said, “I’m having a busy enough day.”