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 The Electoral College is outdated, and it’s undemocratic,” said Sen.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 SchatzAnti-smoking advocates question industry motives for backing higher purchasing age Hillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Lawmakers, tech set for clash over AI MORE (D-Hawaii), who is spearheading the constitutional amendment efforts.

The proposal is backed by Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDurbin calls Mueller report findings on Trump team 'troubling' Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks McConnell: 'Past time' for immigration-border security deal MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat; Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDems reject Barr's offer to view Mueller report with fewer redactions Five takeaways from Mueller's report Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee; and Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandWarren unveils plan to cancel student loan debt, create universal free college Cory Booker has a problem in 2020: Kamala Harris Booker to supporter who wanted him to punch Trump: 'Black guys like us, we don't get away with that' 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 MerkleyOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts Long-shot goal of nixing Electoral College picks up steam 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 calls Sri Lankan prime minister following church bombings Ex-Trump lawyer: Mueller knew Trump had to call investigation a 'witch hunt' for 'political reasons' The biggest challenge from the Mueller Report depends on the vigilance of everyone MORE won the 2016 election despite losing the popular vote to Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIt is wrong to say 'no collusion' 10 factors making Russia election interference the most enduring scandal of the Obama era And the winner of the Robert Mueller Sweepstakes is — Vladimir Putin MORE. Former President George W. Bush also won the presidency in 2000 after losing the popular vote to Democratic nominee Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold Gore20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform Lobbying world 2020 Dems audition for Al Sharpton's support MORE

“I’m for it. I’m for it,” Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts Long-shot goal of nixing Electoral College picks up steam 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) Tester20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall Overnight Energy: Bipartisan Senate group seeks more funding for carbon capture technology | Dems want documents on Interior pick's lobbying work | Officials push to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US Bipartisan senators want 'highest possible' funding for carbon capture technology 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 CarperOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Koch network launches ad campaign opposing Trump's proposed gas tax Big Dem names show little interest in Senate 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 GrassleyOn The Money: Inside the Mueller report | Cain undeterred in push for Fed seat | Analysis finds modest boost to economy from new NAFTA | White House says deal will give auto sector B boost The 7 most interesting nuggets from the Mueller report Government report says new NAFTA would have minimal impact on economy 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) ManchinOn The Money: Cain 'very committed' to Fed bid despite opposition | Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Brexit harms Irish peace | Ivanka Trump says she turned down World Bank job Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed Pro-life Christians are demanding pollution protections 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 KaineOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Democratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer Dems ask Justice Dept to release findings of Acosta-Epstein investigation 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 CoonsMenendez, Rubio lead Senate effort to regulate Venezuelan sanctions Dem report questions State Dept. decision to revoke award to Trump critic Senate Dem calls on Trump to apologize for attacks on McCain MORE (D-Del.), when asked about his colleagues introducing the constitutional amendment, sighed and then said, “I’m having a busy enough day.”