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 The Electoral College is outdated, and it’s undemocratic,” said Sen.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 SchatzDemocratic senator rips Trump's 'let them fight' remarks: 'Enough is enough' Schumer seeks focus on health care amid impeachment fever CNN catches heat for asking candidates about Ellen, Bush friendship at debate MORE (D-Hawaii), who is spearheading the constitutional amendment efforts.

The proposal is backed by Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats dig in ahead of Supreme Court ruling on 'Dreamers' Senate GOP braces for impeachment trial 'roller coaster' Trump judicial nominee delayed amid GOP pushback MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat; Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate Democrats want Warren to talk costs on 'Medicare for All' Khashoggi fiancée meets with lawmakers seeking 'justice and accountability' for his slaying Schiff should consider using RICO framework to organize impeachment MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee; and Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSanders seeks spark from Ocasio-Cortez at Queens rally Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs Senate confirms Trump's Air Force secretary pick 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 MerkleyOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs Senate confirms Trump's Air Force secretary pick Democratic senators condemn Trump for calling on China to investigate Bidens 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 TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE won the 2016 election despite losing the popular vote to Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton trolls Trump with mock letter from JFK to Khrushchev Trump-Graham relationship tested by week of public sparring Sunday shows — Mulvaney seeks to tamp down firestorm over quid pro quo comments, Doral decision MORE. Former President George W. Bush also won the presidency in 2000 after losing the popular vote to Democratic nominee Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold Gore2020 general election debates announced Odds place Greta Thunberg as front-runner for this year's Nobel Peace Prize Joe Lieberman's son running for Senate in Georgia MORE

“I’m for it. I’m for it,” Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyPelosi, Schumer hit 'flailing' Trump over 'sham ceasefire' deal Romney slams ceasefire deal, calls Trump's Syria move 'a bloodstain' in US history Backlash erupts at video depicting Trump killing media, critics 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) TesterBennet reintroduces bill to ban lawmakers from becoming lobbyists Schumer seeks focus on health care amid impeachment fever Red-state Democrats worry impeachment may spin out of control 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 CarperInstead of raising the gas tax, stop wasting money on frivolous projects To stave off a recession, let's pass a transportation infrastructure bill Overnight Energy: Trump tweets he's revoking California's tailpipe waiver | Move comes as Trump visits state | California prepares for court fight | Climate activist Greta Thunberg urges lawmakers to listen to scientists 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 GrassleyState cites 38 people for violations in Clinton email review Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle mourn Cummings GOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate 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) ManchinOvernight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule Senate Dems lose forced vote against EPA power plant rule Schumer seeks focus on health care amid impeachment fever 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 KaineLawmakers set to host fundraisers focused on Nats' World Series trip The Hill's 12:30 Report: Washington mourns loss of Elijah Cummings GOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate 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 Democrats want Warren to talk costs on 'Medicare for All' Meet the dog and 'sea turtle' who launched campaigns for office Senators demand briefing on Trump's decision to withdraw from Syria MORE (D-Del.), when asked about his colleagues introducing the constitutional amendment, sighed and then said, “I’m having a busy enough day.”