Bipartisan Senate group holds call on elections amid reform chatter

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Kirsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) are seen at a press conference after a key vote regarding bipartisan infrastructure legislation on Wednesday, July 28, 2021.
Greg Nash

A bipartisan group spoke on Wednesday about election legislation as Democrats make a push to change the Senate’s rules so they can pass voting rights on their own.

GOP Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) convened the bipartisan call on Wednesday, a source familiar confirmed to The Hill.

As part of the discussion, senators talked about the Electoral Count Act, the source added, an 1887 law that outlines how Congress formally counts the Electoral College results, as lawmakers did last year on Jan. 6.

The law has jumped into the spotlight this week as lawmakers in both parties and in both chambers signal an interest in making changes to it after former President Trump, backed up by dozens of congressional Republicans, tried to use Congress’s counting of the Electoral College vote to challenge the results in key battleground states. Republicans unsuccessfully challenged the results in Arizona and Pennsylvania, a process that was interrupted for hours after a pro-Trump mob breached the Capitol.

Two ideas that have been thrown out by lawmakers as potential areas for reform are codifying that the vice president can’t throw out states’ results, as Trump pressured former Vice President Mike Pence to do, and increasing the number of lawmakers who have to sign on to an objection in order to force a vote in the House and Senate on the challenge.

But it’s unclear if, or when, lawmakers will ramp up formal negotiations over making changes to the Electoral Count Act.

Democrats are pursuing more sweeping election and voting rights reforms. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has vowed to force a vote by Jan. 17 on changing the Senate’s 60-vote legislative filibuster if Republicans again block voting rights legislation.

Though Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Wednesday that changes to the 1887 law are “worth discussing,” Schumer and the White House are making it clear that they won’t support dropping their voting rights push in exchange for negotiations on changes to the election law.

“That makes no sense. If you’re going to rig the game and then say, ‘Oh, we’ll count the rigged game accurately,’ what good is that? They wanted now both rig the game and rig the count. But to just say, ‘We won’t rig the count, but we’re going to rig the game,’ makes no sense whatsoever,” Schumer told reporters this week.

The White House added in a statement that Biden is “committed to voting rights legislation.”

Democrats and outside groups also quickly made it clear they view McConnell opening the door on Electoral Count Act changes as a way to try to distract from Democrats’ filibuster discussions.

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — neither of whom has committed to supporting filibuster reform in a significant hurdle to Democrats’ hopes of enacting party-line rules changes — were both on the Collins’s call, according to The 19th, which first reported the conversation. 

“The McConnell-arranged crew that sunk Build Back Better by doing low-hanging fruit infrastructure bill is back to head off any serious voting rights reform by discussing ECA fixes,” tweeted Brian Fallon, the executive director of progressive group Demand Justice. 

Tags bipartisan Senate group Charles Schumer Donald Trump Electoral College Electoral college certification electoral college counting Electoral Count Act filibuster reform Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema Mike Pence Mitch McConnell Nuclear option Susan Collins voting rights
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