Senate group plows forward with election law changes after Trump remarks
A bipartisan group of senators is plowing forward with negotiations to make changes to election laws after former President Trump weighed in on the discussion and lashed out at GOP Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), who is leading the group, and former Vice President Mike Pence.
Senators have divided themselves into five subgroups that will take the lead on various pieces the group is working on — reforming the 1887 Electoral Count Act; protecting election workers; voting practices and rights; the election assistance commission; and presidential transitions — with the goal of regrouping as soon as Friday to measure their progress.
“What I’m hoping is that this weekend we can have a Zoom meeting to talk about the progress that has been made this week,” Collins told reporters after the meeting.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who is leading the group along with Collins, added that “we’re going to try to work all this week here and see where we can get by Friday.”
“This is something we need to do,” he added. “This is as important as anything we’ve done.”
The meeting has been on the books since last week, but it comes the day after Trump lashed out at Collins in a statement on Sunday calling her “Wacky Susan Collins.” He also argued that the Electoral Count Act, an 1887 law that outlines how the Electoral College results are formally counted, allows a vice president to throw out election results.
Trump led a pressure campaign to try to get Pence to throw out 2020 Electoral College results from key states as part of his role overseeing the formal counting by Congress. Pence argued at the time, and several senators agreed, that the Constitution tied his hands. But Trump made clear in his statement on Sunday what he hoped Pence would do, saying that he “could have overturned the Election!”
Trump still holds a vice grip on a broad swath of the Republican Party, and his coming out against making changes to the Electoral Count Act could make it harder for the bipartisan group to get GOP support, particularly in the House, where Republicans are more closely aligned with him.
But Collins argued on Monday that Trump’s comments underscored why Congress needs to pass changes to the 1887 law.
“To me, President Trump’s comments underscored the need for us to revise the Electoral Count Act because they demonstrated the confusion in the law and the fact that it is ambiguous,” Collins said.
As part of their discussions, senators are discussing making clear that the role of the vice president in the formal counting of the Electoral College results is ceremonial. They are also discussing raising the threshold for the number of lawmakers from both the House and Senate that need to back an objection to a state’s rules before they can force a vote on those objections.
Currently it takes the support of just one member of the House and one member of the Senate to force both chambers to vote on an objection to a state’s rules. Republicans were able to force votes on both Arizona and Pennsylvania on Jan. 6, 2021. Though the challenges both fell short, they were interrupted for hours after a mob of Trump’s supporters breached the building, forcing the House and Senate chambers to be evacuated.
They are also looking at making it a federal crime to threaten poll workers or election officials and providing grants to states for their elections.
There are thorny issues that still need to be worked out, and senators stressed that their negotiations were still in the early stages.
“For example … I believe, personally, that there should be federal penalties for threatening a poll worker, an election official. We need to figure out how the state laws would interact with federal laws in that area, whether it should be restricted to just elections where there was a federal candidate on the ballot,” Collins said, asked what some of those issues are.
Manchin also floated that the election rules states had in place in 2018 should be the “baseline” for measuring if new voting rules were regressive. But he stressed that the idea was his alone that he was pitching to the group.
The group now includes 16 senators, including some who were part of the bipartisan gang that negotiated last year’s infrastructure deal.
Unlike the 2021 negotiations, if the group can strike a deal, it is expecting that its bill would go through the Senate Rules Committee, the panel the final infrastructure deal leapfrogged to go straight to the floor. Collins noted that she was already in touch with Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Roy Blunt (Mo.), the chairwoman and top Republican on the committee.
“My expectation is that if we are successful in attaining our goal … the bill that’s introduced would probably be referred to the Rules Committee, and they can do the normal hearing and markup process,” she said.
In addition to the bipartisan group, Klobuchar, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) are working on their own efforts to reform the Electoral Count Act. Those negotiations haven’t yet merged with the bipartisan group, though Durbin has indicated optimism that they could work together.
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