Reports of the death of election denialism may be greatly exaggerated
The current congressional lame duck session may be one of the most consequential. On the table are a long-term extension of the debt ceiling, aid to Ukraine, fiscal and tax matters, immigration and — at the top of the list — an election reform measure.
The election bill — a version already passed the House — seeks to address the attempt by Donald Trump to steal the last election. The key provision would codify that state legislatures do not have the right to declare a “failed election,” and overturn the result. That’s what the Trump forces envisioned doing in 2020.
“It is absolutely essential the Senate pass the pending loophole-closing legislation in this lame duck session,” says Fred Wertheimer, a good government activist who has been working on this issue for over a year and a half. “Otherwise we can expect in 2024, Trump or a Trump-like presidential nominee to very possibly succeed this time in having Republican state legislatures ignore the will of the voters on Election Day and instead substitute their own choice for president.”
There are at least 15 GOP co-sponsors, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), so presumably it could pass as a stand-alone bill, requiring 60 votes, or — more likely — be thrown into the huge omnibus bill at the end.
Reconciling any differences with the House won’t be a problem. Still, with limited time and intense pressure over priorities, predictions in a lame duck are dicey.
These sessions are held after the November elections and before the next Congress convenes on Jan. 3. Sometimes they are more about political games than substantive achievements.
But there have been seminal actions in lame duck forums: important tax and spending measures, ending the Pentagon’s ban on gay service members, a vice president was confirmed (Nelson Rockefeller), a president was impeached (Bill Clinton), a Senator was censured (Joe McCarthy), and McConnell once cried in a lame duck session, really.
It takes on added importance this year for the Democrats; with right-wing Republicans taking over the House in January, there is little expectation of achievements in the next Congress. It’s do-or-die in the lame duck.
The debt ceiling, which only covers past obligations not future spending, expires some time in the second half of next year. House Republicans are vowing to hold it hostage to spending cuts, including cuts to Social Security and Medicare. That will be a non-starter; this could produce a financial crisis. The odds of passing a multiyear extension next month, are uphill.
Similarly, Democrats believe it’s crucial to pass a big Ukrainian aid package in the lame duck. That may be harder next year with a pro-Putin element ascendant in the House GOP caucus.
Next month also may be the last chance provide citizenship for so-called “Dreamers,” immigrants who came to America at a young age and are admirable citizens.
There’s the perennial tax extenders, provisions due to expire that the business community wants extended. The Democrats are saying ‘Okay, but give us an increase in the child tax credit.’ The Hamilton Project’s Bob Greenstein — noting that the expanded child tax credit, which expired last year, reduced child poverty by 30 percent — says the top priority should be to try to make this credit fully refundable so it goes the poorest families with little or no tax liability.
This full platter will be decided by some Senators and House members whose term expires on Jan. 2, and by a House majority party that will be in the minority next year.
Donald Trump hasn’t weighed in on the election reform issue yet. He has enough challenges to keep him occupied.
The proposal also would codify that the vice president has only a ministerial role in the counting of presidential electoral votes with no discretionary authority. That always has been the case. Last year, Trump pressured Mike Pence to throw out some electors won by Joe Biden. Pence refused. (This was on the day of the Trump-inspired mob assault on the Capitol to stop the counting.) It also provides for an expedited judicial review.
Anyone who thinks the rejection of most election deniers this November has eliminated that threat should look to Arizona. Kari Lake, the Trump-backed gubernatorial candidate, lost by 17,000 votes. Although the outgoing Republican governor has congratulated the Democratic winner, Katie Hobbs, Lake refuses to concede and is making familiar noises of election fraud. This may be a harbinger for 2024.
This is larger than the usual agenda.
Some measures likely will fall by the wayside.
But members, staff, and reporters, might still want to stay flexible on their Christmas and New Year’s plans.
Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for The Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.