Jan 25, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Bipartisan infrastructure group takes on election reform

Illustration of a hand in a suit holding a tiny voting booth
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The bipartisan group focused on updating the Electoral Count Act of 1887 is seizing on this recess period to court senators more freely.

Why it matters: The group is led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and includes many members who helped reach the bipartisan infrastructure deal. They see themselves as the only hope of creating an election reform package able to muster 60 votes in the Senate.

  • They're hopeful as Democrats recalibrate after a brutal few months of legislating.
  • One huge question is whether Democratic leadership will support the group's work without first delivering on more comprehensive voting rights legislation.
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has previously criticized efforts to reform the ECA, calling them "insufficient" and "offensive."

The White House is retreating from its harsh language regarding ECA reform, however.

  • Press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday the administration has "never been against" the Electoral Count Act but wanted to be clear “it was not a substitute for voting rights legislation.”
  • President Biden himself signaled openness to the effort during his news conference last Wednesday.

Driving the news: Lawmakers within the group, which has grown to 16 members, met via Zoom for over an hour Monday.

It was the first such meeting among senators since the Democrats' failed vote on their sweeping voting rights package last Wednesday.

  • The group plans to meet in person when the Senate is back in session next week.
  • GOP attendees were Collins and Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah; Lisa Murkowski of Alaska; Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia; Rob Portman of Ohio; Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Todd Young of Indiana; and Ben Sasse of Nebraska; Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi was invited to join but did not attend.
  • Democratic attendees were Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia; Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire; Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona; Mark Warner of Virginia; Chris Coons of Delaware; Chris Murphy of Connecticut; and Ben Cardin of Maryland.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats and their aides, bruised and beaten after a challenging few weeks of futile work, tell Axios they're largely taking this week to disconnect from Washington.

  • They want to cool off before jumping back into talks over how to salvage Biden's agenda.
  • Collins and others in the group see this as an opening. They want to build off of failed energy around election reform to convince enough Democrats to get on board with ECA reform.
  • The onus is now on the group to show their effort is serious and they’re planning to do something substantive, while hoping support will continue to grow.

What to watch: There's a level of fear among some Republicans that former President Trump will swoop in and bash the bipartisan work — as he did previously on infrastructure reform.

  • Trump and other conservatives have argued Republicans who vote in favor of bipartisan bills are delivering Biden political wins.
  • Donors have since complained about the GOP members who voted for the infrastructure bill.
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