Sep 20, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Liz Cheney's role in electoral count bill fuels GOP distrust

Liz Cheney

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The House is set to vote Wednesday on a bill to reform how Congress certifies presidential elections, but the involvement of the Jan. 6 committee — and in particular Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) — has drawn GOP opposition.

Why it matters: The House and Senate have competing bills to reform the Electoral Count Act of 1887, but only the Senate bill currently has the necessary support from Senate Republicans to break a filibuster.

The backdrop: Cheney and fellow Jan. 6 panel member Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) rolled out their Electoral Count Act bill on Monday.

  • The bills are broadly similar — raising the threshold and narrowing the grounds for objecting to electors, and clarifying the vice president's ceremonial role in the process — but have some substantive differences.
  • The House bill is more aggressive than the Senate bill in some areas, such as requiring a third of House members to sign onto an objection, rather than one-fifth.

Driving the news: Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), the chair of the powerful Republican Study Committee who told Axios in January he supported ECA reform in principle, cited Cheney in his opposition to the bill.

  • "It's clear that anything Liz Cheney touches is all about whacking Donald Trump and not about making meaningful changes," he told Axios in a brief interview at the Capitol on Tuesday.
  • Banks said he would take the Senate bill "a lot more seriously" but that Cheney's role "greatly diminishes the seriousness" of the House bill.

What they're saying: Numerous other House Republicans expressed similar sentiments to Banks, while also offering a variety of procedural and policy-focused objections to the bill.

  • "I think it gives bias to the language of the bill," said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.).
  • "For me, it matters because you have two people who have been actively engaged in that committee dropping the [bill] like this ... when there was the alternative to have the companion vote from the Senate," said Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.). "They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity."
  • "If it comes out of a rotten process, you probably ought to begin with a healthy level of skepticism," said Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.).
  • Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) told a reporter that referring to the bill as bipartisan because Cheney supports it is "like me saying a bill is bipartisan because [Republican Rep.] Jeff Van Drew, who used to be a Democrat, is on it."

Context: House Republicans have been largely unified in their adversarial stance toward the Jan. 6 committee. Banks, Armstrong and Davis were originally tapped to serve on the panel before their appointments were withdrawn.

Yes, but: These and other Republicans also cited specific provisions of the bill, as well as the fact that it hasn't gone through the regular committee process, as reasons for their opposition.

  • "[It] hasn't gone through any committee, no input from our side," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who predicted it would get just "two or three" GOP House votes.
  • House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who is whipping against the bill, said it has a "number of real concerning provisions," such as allowing campaigns to sue to extend elections in the event of a "catastrophic" emergency.

Between the lines: A number of Republicans want to make it harder to force a certification vote after former President Trump persuaded supporters before the Jan. 6 riot that Congress was the last, best hope for overturning the 2020 election.

  • Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), who said he's still reviewing the Cheney-Lofgren bill, told Axios: "I'm all for reforming it. I think it's a completely stupid process. It shouldn't even exist."
  • "Some are afraid to say it, but they'll all quietly agree," Crenshaw said of his colleagues.
  • Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.), who like Cheney voted to impeach Trump, said he's voting for the bill because "it's very important that we clarify the rules, lest they be exploited by another would-be dictator."

The other side: “Legislation protecting the legitimacy of presidential elections and ensuring the peaceful transfer of power should be above politics," Cheney spokesperson Jeremy Adler told Axios.

  • One senior Republican aide told Axios that GOP opposition to the bill is "not about the substance. It's ... strictly personality."
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