Sep 27, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Senate's Electoral Count Act reform heads for broad bipartisan vote

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at a Senate Rules Committee hearing.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

The Senate’s bill to reform how Congress certifies presidential elections is on track to pass the chamber by a comfortable margin after advancing out of committee on Tuesday.

Why it matters: The bill would significantly raise the threshold for members of Congress to object to Electoral College votes and clarify the vice president’s role in the process as purely ceremonial as a remedy for the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

Driving the news: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced his support for the legislation on Tuesday, saying in a floor speech that the "chaos" of Jan. 6 "underscored the need for an update."

  • Soon after, the bill passed out of the Senate Rules Committee by 14-1, with just Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) voting against it because it "decreases the ability of Congress to address instances of fraud."
  • Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), who voted to decertify Pennsylvania’s and Arizona’s electors on Jan. 6, was among the seven Republicans who voted for the bill.
  • A senior GOP aide told Axios that McConnell’s support, as well as Hyde-Smith's, is a good sign for the bill and that support is only likely to grow — adding that it’s tough to make a case against it.

What they’re saying: Other Republicans who voted to decertify electors didn’t rule out voting for the bill in interviews with Axios.

  • Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said he is "reviewing" the bill, adding: "I’m open to having a conversation to make sure that we always improve things."
  • Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) said, "I want to look at the details of it."
  • Yes, but: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who filed the objection to Pennsylvania‘s electors, said he will "probably vote no" on the bill: "Fiddling with that law, which has governed out presidential elections for 150 years, I just don’t see a need to do it."

Other conservatives also said they’re weighing voting for the bill.

  • "I’m open to reforms," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), adding that the Senate legislation is "more reasonable" than a competing bill passed by the House last week.
  • Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said he’s "never been nuts" about reform, but added: "I’m going to look at it really carefully. It’s certainly a noble effort, and I think the people working on it are really good people who want to be helpful.”

By the numbers: The bill, the product of a bipartisan group that formed at the start of the year, already has 11 GOP co-sponsors — one more than is needed to break a filibuster if all Democrats vote for it.

What we're watching: How the Senate bill and the House bill are reconciled.

  • The House bill, introduced by Jan. 6 committee members Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), passed the House with just nine GOP votes.
  • "I had a discussion with Rep. Cheney last week. It's clear to me that our bill has broader bipartisan support, but I'm sure we can work with them," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who helped lead the bipartisan Senate group.
  • Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the top Republican on the Rules Committee, said he and Chair Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) have "talked to Zoe Lofgren," and that the panel's markup made changes that make the Senate bill "a little closer to the House bill."

What's next: With the Senate planning to skip town at the end of the week, the legislation is likely to be punted until after the November election, senators said.

  • "I don't see us getting into it this week," said Blunt. "My belief is we're not back in October, but that's just a guess ... so that means it all has to come up" in the lame-duck session.
  • Collins said her goal is to have the bill passed before the end of the year — and, in particular, "before the presidential campaign startup next year."
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