Mitch McConnell gives big boost to election law in response to January 6 attack


Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday that he would support legislation that would make it more difficult to overturn a certified presidential election, an endorsement that would boost its chances of passage in his chamber and put him at odds with former President Donald Trump, who have called on GOP senators to sink the plan.

McConnell said the “chaos” of the pro-Trump attack on the Capitol last year “certainly underscored the need for an update.”

“I strongly support the modest changes that our colleagues on the task force have fleshed out after literally months of detailed discussions,” McConnell said. “I will proudly support the legislation, provided nothing but technical changes are made in its current form.”

“The congressional process for counting presidential votes was written 135 years ago. The chaos that came to a head last January 6 certainly underscored the need for an update,” McConnell added. “So did January 2001, 2005 and 2017 . In each of these, Democrats sought to challenge the legal election of a Republican president.”

Last week, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy and the vast majority of Republicans opposed their chamber’s version of the bill that would amend the Electoral Count Act of 1887. While the House bill has a number of similarities to the Senate’s version, including securing the deputy speaker. The President has only a ministerial role in overseeing a joint session of Congress that approves state-certified election results, it differs in some of its details. Among the differences: the number of lawmakers who would be required to force the House and Senate to vote to overturn a state’s certified election results and the procedures for resolving election disputes in federal courts.

Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin have already lined up 10 Republican co-sponsors for their so-called Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act, enough support to overcome a filibuster with 50 Democratic votes.

The Senate bill would make a number of changes to the Electoral Count Act and the Presidential Transition Act of 1963 in an attempt to address ambiguity in the election law that Trump sought to exploit.

It would increase the number of members of the House and Senate required to challenge election results when a joint session of Congress meets to certify them. A member of the House and a senator can currently object to electoral votes and send them to a vote in Congress; If one of the chambers rejects the objection, the votes are counted. The Senate bill would require the support of one-fifth of each chamber to raise an objection. The House bill would raise the threshold even higher — to one-third of each chamber — to force both chambers to vote on whether to throw out a state’s election results.

In an effort to respond to Trump allies trying to send fake voters to Congress, both bills try to make it harder for there to be any confusion over the voters themselves. The Senate bill states that each state’s governor would be responsible for submitting a certificate identifying voters, eliminating the possibility of multiple state officials sending multiple voter rolls. But the bills differ in how lawsuits challenging election results can be brought in federal court, with the House bill offering new avenues to sue, something some key Senate Republicans oppose.

In a clear response to Trump’s efforts to get then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject election results in states won by President Joe Biden, both bills establish the vice president’s role as purely ceremonial. The Senate bill would deny the vice president the power to “exclusively determine, accept, reject or otherwise adjudicate or resolve disputes about the correctness of the electoral roll, the validity of the electors, or the votes of the electors.”

While constitutional experts say the vice president cannot currently disregard a state-certified election result, Trump pushed Pence to block the Electoral College’s certification in Congress. But Pence refused to do so and as a result became a target of the former president and his crowd of supporters who stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

The Senate bill has been split into two separate proposals, one of which will be voted on by the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday. The other package will go to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which has not yet considered the measure. The full Senate is unlikely to act before the November midterms, leaving the issue to a year-end session of Congress.

It remains uncertain whether both chambers can reconcile their differences, or whether the House will be forced to simply accept the Senate’s version. Some House Republicans who opposed their chamber’s bill — authored by California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren and Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney — objected to how it didn’t make it through the committee process and signaled they might support the Senate plan instead.

“The resulting product — this bill as introduced — is the only chance to get a result and actually make law,” McConnell said Tuesday. “It keeps what has worked well and modestly updates what hasn’t.”

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