Dems Eye New Voting Bill Strategy 01/21 06:15
Democrats were picking up the pieces Thursday following the collapse of
their top-priority voting rights legislation, with some shifting their focus to
a narrower bipartisan effort to repair laws Donald Trump exploited in his bid
to overturn the 2020 election.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democrats were picking up the pieces Thursday following
the collapse of their top-priority voting rights legislation, with some
shifting their focus to a narrower bipartisan effort to repair laws Donald
Trump exploited in his bid to overturn the 2020 election.
Though their bid to dramatically rewrite U.S. election law failed during a
high-stakes Senate floor showdown late Wednesday, Democrats insisted their
brinksmanship has made the new effort possible, forcing Republicans to relent,
even if just a little, and engage in bipartisan negotiations.
The nascent push is focused on the Electoral Count Act, an 1887 law that
created the convoluted proces s for the certification of presidential election
results by Congress. For more than 100 years, vulnerabilities in the law were
an afterthought, until Trump's unrelenting, false claims that voter fraud cost
him the 2020 election culminated in a mob of his supporters storming the
An overhaul of the Gilded Age statute could be Democrats' best chance to
address what they call an existential threat to American democracy from Trump's
"big lie" about a stolen election. But with serious talks only beginning in the
Senate and dwindling time before this year's midterm elections, reaching
consensus could prove difficult.
"We know history is on the side of voting rights, and we know that forcing
leaders to take stands will ultimately move the ball forward," Senate Majority
Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday.
Just weeks ago, many Democrats were adamant that updating the Electoral
Count Act was no substitute for their voting legislation. Updating the 1887
law, they pointed out, would do nothing to counter the Trump-inspired push in
19 states to make it more difficult to vote.
They still hold that position, but after the defeat of their marquee
elections bill, they are running out of options. Meanwhile, Trump loyalists are
girding for the next election, working to install sympathetic leaders in local
election posts and, in some cases, backing political candidates who
participated in the riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Biden conceded this week that updating the electoral bill may be Democrats'
best opportunity to pass voting legislation through a 50-50 Senate, where much
of his agenda has stalled.
"I predict to you they'll get something done," Biden told reporters
Any legislation would have to balance Democrats' desire to halt what they
view as a GOP plan to make it more difficult for Black Americans and other
minorities to vote with Republican's entrenched opposition to increased federal
oversight of local elections.
"What other things could be put in there?" said South Carolina Rep. Jim
Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat and a senior member of the Congressional
Black Caucus. "I want to deal with more than just counting the votes for the
president. I want to be sure that we count the votes for everybody else. So
voter nullification like they're doing in Georgia, I think it can be addressed."
Republicans involved in the effort to update the Electoral Count Act
acknowledge that the bill would need a wider focus.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is holding bipartisan talks with Republican
Sens. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Mitt
Romney of Utah, as well as Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia,
Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
"It's such a needed thing," said Manchin, who added that the narrower scope
was "the first place" Democrats "should have started."
Manchin and Sinema effectively tanked Democrats' marquee bill Wednesday,
joining Republicans in voting against a rule change that would have allowed the
party's voting legislation to pass with a simple majority.
Collins has proposed new protections for poll and elections workers, some of
whom received chilling threats to their safety after the 2020 election. She has
also called for more funding for local elections. Manchin wants harsh criminal
penalties for those convicted of intimidating or threatening poll and election
"It's a heavy lift, but if we continue to get people to talk there's a
path," said Tillis, who said tensions over the Democrats' failed voting bill
will need to cool before coalition building can seriously begin. "We are going
to have to have more Republicans get on board because there are going to be
But at its core, many Republicans want any legislation to primarily focus on
the Electoral Count Act.
"This is directly related to Jan. 6," Senate Minority Leader Mitch
McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday. "It needs fixing."
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy on Thursday called it "an old piece
of law, so you can always modernize it."
The bipartisan House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection is also
working on a proposal.
As Trump's legal appeals and efforts to pressure state and local officials
ran out of steam, he began to focus on Mike Pence, who presided over the
certification in Congress of the Electoral College results. Trump spent days in
a futile bid trying to convince Pence that the vice president had the power to
reject electors from battleground states that voted for Biden, even though the
Constitution makes clear the vice president's role in the joint session is
Separately, he encouraged Republican lawmakers to take advantage of the low
threshold to lodge objections to the outcome. Even after rioters fought in
brutal hand-to-hand combat with police as they lay siege to the Capital on Jan.
6, 147 Republican lawmakers later voted to object to Biden's win.
Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, is working
on a bill that would shore up several key vulnerabilities in the Electoral
Any legislation should make clear the vice president holds only a ceremonial
role, limit the scope of Congress' involvement in the certification of the
election and narrow the grounds for raising an objection to a state's results,
according to a summary provided by his office.
Civil rights activists don't object to the revisions. But they question the
value of the effort if Republican-controlled states can still enact voting
"It doesn't matter if your votes are properly counted if you cannot cast
your vote in the first place," said Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., who is also
pastor at the church Martin Luther King Jr. once led.