Senate advances election bill to head off another Capitol riot

A Senate committee overwhelmingly approved legislation Tuesday curbing the role of Congress in presidential elections to prevent a recurrence of last year’s Capitol riot — with top Republican Mitch McConnell giving his support before it passed.

The Senate Rules Committee voted 14-1 for the bill, with the lone “no” vote coming from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

McConnell’s support ensures the measure will easily clear the Senate’s 60-vote threshold to proceed — putting its fate in the hands of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who backs a slightly different set of reforms.

The Kentucky Republican said the bill was necessary due to the storming of the Capitol by a mob of then-President Donald Trump’s supporters on Jan. 6, 2021 in an attempt to stop certification of President Biden’s election victory.

But McConnell also the reforms would head off unfounded objections by Democrats as well.

“The chaos that came to a head on Jan. 6 of last year strongly suggests that we find careful ways to clarify and streamline the process — and so does what happened actually in January of 2001, January of 2005 and January of 2017,” McConnell said ahead of the committee vote, listing instances where congressional Democrats took issue with GOP election victories.

capitol riot
A Senate committee approved legislation Tuesday curbing the role of Congress in presidential elections to prevent a recurrence of another Capitol riot.
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“For more than 20 years now, every time voters pick a Republican president, we’ve seen at least some Democrats in Congress resist the people’s decision and try to challenge the electoral count,” he added.

McConnell said that he was pleased that Senate Democrats had worked with Republicans on the limited set of changes instead of a larger election reform bill that conservatives strongly opposed for “federalizing” voting policy.

“It’s common sense that our colleagues left chaos-generating bad ideas on the cutting room floor, like the massive federal takeover of election law or inventing new causes of action for litigation that would throw every election into the courts,” he said.

The Senate legislation would make three changes to the Electoral Count Act of 1887 to close off various avenues pursued by Trump to overturn his 2020 election defeat.

The legislation clarifies that the vice president cannot unilaterally reject state electors — as Trump implored then-Vice President Mike Pence to do. Objections to electors would require the support of at least 20% of the members in each chamber to trigger debate — rather than one member from each chamber, as currently prescribed. Finally, the bill says that only a state’s governor can submit elector lists to Congress to preclude potential rival slates.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s support ensures the measure will clear the Senate’s 60-vote threshold to proceed.
AP/J. Scott Applewhite

“This is a big deal that we got this done with a strong vote,” said committee chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

“It will be a helpful addition to the process,” agreed the panel’s top Republican, Roy Blunt of Missouri.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he was “pleased this important bipartisan legislation — which he supports — passed out of the Senate Rules Committee today, and he looks forward to continuing to have bipartisan, bicameral discussions about the best way to ensure Electoral Count Act reform legislation is signed into law soon.

“Make no mistake: as our country continues to face the threat of the anti-democracy MAGA Republican movement — propelled by many GOP leaders who either refused to take a stand or actively stoked the flames of division in our country — reforming the Electoral Count Act ought to be the bare minimum of action the Congress takes,” added the Schumer rep, Angelo Roefaro.

But Cruz slammed the legislation.

“What this bill is trying to do is take Congress out of the business of trying to correct fraud,” he claimed.

“This bill is all about Donald J. Trump. And nobody in our lifetimes has driven Democrats in this body more out of their minds than President Trump,” Cruz argued. “We also know that the Democrats are hell bent on federalizing elections. And this bill takes a significant step down that road.”

A spokesman for Pelosi didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about whether she would allow a floor vote on the Senate version of the bill. The House version makes some of the same reforms, but contains significant differences, such as requiring one-third of each chamber to support an objection in order to trigger debate.