On the Hill
Trump remains silent, for now, as House, Senate push bipartisan Electoral Count Act bills
The House is moving quickly on a bill to overhaul the Electoral Count Act, the 19th-century law governing the certification of presidential elections.
Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) unveiled their bill Monday, and the House is expected to vote on it on Wednesday, where it is expected to pass with the support of Democrats and at least a few Republicans.
The Senate released its version in June, but the earliest it would be brought up for a vote is after the midterm elections during the “lame duck” session.
The speed at which it is being ushered through the House is, in part, to put Republicans on the record ahead of the midterms.
Then-President Trump tried to exploit the law’s ambiguities in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election results by pressuring Vice President Pence to reject electors from certain states. Pence declined, but Trump’s effort culminated on Jan. 6, 2021, when rioters backing his false claims of widespread election fraud attacked police and ransacked the Capitol. Since that day, despite initially expressing horror at the violence, many Republicans have backed Trump’s claims of a stolen election or declined to repudiate the falsehoods he’s spread.
- Trump has not aggressively attacked the legislation (yet), but he has said the attempts to clarify the vice president’s role in counting the electoral college votes backs up his argument that Pence had the authority to send the electors back to certain states — the key to his plan to stay in power. Both bills would make explicit that the vice president’s role in the process is purely ceremonial.
A Trump spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment about the bill Monday. Senators largely dismissed the notion Monday night that potential Trump opposition could derail the bill.
“I don’t think he gets a vote,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), referring to Trump.
Cornyn hasn’t signed onto the bill but indicated Monday night that he “would tend to favor” the legislation.
More than 10 Republicans have already come out in support of the Senate bill, including the nine Republican senators in the negotiating group, plus Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the top Republican on the Senate Rules Committee, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who is running for reelection.
“We already have 10 Republican co-sponsors on our bill and I’m confident we can get this done,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who co-authored on the Senate bill with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.).
- But despite the shrugs from GOP senators, voting for the bill would be a clear rebuke of Trump and his actions. And rebuking Trump in any form is not something Republicans have shown much appetite for as the former president retains the support of the party’s base despite his election loss.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), chair of the Rules Committee, sounded a note of caution about the bill’s prospects in the Senate, saying the coalition must hold.
“We’re going to have to keep the whole coalition together in the Senate, which includes the 10, but it also includes all the Democrats,” Klobuchar said.
The House v. Senate bill
The House bill differs in some areas from the Senate version, setting up a potential showdown between the two chambers.
House aides involved with crafting the legislation argue their bill is more specific.
“I would say that our bill has broader support from constitutional scholars, election experts and members of the Senate,” Collins countered.
Klobuchar said she spoke with Collins, Manchin, Blunt and Lofgren over the weekend about the bills. “I think everyone knows people are working in good faith,” she said.
Lawyers who reviewed Lofgren and Cheney’s bill on Monday said it was broadly similar to the Senate version. Both bills “are strong proposals, though the House bill is in some respects more expansive,” Alex Tausanovitch, the director of campaign finance and electoral reform at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, wrote in an email to The Early.
Norm Eisen, a former White House ethics lawyer in the Obama administration who criticized the Senate bill this summer, said the House version addressed most of his concerns. It clarifies the definition of a “catastrophic event” that would allow a state to extend the voting period, for instance. “I think it represents a substantial step forward,” Eisen said.
Matthew Seligman, a fellow at the Stanford Constitutional Law Center who’s written extensively about the Electoral Count Act, said either bill would go a long way toward safeguarding the certification process.
“We shouldn’t lose the big picture here, which is that either of these bills is emphatically better than the status quo,” Seligman said.
Here are some of the differences between the two bills per The Post’s Marianna Sotomayor and Leigh Ann:
- Current law allows for one House member and one senator to raise an objection to a state’s results during a joint session of Congress. The Senate bill would increase that threshold to one-fifth of each chamber, while the House version makes it even more difficult, requiring one-third of each body to approve debate.
- Both the House and Senate bills set a deadline for governors to send Congress their states’ electoral votes. If the governor refuses or sends the wrong ones, the candidate can file suit. The House bill says that if a governor does not submit an accurate number of electors by a certain date, then candidates can obtain a federal court order compelling the governor to immediately act. If a governor again refuses, the House bill says the court can then appoint another state official to send the slate of electors to Congress.
- The House measure is more specific in its redefinition of the ECA’s “failed elections” provision. While both bills clarify that a state’s election can only be extended in the case of “genuine catastrophic event” that can prove enough ballots could not be cast, the House bill specifies that a “catastrophic event” is defined as a natural disaster and a federal judge must approve.
Time is running out for permitting bill on the CR
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer insists that he’ll attach to the short-term government funding bill Manchin’s legislation to change the permitting process for energy projects, but Republicans are still withholding their support.
- Republicans said they can’t support anything without first seeing the details, and despite supporting permitting reform generally, Cornyn said there’s “bad blood” with Manchin over his support for the Democrats’ climate change and health care bill, the Inflation Reduction Act. “There’s not a lot of sympathy on our side to provide Sen. Manchin a reward for his flip-flop on the reconciliation bill,” Cornyn said.
Cornyn, a close ally of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, revealed some Republicans’ mind-set. When The Early noted that many of the projects that would benefit Manchin’s bill are in red states, Cornyn responded: “If we get the majority we can pass the bill in January, which would be more to our liking.”
Programming note: Leigh Ann will interview Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) at 9 a.m. Eastern time today for Washington Post Live about climate change, Democratic policies and energy project permitting. Schatz helped to negotiate the permitting agreement with Manchin as part of the Inflation Reduction Act.
What we’re watching
Special master Raymond J. Dearie – a former New York chief judge tasked with reviewing documents seized last month from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence – will meet with Trump’s lawyers and DOJ prosecutors for the first time today in Brooklyn. Both parties on Monday filed separate proposals to be discussed during today’s hearing. Here are the proposals, per our colleagues Perry Stein and Devlin Barrett:
From the DOJ
- “A third-party vendor should be hired to scan the seized documents into a secure software system. Trump’s lawyers would then review the nonclassified documents and decide which should be shielded from criminal investigators because of attorney-client or executive privilege. Prosecutors would note any disagreement with Trump’s defense team, and Dearie would settle any disputes.”
- Dearie should check in with the National Archives and Records Administration as he conducts the review.
- Dearie should conduct weekly reviews with the parties.
From Trump’s lawyers
- Trump shouldn’t be made to “disclose specific information regarding declassification to the Court and to the Government.”
- The government should make the classified documents available for review as soon as next week.
Outside the beltway
Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico 5 years ago. Recovery in many ways had just begun.
The long road to recovery: Days before Hurricane Fiona made landfall Sunday afternoon, Puerto Ricans were just starting to recover from Hurricane Maria – the catastrophic Category 4 storm that killed more than 3,000 people and forced 6,000 others to flee to the U.S. mainland.
- In the five years since Hurricane Maria, “there have been ongoing blackouts, protests, earthquakes and a global pandemic,” our colleague Arelis R. Hernández writes. “And a major plan to modernize the island’s electricity system, funded with billions from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency as a response to Hurricane Maria — which left some residents out of power for nearly a year — has been slow to get started,” Joshua Partlow and Arelis write.
- Happening today: FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell will spend the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria’s landfall meeting with state and local officials to assess the damage from Fiona. Although the extent of Fiona’s destruction remains unclear, residents are reeling from power outages, heavy rain, flash floods and landslides. At least two people have died, per Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Pierluisi.
Hurricane Fiona’s path of destruction, visualized: “Fiona is expected to strengthen and become a major hurricane as it leaves Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, where it made landfall Monday morning,” per The Washington Post Staff.
🏆 The 21st annual “Sammies,” aka the Service to America Medals aka the Oscars of government service will be held this evening at the Kennedy Center. Here’s who will take home the most coveted prize:
2022 Federal Employee of the Year
- Gregory Robinson. Robinson, former director of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, oversaw its Christmas Day launch last year. His “work on the Webb telescope has allowed us to look far, far away, deep into space,” our colleague Joe Davidson writes. “Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it.”
Here are the honorees:
Paul A. Volcker Career Achievement Medal
- H. Clifford Lane, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Covid-19 Response Medal
- Amanda Cohn, Anita Patel and David Fitter, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Emerging Leaders Medal
- Krista Kinnard, Labor Department
Management Excellence Medal
- Barbara Morton, Department of Veterans Affairs
Safety, Security and International Affairs Medal
- Hilary Ingraham, Holly Herrera and Kiera Berdinner, Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
Science, Technology and Environment Medal
- Cindy Newberg, Environmental Protection Agency