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Panels in both chambers to take up presidential elector overhauls

Efforts inspired by Capitol attack after Trump loss

Senate Rules and Administration Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar and ranking member Roy Blunt announced the panel will take up a bill Sept. 27 to overhaul the Electoral Count Act.
Senate Rules and Administration Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar and ranking member Roy Blunt announced the panel will take up a bill Sept. 27 to overhaul the Electoral Count Act. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

With the calendar winding down on a 117th Congress that began with rioters storming the Capitol, lawmakers in both chambers on Friday announced plans to take up bills that overhaul a 135-year-old law governing the counting of presidential electoral votes. 

The House Rules Committee will take up a still-unseen bill Tuesday dubbed the Presidential Election Reform Act, and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said on Thursday a floor vote could happen next week. 

Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., members of the select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attempt by former President Donald Trump’s supporters to stop Congress from counting electoral votes declaring Joe Biden won the election, have said they were working on a bill to overhaul the Electoral Count Act of 1887.

The Senate Rules and Administration Committee also announced Friday it would mark up a bipartisan bill later this month revamping the 1887 law and clarifying  what happens during presidential transitions.

Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and ranking member Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said in a joint release the markup would be on Sept. 27, days before the Senate is due to leave town until after the November election. The panel previously held a hearing on the bill and heard from experts who suggested technical corrections and clarifying language.

“I look forward to adopting these bipartisan changes at our upcoming Committee markup so we can continue to advance this critical legislation,” Klobuchar said. 

“Many Members of the Senate and the House have had thoughtful discussions about what those reforms should encompass and I appreciate their engagement in this process,” Blunt said. “I’m hopeful this markup will move the bill forward in the same constructive, bipartisan spirit.”

The announcement comes after a House companion bill was introduced by members of the moderate Problem Solvers Caucus. 

Despite bipartisan support for the bill in both chambers, Congress faces a time crunch as just a few legislative days remain before an election that could shift party control of one or both chambers. During last month’s hearing, senators emphasized the importance of passing a bill now, as some worry a GOP-controlled house or Senate would be less apt to take up the bill. 

The Senate bill, part of a package released after months of negotiation led by Sens. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, would clarify the vice president’s role when electoral votes are counted as “ministerial.” It would also overhaul the Electoral Count Act of 1887, which governs the acceptance of presidential votes by Congress. 

The Senate legislation would raise the threshold needed for Congress to consider an objection to a state’s Electoral College votes from a single objector in each chamber to one-fifth of the House and Senate. 

When it was initially released, the bill had the support of nine Republican senators. Iowa Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley has since signed on to the bill, theoretically giving it the 10 GOP votes needed to overcome a Senate filibuster. 

When the House Administration Committee, which Lofgren chairs, was asked for comment on the status of her work with Cheney, a spokesman referred reporters to a July statement saying the Jan. 6 committee would release recommendations “soon.”

Select committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said Thursday he wasn’t privy to what Lofgren and Cheney were crafting. 

“I haven’t been involved in that,” he said. “So just like most of the members of the committee, we’ll see what happens then.”

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