Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) support for the Electoral Count Act is renewing the schism between him and former President Trump, setting up a vote likely to divide the GOP caucus.
Supporters are hopeful that McConnell’s backing will lead to a majority of the Senate GOP conference backing the legislation, drafted in response to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol that many blame on Trump.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a co-sponsor of the bill, said he believes 20 to 30 Senate Republicans could ultimately back the proposal, which is expected to be voted on during the lame-duck session after Election Day. He added that McConnell’s move will be a big reason why.
“Mitch’s endorsement of the final bill that came out of the Rules Committee was very important. If he had not supported it, it would have been tough for us to get a large vote.” Portman told The Hill. “Mitch has a lot of credibility in this area,” he added, pointing to McConnell’s long-standing opposition to federalizing elections.
At least three more Senate Republicans — John Thune (S.D.), John Cornyn (Texas) and Bill Cassidy (La.) — on Wednesday threw their support behind the push to pass the bill. Cassidy said he is “temperamentally supportive” of the legislation, which passed overwhelmingly through the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday.
But signs are emerging that a battle is brewing among Republicans over the Electoral Count Act.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has made his stance clear on the Electoral Count Act.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the lone lawmaker to vote against the bill at the committee level on Tuesday, pressed that politics and an anti-Trump animus are at the heart of the push.
There is also strong opposition to Jan. 6-inspired election reform among Trump allies in the House, and a number of Trump-backed House and Senate candidates who have repeated his unfounded claims about election fraud throughout their campaigns.
“Hell, everything’s political up here,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) told The Hill in an interview when asked about Cruz’s remarks.
Cruz and Tuberville were among eight GOP senators to vote against certifying electoral results in either Arizona or Pennsylvania on Jan. 6, 2021.
However, outside of Cruz and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), the majority of senators who objected to the two electoral slates are keeping their powder dry, and said they are still reviewing the latest version of the Electoral Count Act.
“I don’t mind changing something if it needs changing,” Tuberville said. “But don’t do something unless it’s going to help. If this is going to help the situation, I’ll be all for it.”
In addition to Tuberville, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said he still has not read the Electoral Count Act bill that emerged from the Rules Committee, while a spokesperson for Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) told The Hill that he is still examining the legislation. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) told Axios on Tuesday that he too is “reviewing” it. Hawley told Axios he didn’t see a need for the bill and would “probably” vote against it.
The legislation would significantly raise the threshold for lawmakers to object to Electoral College votes from one senator and House member, respectively, to one-fifth of each chamber. It would also block state officials from submitting electoral votes that do not line up with a state’s popular vote.
Republicans backing the bill downplayed the political aspect of it and maintained that its potential passage would be in the name of good policy.
“When I go back home, I’ve never had someone ask me a question about it, so this to me is just sound policy,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), a co-sponsor of the proposal.
“We’ll just have to deal with that and agree to disagree,” Tillis said of the divide between McConnell and Trump on the issue. “I was in that chamber on Jan. 6. It never occurred to me that one person in that body could determine what we were deliberating on, and I think this provides some clarity for it.”
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has been leading GOP efforts on election reform, indicated that she is hopeful one of the Jan. 6 objectors outside of Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), who voted to advance it from the panel on Tuesday, will jump on board too.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is whipping up support for the Electoral Count Act.
“The vote in committee speaks for itself,” she said in an interview of the 14 to 1 vote. “I believe we have momentum.”
One argument proponents of the bill say could help sway pro-Trump members and conservatives is that it would spell out role of the vice president in the process as strictly ceremonial — meaning it would rule out any chance Vice President Harris could take matters into her own hands in January 2025.
“If you’re a conservative, why don’t you think about the shoe’s on the other foot and isn’t it better to have an honest pathway by which everybody plays by the same rules?” Cassidy said.
But Cruz was unswayed in Tuesday’s committee meeting.
“I understand why Democrats are supporting this bill,” he said. “What I don’t understand is why Republicans are supporting it.”