WASHINGTON (AP) — The House pushed ahead Wednesday with legislation that would revamp the rules for certifying the results of a presidential election as lawmakers accelerate their response to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection and Donald Trump's failed attempt to remain in power.
The legislation would overhaul an arcane 1800s-era statute known as the Electoral Count Act that governs, along with the U.S. Constitution, how states and Congress certify electors and declare presidential election winners. The House planned a vote on the bill after afternoon debate.
While that process has long been routine and ceremonial, Trump and a group of his aides and lawyers tried to exploit loopholes in the law in an attempt to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election.
The bill would set new parameters around the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress that happens every four years after a presidential election. The day turned violent last year after hundreds of Trump's supporters interrupted the proceedings, broke into the building and threatened the lives of then-Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress. The rioters echoed Trump's false claims of widespread fraud and wanted Pence to block Democrat Joe Biden's victory as he presided over the joint session.
The legislation intends to ensure that future Jan. 6 sessions are "as the constitution envisioned, a ministerial day," said Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a Republican who co-sponsored the legislation with House Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. Both Cheney and Lofgren are also members of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.
Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, another member of the Jan. 6 panel, said during the start of the House debate that the bill would modernize the elections law "to make sure that the will of the people is vindicated at every level."
The bill, which is similar to legislation moving through the Senate, would clarify in the law that the vice president's role presiding over the count is only ceremonial and also sets out that each state can only send one certified set of electors. Trump's allies had unsuccessfully tried to put together alternate slates of illegitimate pro-Trump electors in swing states where Biden won.
The legislation would increase the threshold for individual lawmakers' objections to any state's electoral votes, requiring a third of the House and a third of the Senate to object to trigger votes on the results in both chambers. Currently, only one lawmaker in the House and one lawmaker in the Senate has to object. The House bill would set out very narrow grounds for those objections, an attempt to thwart baseless or politically motivated challenges. The legislation also would require courts to get involved if state or local officials want to delay a presidential vote or refuse to certify the results.
The House vote comes as the Senate is moving on a similar track with enough Republican support to virtually ensure passage before the end of the year. After months of talks, House Democrats introduced the legislation on Monday and are holding a quick vote two days later in order to send the bill across the Capitol and start to resolve differences. A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation this summer and a Senate committee is expected to vote on it next week.
While the House bill is more expansive than the Senate version, the two bills cover similar ground and members in both chambers are optimistic that they can work out the differences. While few House Republicans are expected to vote for the legislation — most are still allied with Trump — supporters are encouraged by the bipartisan effort in the Senate.
"Both sides have an incentive to want a set of clear rules, and this is an antiquated law that no one understands," said Benjamin Ginsburg, a longtime GOP lawyer who consulted with lawmakers as they wrote the bill. "All parties benefit from clarity."
House GOP leaders disagree, and are encouraging their members to vote against the legislation. They say the involvement of courts could drag out elections and that the bill would take rights away from states.
The bill is an "attempt to federalize our elections," Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., said on the House floor. He argued that voters are more focused on the economy and other issues than elections law.
"In my area of Pennsylvania, nobody is talking about this," Reschenthaler said.
Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, Lofgren's GOP counterpart on the House Administration Committee, said Tuesday that Democrats are "desperately trying to talk about their favorite topic, and that is former president Donald Trump."
Democrats said the bill was not only a response to Trump, but also a way to prevent objections and mischief from all candidates in the future.
"If you think that this legislation is an attack on President Trump, you simply haven't read the legislation because there's nothing in there attacking President Trump," Raskin said. "This is about reforming the Electoral Count Act so it works for the American people."
AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.