Star Tribune

By Hunter Woodall

Bipartisan support is growing in the U.S. Senate to overhaul a law Donald Trump tried to manipulate in the final days of his presidency as he sought to overturn the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

"Enemies of our democracy sought to use this antiquated law to subvert the results of a free and fair election," U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said to her fellow lawmakers Tuesday as she steered reforms to the 19th-century law through the Rules & Administration Committee, which she chairs.

Trump unsuccessfully pressured then-Vice President Mike Pence to intervene when Congress met to certify the results on Jan. 6, 2021. As Congress was meeting, a mob of Trump's supporters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol following the former president's false claims of a rigged and stolen contest.

"The Electoral Count Act was largely overlooked for over 130 years," said Klobuchar, D-Minn. "But it was at the center of a plan to overturn the 2020 election and the will of the American people."

With Klobuchar's help, the panel signed off on a bill overhauling the presidential vote certification process. It details that the vice president's role during the certification process taken on by Congress is essentially "ministerial," and that a three-judge panel would handle certain certification objections raised by candidates for president or vice president.

Thursday's bipartisan 14-to-1 vote likely helps the legislation's odds of passing the entire chamber. And even before the vote, 11 Republicans already backed the Senate bill. That support means the bill would likely be able to overcome the threat of a filibuster.

Chances only improved when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. R-Ky., announced during a floor speech Tuesday afternoon that he'd "proudly support the legislation provided nothing more than technical changes are made to its current form."

McConnell was blunt during the committee meeting later in the day, where he declared a House bill that passed last week with slim bipartisan support "a nonstarter."

"It's clear that only a bipartisan compromise originating in the Senate can actually become law," McConnell said.

The lone Republican to oppose the bill during Tuesday's action was Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who in 2021 voted against certifying Democratic President Joe Biden's victories in two swing states.

While Cruz charged that the bill is "bad policy and it's bad for democracy," he vented about what was happening in his own party.

"I understand why Democrats are supporting this bill," Cruz said. "What I don't understand is why Republicans are."

The legislation quickly moved out of the committee after changes from Klobuchar and the committee's leading Republican, retiring Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, were made.

"This is a big deal that we got this done with a strong vote," Klobuchar said.