Congress passes first legislative response to January 6 Capitol attack

Congress has passed a measure aimed at making it harder to overturn a certified presidential election, a major moment that marks the first legislative response to the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol and then-President Donald Trump’s relentless pressure campaign to stay in power despite his 2020 loss.

The legislation, which would overhaul the 1887 Electoral Count Act, was included as part of a massive $1.7 trillion government funding bill that the Senate passed on Thursday and the House passed on Friday. It will now go to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.

The measure to overhaul the Electoral Count Act would clarify that the vice president’s role in overseeing the electoral result certification in Congress is strictly ceremonial. It would raise the threshold to make it harder for lawmakers to force votes attempting to overturn a state’s certified result. Additionally, it includes provisions that would prevent efforts to pass along fake electors to Congress.

The bill is the result of intense bipartisan negotiations that won over the support of top Republicans, including Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell. But a number of House Republicans have pushed back on efforts to overhaul the election law. So with Republicans set to soon take control of the House, lawmakers pressed to send the bill to Biden’s desk, knowing it was likely to be doomed in the next Congress.

Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, and Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, announced on Tuesday that the bill had been included as part of the broader government funding package.

“We are pleased that our legislation has been included in the omnibus appropriations bill and are grateful to have the support of so many of our colleagues. We look forward to seeing this bill signed into law,” the senators said in a joint statement.

The Electoral Count Act is an 1887 law that Trump has sought to exploit and create confusion over how Congress counts Electoral College votes from each state in a presidential election. Constitutional experts say the vice president currently can’t disregard a state-certified electoral result, but Trump pushed then-Vice President Mike Pence to obstruct the Electoral College certification in Congress as part of his pressure campaign. Pence refused to do so and, as a result, became a target of the former president and his mob of supporters who stormed the Capitol on January 6.

The new legislation seeks to make clear that the vice president only has a ceremonial role in overseeing the certification of the electoral results – and does not have the power to unilaterally accept, reject or settle disputes over electors.

It would also make it more difficult for members of Congress to attempt to overturn an election by increasing the threshold for the number of House and Senate members required to raise an objection to election results when a joint session of Congress meets to certify them.

The legislation “raises the threshold to lodge an objection to electors to at least one-fifth of the duly chosen and sworn members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate,” according to a fact sheet. Under current law, just one senator can join one House member in forcing each side to vote on whether to throw out results subject to an objection.

The bill also includes changes intended to prevent efforts to install fake electors. For example, each state’s governor would be responsible for submission of a certificate that identifies electors – and Congress would not be able to accept a slate of electors submitted by any other official. “This reform would address the potential for multiple state officials to send Congress competing slates,” the fact sheet states.

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