And it sets down in writing what Pence and nearly everyone already believed: The vice president has no power to reject any state’s electoral votes.
You might have expected a commonsense proposal like that to win broad and immediate support beyond the nine Republicans and six Democrats who negotiated it. No such luck. In today’s polarized Washington, no outcome is guaranteed — even on a measure to protect the next presidential election from another coup attempt.
On the left, progressive Democrats don’t want to admit that their yearlong effort to pass broader voting rights legislation is dead, and that fixing the Electoral Count Act might be the best they can do. On the right, many Republicans — especially those who face primary elections this year — fear drawing Trump’s wrath if they endorse a bill aimed so squarely at his groundless campaign to delegitimize the 2020 election.
There are arguments over the bill’s details, too. Most involve a long-standing difference between the two parties: In general, Democrats want clearer, detailed rules to govern what states can do, while Republicans want to preserve state autonomy.
Those are legitimate grounds for debate — and debated they will be. In the Senate, any bill will need at least 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, meaning at least 10 Republicans must support it if all 50 members of the Democratic caucus go along. In the House, the bill’s supporters expect pro-Trump Republicans and at least some progressive Democrats to vote against it.
But the argument for compromise is strengthened by the pressure of a deadline. A new, improved Electoral Count Act is not a theoretical insurance policy against a once-in-a-century event. It’s more like fire insurance in a neighborhood where an arsonist has set blazes and is threatening to strike again.
Congress needs to pass some version of this bill by the end of the year; the job will only get harder once the 2024 presidential campaign gets underway. And if the House of Representatives comes under the control of pro-Trump Republicans in November, the bill might simply die. This is no time to let the best be the enemy of the good.