The Democrats’ dilemma: how to get the Jan. 6 recommendations through Congress
House Democratic leaders will face strong political pressure – and a lack of time – to vote this year on election reform recommendations soon to arrive from lawmakers investigating last year’s attack on the US Capitol. .
The Jan. 6 select committee is tasked with proposing improvements to the country’s electoral system in a bid to bolster the peaceful transfer of power, which was threatened by a pro-Trump mob following his 2020 defeat. The recommendations are expected to come after the November 8 midterm elections, as part of the panel’s final report on its findings.
That will leave Democratic leaders a short window to draft legislation, rally support and send reforms to the Senate — all in a lame session where they will also face a crucial deadline to extend federal funding and prevent a shutdown of the Senate. government.
To complicate their task, the House is expected to change hands next year, transferring all legislative decisions to Republican leaders who, in defense of former President Trump, have condemned the select committee since its inception and are certain to ignore all the recommendations proposed by the panel. .
As Congress left Washington last week for the long election break, the combination of factors was already creating a sense of urgency among grassroots Democrats, who want their leaders to prioritize the panel’s recommendations at the end of the election. year, before they were buried by a potential GOP takeover.
“I don’t know what their thought process is. But no matter what, we really have to do it,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona) said. “Because if the House rocks, which I don’t think, but if it does, Kevin McCarthy won’t do anything to protect this country.”
The House is expected to sit for 17 days during the lame duck period, which is now set to end on December 15. The year-end schedule is notoriously fluid, as executives are often forced to keep lawmakers in Washington to finalize homework. pass legislation. This year’s must-have bill is a nascent package to extend government funding, which would otherwise expire at the end of Dec. 16.
Some Democrats have said the lame window allows enough time to consider the select committee’s election proposals — and even win the Senate support needed to enact them.
“We have two months. What? Is there anything more important than making sure we defend our democracy? said Rep. David Cicilline (D-California). “We have no choice, in my view, but to act quickly as soon as these recommendations are flagged. We must do so before we adjourn.
Others expressed serious doubts that Senate Democrats could find enough Republican support to overcome a GOP filibuster.
“I would think that [House] the leaders would like to vote on them, since the committee has done such a good job,” said Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), chairman of the House Budget Committee.
But the move to the Senate? “I can’t imagine,” he said.
Members of the January 6 committee, meanwhile, said it was still unclear whether their recommendations would be considered in November or December.
“We don’t know,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-California) said. “Maybe some of them.”
A failure to send electoral reforms to President Biden’s office would be a huge disappointment for Democrats, voting rights groups and other good government activists, especially with Trump eyeing another run for the White House in 2024. Yet pushing the reforms through the House would also provide Democrats with ammunition to criticize Republicans who oppose efforts to strengthen democratic institutions, even after the January 6, 2021 threat.
Congress is already moving forward on one element of the reform effort, the Voter Count Act, which increases the legislator’s threshold needed to challenge state election results and clarifies that the vice president’s role in formalizing those results is only ceremonial. Different versions of the bill have already passed the House and Senate, and the chambers hope to iron out the distinctions in the lame session.
Investigators also hinted at proposals to strengthen the criminal code to punish presidents who lobby other factions of government, such as state election offices and the Justice Department — two parts of Trump’s efforts to remain in power after his defeat.
Outside of the committee there was pressure to pass a resolution which relies on the 14th Amendment to disqualify presidents who actively seek to overturn elections.
And Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) indicated last week that he wanted to clarify elements of the 25th Amendment, which seeks to ensure continuity of governance in the event of a president’s incapacitation.
In the days following the Jan. 6 attack, several members of Trump’s cabinet had been considering whether to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. Raskin, a constitutional law expert, said that, as written, “it’s not even clear whether they could have or not.”
“There are a lot of provisions in the 25th Amendment that need to be clarified,” Raskin told reporters outside the Capitol on Friday.
The ultimate fate of the reform recommendations may depend on the timing of the committee’s final report, which will contain them. President Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said an interim report would be released before November, with the final report expected to follow. But when it will arrive remains unclear.
Given the limited schedule for the lame session, some lawmakers hope it will arrive soon after the House returns to Washington on Nov. 14.
“I hope they give us time, and I hope we act on it,” said a Democrat who spoke anonymously to discuss a sensitive topic.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-California) said midterm results will be a key factor in bringing some urgency to the process.
“The lame duck is actually the last chance to enact these reforms,” he said, “because Republicans may not be as willing to vote for them.”