Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks during a news conference Sept. 20, 2022, in Washington. McConnell says he will “proudly support” legislation to overhaul rules for certifying presidential elections, bolstering a bipartisan effort to revise an 1800s-era law and avoid another Jan. 6 insurrection. Credit: Mariam Zuhaib / AP

WASHINGTON— Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he will “proudly support” legislation to overhaul rules for certifying presidential elections, bolstering a bipartisan effort to revise a 19th century law and avoid another Jan. 6 insurrection.

The legislation would clarify and expand parts of the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which, along with the Constitution, governs how states and Congress certify electors and declare presidential winners. The changes in the certification process are in response to unsuccessful efforts by former President Donald Trump and his allies to exploit loopholes in the law to overturn his 2020 defeat to Joe Biden.

McConnell made the remarks just before a committee vote on the legislation. He said he would back the bill as long as a bipartisan agreement on the language is not significantly changed.

“Congress’ process for counting the presidential electors’ votes was written 135 years ago,” McConnell said. “The chaos that came to a head on Jan. 6 of last year certainly underscored the need for an update.”

read more

McConnell noted that in addition to Republican objections to Biden’s win in 2021, Democrats objected the last three times that Republicans won presidential elections. The legislation would make it harder for Congress to sustain those objections.

The GOP leader’s comments give the legislation a major boost as the bipartisan group pushes to pass the bill before the end of the year and ahead of the next election cycle. Trump is still pushing false claims of election fraud and saying he won the election as he considers another run in 2024.

The House has already passed a more expansive bill overhauling the electoral rules, but it has far less Republican support. While the House bill received a handful of GOP votes, the Senate version already has the backing of at least 12 Republicans — more than enough to break a filibuster and pass the legislation in the 50-50 Senate.

The Senate Rules Committee is expected to approve the legislation Tuesday and send it to the full chamber for consideration. A vote on the bill isn’t expected until after the November elections.

Senators are expected to make minor tweaks to the legislation at Tuesday’s meeting but keep the bill largely intact. The bill, written by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, would make clear that the vice president only has a ceremonial role in the certification process, tighten the rules around states sending their votes to Congress and make it harder for lawmakers to object.

The changes are a direct response to Trump, who publicly pressured several states, members of Congress and then-Vice President Mike Pence to aid him as he tried to undo Biden’s win. Even though Trump’s effort failed, lawmakers in both parties said his attacks on the election showed the need for stronger safeguards in the law.

If it becomes law, the bill would be Congress’ strongest legislative response yet to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, in which hundreds of Trump’s supporters beat police officers, broke into the Capitol and interrupted the joint session as lawmakers were counting the votes. Once the rioters were cleared, the House and Senate rejected GOP objections to the vote in two states. But more than 140 Republicans voted to sustain them.

Differences between the House and Senate bills will have to be resolved before final passage, including language around congressional objections.

While the Senate bill would require a fifth of both chambers to agree on an electoral objection to trigger a vote, the House bill would require agreement from at least a third of House members and a third of the Senate. Currently, only one member of each chamber is required for the House and Senate to vote on whether to reject a state’s electors.

The House bill also lays out new grounds for objections, while the Senate does not.

By Mary Clare Jalonick, Associated Press