Reviews |  Republicans want to open the door to Trump's chaos in 2024

Reviews | Republicans want to open the door to Trump’s chaos in 2024

The Presidential Election Reform Act, drafted to throw a flamethrower at some of the tangled language that governs Electoral College vote counting, passed the House on Wednesday with the support of just nine Republicans. (That total included Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., co-author.)

The Republican opposition was predictable but sad. Because this bill would do nothing but prevent dishonest actors from promoting a deliberate misreading of the Constitution. It would not strengthen voting rights; it would not protect poll workers. It would simply clarify the convoluted language of the Voter Count Act of 1887, which former President Donald Trump and his cronies claimed gave Vice President Mike Pence unilateral power to throw out electoral votes from certain states.

The fact that Trump and his supporters cited the Voter Count Act in their shoddy justifications should be proof enough that changes are needed in the process.

It was constitutional fanfiction at best. The fact that Trump and his supporters cited the Voter Count Act in their shoddy justifications should be proof enough that changes are needed in the process. Instead, what we got from the House GOP on Wednesday is proof that, if the status quo remained in place, blatant calls to void an election would be at least considered on a case-by-case basis with a Republican majority.

To be fair, some of the supposed ambiguities that Trump’s lawyers have tried to exploit are only “ambiguous” if you’re determined to jump logic to Neil Armstrong on the moon. Nothing in the text of the Voter Count Act authorizes the Vice President as President of the Senate to reject a state’s electoral votes, but it does not explicitly say the Vice President can not. We can therefore consider the revisions adopted by the House as the “Reverse Air Bud” of the electoral count.

If anything, you would think that if House Republicans really believed that Pence could have changed the election results, as Trump claimed, so they would be fully in favor of this bill. Because it would reveal the belief that nothing is stopping Vice President Kamala Harris from throwing out state votes that Trump (or whoever the GOP nominee is) wins in 2024.

But the votes cast by House Republicans on Wednesday were not about the merits of the bill, or the wording of the law, or the legitimacy of our elections. Their votes were meant to ensure that people who believe Pence could have — and should have — installed Trump for a second term don’t backfire.

You can see this when you look at who among the GOP voted to impeach Trump this second time, but against the Presidential Election Reform Act. Only two members fall into this category: Reps. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., and David Valadao, R-Calif. Of the 10 House Republicans who decided Trump’s incitement on Jan. 6, 2021, might be a problem, Valadao and Newhouse are the only ones on their district’s general election ballots this fall.

It’s not that they like the voter count law as it is; it’s that they find the politics around changing it untenable.

Valadao and Newhouse managed to hold off Trump-backed challengers in their primaries, but both contested the “first two primaries” and both went to the general election alongside Democratic opponents. They trumped their GOP challengers by a few thousand votes each, meaning they can no longer alienate Trump fans if they want November voters to send them back to Congress.

Despite lukewarm arguments House GOP members tossed around during their debate on Wednesday, few of whom likely have any issues with the substance of the bill. They know full well that it is within the power of Congress to set standards for federal elections, even as they warn against violating state rights. It’s not that they like the voter count law as it is; it’s that they find the politics around changing it untenable.

In the meantime, it’s worth noting that the presidential election reform law doesn’t quite match the reforms crafted in the Senate, where there might be enough Republican votes to override the filibuster. If there are enough votes and the Senate version passes, the House will have to approve this new version, leaving Republicans with even less defense for their position. But who knows — if Newhouse and Valadao lose their races before that happens, then maybe the number of GOP votes in favor of closing a loophole that was never a loophole will jump to 11.


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