Posts tagged with "Electoral Count Act"

Previously secret memo laid out strategy for Trump to overturn Biden’s win

August 10, 2023

A missing piece in the public record of how Trump’s allies developed their strategy to overturn Biden’s victory has come to light: Kenneth Chesebro, a lawyer associated with former President Donald Trump, first outlined the plot to use false slates of electors to subvert the 2020 election in a previously unknown internal campaign memo, reports The New York Times.

Prosecutors now are portraying that memo as a crucial link in how the Trump team’s efforts evolved into a criminal conspiracy.

The existence of the December 6, 2020, memo came to light in last week’s indictment of Trump, although its details remained unclear. But a copy obtained by the Times shows for the first time that the lawyer, Kenneth Chesebro, acknowledged from the start that he was proposing “a bold, controversial strategy” that the Supreme Court “likely” would reject in the end.

But even if the plan did not ultimately pass legal muster at the highest level, Chesebro argued that it would achieve two goals. It would focus attention on claims of voter fraud and “buy the Trump campaign more time to win litigation that would deprive Biden of electoral votes and/or add to Trump’s column.”

Chesebro proposed that, in mid-December, the false Trump electors could go through the motions of voting as if they had the authority to do so. On January 6, 2021, then-Vice President Mike Pence could unilaterally count those slates of votes, rather than the official and certified ones for Joe Biden.

While that basic plan itself was already known, the document, described by prosecutors as the “fraudulent elector memo,” provides new details about how it originated and was discussed behind the scenes.

Among those details is. Chesebro’s proposed “messaging” strategy to explain why pro-Trump electors were meeting in states where Biden was declared the winner. The campaign would present that step as “a routine measure that is necessary to ensure” that the correct electoral slate could be counted by Congress, if courts or legislatures later concluded that Trump had actually won the states.

It was not the first time that Chesebro had raised the notion of creating alternate electors. In November, he had suggested doing so in Wisconsin, although for a different reason: to safeguard Trump’s rights in case he later won a court battle and was declared that state’s certified winner by January 6, as had happened with Hawaii in 1960.

But the indictment portrayed the December 6 memo as a “sharp departure” from that proposal—becoming what prosecutors say was a criminal plot to engineer “a fake controversy that would derail the proper certification of Biden as president-elect.”

“I recognize that what I suggest is a bold, controversial strategy, and that there are many reasons why it might not end up being executed on January 6,” Chesebro wrote. “But as long as it is one possible option, to preserve it as a possibility it is important that the Trump-Pence electors cast their electoral votes on December 14.”

Three days later, Chesebro drew up specific instructions to create fraudulent electors in multiple states—in another memo whose existence, along with the one in November, was  first reported by the Times last year. The House committee investigating the January 6 riot also cited them in its December report, but it apparently did not learn of the December 6 memo.

“I believe that what can be achieved on January 6 is not simply to keep Biden below 270 electoral votes,” Chesebro wrote in the newly disclosed memo. “It seems feasible that the vote count can be conducted so that at no point will Trump be behind in the electoral vote count unless and until Biden can obtain a favorable decision from the Supreme Court upholding the Electoral Count Act as constitutional, or otherwise recognizing the power of Congress (and not the president of the Senate) to count the votes.”

Chesebro and his lawyer did not respond to requests for comment. A Trump spokesperson did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The false electors scheme was perhaps the most sprawling of Trump’s various efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. It involved lawyers working on his campaign’s behalf across seven states, dozens of electors willing to claim that Trump—not Biden—had won their states, and open resistance from some of those potential electors that the plan could be illegal or even “appear treasonous.”

In the end, it became the cornerstone of the indictment against Trump.

While another lawyer, John Eastman—described as Co-Conspirator 2 in the indictment —became a key figure who championed the plan and worked more directly with Trump on it, Chesebro was the architect of it.

Research contact: @nytimes

Senators agree to move forward on omnibus spending bill

December 23, 2022

Senators broke an immigration-related impasse on Thursday morning, December 22—reaching a deal on amendments that clears the way to pass a $1.65 trillion spending bill just ahead of the Christmas holiday and a looming winter storm, reports The Wall Street Journal.

“We will vote on all of the amendments in order and then vote on final passage,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said on the Senate floor. Schumer said that an immigration amendment from Senator Kyrsten Sinema (I- Arizona) and Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) would be added to the list of amendment votes ahead of final passage, alongside one by Senator Mike Lee (R- Utah) that had frozen Senate business as Senate Democrats scrambled to keep it from passing.

Schumer told senators to remain close by and try to remain in the chairs so that the Senate could vote quickly, rather than the more leisurely pace typical of chamber votes. In all, there are more than a dozen planned amendments, including votes aimed at stopping discrimination against pregnant workers and eliminating earmarks tagged for specific projects in members’ home states or districts; and other legislation aimed at giving Ukraine funds from forfeited property.

Senators had been trying to reach an agreement on the terms for cutting off debate and proceeding to a vote on the government funding bill for fiscal 2023. The bill, which would keep the government funded beyond December 23, also carries $45 billion in aid for Ukraine and NATO allies, and would finance big increases in military and domestic spending, including military pay raises.

Lawmakers said the holdup in negotiations had centered on Republican efforts to get an amendment vote on Title 42the pandemic-era public-health measure allowing migrants to be expelled back to Mexico after crossing the U.S. border illegally. The policy was set to end this week but has been kept in place temporarily by the Supreme Court.

Sinema’s amendment resembles parts of an immigration compromise she has been working on with Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina. It would extend Title 42 until a different plan to manage the border is in place.

The amendment also includes $330 million to create two additional central processing centers at the southern border, increases Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention space and gives Border Patrol agents a pay raise. It also would provide $200 million to fill in gaps of the border wall former President Donald Trump’s Administration rapidly expanded.

Offering both Title-42-related amendments gives lawmakers in each party the opportunity to vote for the legislation they prefer, but will likely keep Lee’s from passing in the evenly divided chamber. Under the agreement, Lee’s amendment will need a simple majority to pass, while the Sinema-Tester bill will need 60 votes. Tillis said it wasn’t clear ahead of the vote if his compromise amendment had enough votes to pass.

Lee said the Sinema-Tester bill was “a wolf in sheep’s clothing to mislead the American people to believe Dems are doing something to secure our borders.” He said the bill was designed to give some Democrats a way to look tough on the border while voting against his extension of Title 42.

Senate Democratic leadership had been concerned that, without another option, some centrist Democrats would join with Republicans to pass Lee’s amendment at the majority threshold. The Senate is currently split 50-50. If the bill were amended to keep Title 42 in place, Senate Democrats were concerned that it would cause the bill to fail once it was sent to the House.

Unlike the Senate, which is expected to pull in strong bipartisan support for the omnibus, House Republicans urged members to vote against the spending bill. While a handful may still support the legislation, it is unclear if enough Democrats would vote for the legislation if the Title 42 measure was included. Many progressive Democrats oppose Title 42.

The Title 42 policy, first rolled out by the Trump Administration as COVID-19 was starting to spread, is believed to have acted as a deterrent for some migrants seeking asylum because they could be turned back even if they asked for protection in the United States.

Most border analysts expect that lifting the policy will lead to at least a temporary spike in illegal border crossings. In anticipation of the policy’s expiration, which had been set for Wednesday, some border cities were seeing surges. In El Paso, Texas, migrants primarily from Nicaragua slept on the streets in near-freezing temperatures because bus or plane tickets to leave the city were booked up.

On Tuesday, congressional appropriators unveiled the wide-ranging spending bill for fiscal 2023 with sharp increases in military and domestic funding, with the aim to get it passed before the deadline and to go home before Christmas.

The bipartisan legislation cleared its first procedural hurdle on Tuesday, with a 70-25 vote to proceed to the bill. The bill needs 60 votes to clear procedural hurdles in the Senate and a simple majority to pass. However, all senators must agree to give back debate time to hurry the process along.

The spending package drew objections from some Republicans in the Senate and House who said it was bloated and full of unnecessary spending. Critics said that leadership should have released the bill sooner rather than forcing lawmakers to vote after just days to review it.

“It’s three times the size of the bible,” said Senator Rick Scott (R-Florida) of the more than 4,000-page spending bill. “It’s Democrats’ spending.”

Some House Republicans also had argued that Republicans should refuse to begin talks on the bill until the next Congress, when the GOP will control the House. But those calls were ignored by Senate negotiators.

The bill includes $858 billion in military spending, $45 billion more than President Biden had requested and up about 10% from $782 billion the prior year. Senate negotiators said it also includes $772.5 billion in nondefense discretionary spending, up almost 6% from $730 billion the prior year. The overall discretionary price tag works out to about $1.65 trillion, compared with $1.5 trillion the prior fiscal year.

The bill also includes changes to the 1887 Electoral Count Act that would make it harder to block the certification of a presidential election, would widen a ban on TikTok on government devices, and would extend a December 27 deadline for Boeing  to secure federal safety approvals for two new versions of the 737 MAX airplane.

Legal and political fights have kept the Title 42 policy in place for months longer than the Biden Administration intended when it moved to end its use last May. More than a dozen GOP states sued to keep it in place, and a federal judge in Louisiana extended the policy’s use indefinitely on the grounds that the Biden administration didn’t use the proper administrative procedure to end it.

In November, a federal court in Washington ruled in a separate lawsuit that the policy’s use was illegal from the start as it violates federal refugee laws by denying migrants at the border a chance to ask for asylum.

Research contact: @WSJ

Top January 6 committee members propose reforms to 1887 Electoral Count Act

September 21, 2022

Two senior members of the House’s January 6 select committee have introduced a bipartisan bill to reform the counting of presidential electoral votes to prevent another riot at the Capitol over disputed results, reports ABC News.

The Presidential Election Reform Act—from Representatives Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming), and Zoe Lofgren (D-California)—targets some of the perceived nuances in 135-year-old Electoral Count Act that former President Donald Trump and his supporters attempted to exploit in order to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020.

“Our proposal is intended to preserve the rule of law for all future presidential elections by ensuring that self-interested politicians cannot steal from the people the guarantee that our government derives its power from the consent of the governed,” Cheney and Lofgren wrote in a joint Wall Street Journal column last week.

The full House could vote on the proposal as early as Wednesday.

The revisions would reaffirm the vice president’s ceremonial role over the count, after then-Vice President Mike Pence was pressured by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, according to the legislative text and summary of the proposal obtained by ABC News.

The bill would make it more difficult for lawmakers to raise objections to electors from each state, by requiring at least one-third of the members from each chamber to support an objection, rather than one House member and a single senator.

It also would clarify ambiguities in the Electoral College process by requiring governors to transmit state results to Congress and prohibiting election officials from refusing to certify their state’s election results. In either case, the law would allow a presidential candidate to go to court to force compliance with the law.

The proposal would prevent state legislators from undoing the election results in their states—and require that elections be carried out under the state rules on the books on Election Day.

“The Constitution assigns an important duty to state legislatures, to determine the manner in which the states appoint their electors. But this shouldn’t be misread to allow state legislators to change the election rules retroactively to alter the outcome,” Cheney and Lofgren wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

In July, a bipartisan group of senators including Senators Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), and Susan Collins (R-Maine)proposed their own reforms to the Electoral Count Act.

While their proposal also affirms the vice president’s limited role in proceedings, it sets a different threshold requirement for electoral challenges, among other differences.

Research contact: @abcnews

Bipartisan Senate group strikes deal to rewrite Electoral Count Act

July 22, 2022

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators proposed new legislation on Wednesday, July 20, that would modernize the 135-year-old Electoral Count Act—overhauling a law that former President Donald Trump tried to abuse on January 6, 2021, when he attempted to stop Congress’s certification of his election defeat, reports The New York Times.

The legislation aims to guarantee a peaceful transition from one president to the next, after the January 6 attack on the Capitol exposed how the current law could be manipulated to disrupt the process.

According to the Times, one measure would make it more difficult for lawmakers to challenge a state’s electoral votes when Congress meets to count them. It would also clarify that the vice president has no discretion over the results, and it would set out the steps to begin a presidential transition.

A second bill would increase penalties for threats to and intimidation of election officials, seek to improve the Postal Service’s handling of mail-in ballots, and renew for five years an independent federal agency that helps states administer and secure federal elections.

While passage of the legislation cannot guarantee that a repeat of January 6 will not occur in the future, its authors believe that a rewrite of the antiquated law—particularly, of the provisions related to the vice president’s role—could discourage such efforts and make it more difficult to disrupt the vote count.

Alarmed at the events of January 6 that showed longstanding flaws in the law governing the electoral count process, the bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) had been meeting for months to try to agree on the rewrite.

“In four of the past six presidential elections, this process has been abused, with members of both parties raising frivolous objections to electoral votes,” Collins said on Wednesday. “But it took the violent breach of the Capitol on January 6 of 2021 to really shine a spotlight on the urgent need for reform.”

In a joint statement, the 16 senators involved in the talks said they had set out to “fix the flaws” of the Electoral Count Act, which they called “archaic and ambiguous.” The statement said the group believed that, in consultation with election law experts, it had “developed legislation that establishes clear guidelines for our system of certifying and counting electoral votes for president and vice president.”

Although the authors are one short of the ten Republican senators needed to guarantee that the electoral count bill could make it past a filibuster and to final passage if all Democrats support it, they said they hoped to round up sufficient backing for a vote

Collins said she expected the Senate Rules Committee to convene a hearing on the measures before the August recess. Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota and the chairwoman of the panel, was consulted in the drafting of the legislation.

The bills were announced on the eve of a prime-time hearing by the House committee investigating the events surrounding the January 6 attack, including Trump’s multilayered effort to invalidate his defeat.

The backers of the legislation were optimistic that they could win passage this year, viewing that time frame as their best opportunity given the prospect that Republicans—many of whom backed challenges to electoral votes for Joe Biden—could control the House next year.

The Electoral Count Act does need to be fixed,” Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and the minority leader, told reporters on Tuesday. He said that Collins had kept him apprised of the bipartisan negotiations and that he was “sympathetic” to the aims of those working on the legislation.

Under the proposal to overhaul the vote count, a state’s governor would be identified as the sole official responsible for submitting a state’s slate of electors following the presidential vote, barring other officials from doing so. That provision was aimed at heading off efforts similar to those employed by Trump and his backers, who sought to put forward their own sets of electors not recognized by the states and not reflective of the popular vote.

In an effort to prevent groundless efforts to object to a state’s electoral count, a minimum of one-fifth of both the House and the Senate would be needed to lodge an objection — a substantial increase from the current threshold of one House member and one senator. Objections still would have to be sustained by a majority of both the House and the Senate.

The bill also would create a new expedited route for a candidate to challenge a state’s slate of electors. Under the proposal, those claims would be heard by a special three-judge panel with a direct appeal to the Supreme Court.

“I think it is significant to make sure that the particulars around Jan. 6, in terms of any kind of question about the role of the vice president, will be cleared up,” said Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, one of the Democrats behind the legislation.

Besides Collins, the other Republican members of the bipartisan group backing the electoral count overhaul are Senators Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and Todd Young of Indiana.

In addition to Manchin and Warner, the Democrats are Senators Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, Chris Coons of Delaware, Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

Research contact: @nytimes

WaPo offers five takeaways from Biden’s forceful January 6 takedown of Trump

January 10, 2022

About a month after the January 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol insurrection and with impeachment suddenly in the rearview, President Joe Biden signaled he was “tired” of talking about Donald Trump. A month later, he responded to a question about the former president by sarcastically saying he missed “my predecessor.”

Indeed, Biden largely has avoided mentioning Trump in the following months, reports The Washington Post.

However, on the anniversary of the January 6 Capitol riot on Thursday, Biden made a huge exception. He delivered a muscular speech aimed at repudiating the former president, whose hold on the Republican Party has proved as strong as ever; according to the Post, as well as the allies who fomented and excused the Capitol riot.

Below are the Post’s takeaways from Biden’s speech.

The Trump focus

Biden’s intention to make his speech not just about the rioters, but also about Trump, was evident from the first minute of his brief speech and continued throughout. After praising those who withstood the attack and marking the somber occasion, Biden almost immediately linked the attack to Trump—and did so repeatedly, with a palpable anger in his voice.

“For the first time in our history, the president had not just lost an election; he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol,” Biden said. “But they failed. They failed.”

Biden added later: “He has done what no president in American history—the history of this country—has ever, ever done: He refused to accept the results of an election and the will of the American people.”

Then Biden went after Trump’s delayed response.

“What did we not see?” Biden said. “We didn’t see a former president who had just rallied the mob to attack, sitting in the private dining room off the Oval Office in the White House, watching it all on television and doing nothing for hours as police were assaulted, lives at risk, the nation’s capital under siege.”

Not just targeting—but goading Trump

Much of Biden’s speech seemed aimed at not just criticizing but also goading Trump. He referred to Trump’s “bruised ego” over losing the 2020 election.

 He’s done so because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interest as more important than his country’s interest and America’s interest, and because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution,” Biden said.

Biden also referenced the 81 million people who voted for him—a seeming reference to Trump and his allies’ regular invocations of the 74 million people who voted for Trump, and the idea that not further scrutinizing Trump’s baseless voter-fraud claims was tantamount to disregarding those voters.

Biden also pointed to those who might otherwise be allies who clearly didn’t back up Trump’s claims. “He can’t accept he lost, even though that’s what 93 United States senators, his own attorney general, his own vice president, governors and state officials in every battleground state—have all said he lost,” Biden said. “That’s what 81 million of you did, as you voted for a new way forward.”

Biden punctuated it all toward the end of his speech by labeling Trump what Trump fears perhaps most of all—a loser. “He was just looking for an excuse, a pretext to cover for the truth: that he’s not just a former president; he’s a defeated former president,” Biden said, emphasizing “defeated” and then repeating it—“defeated by a margin of over 7 million of your votes in a full and free and fair election.”

A recognition that being passive doesn’t work

Biden’s speech might have been for a special occasion, but it also seemed to mark a recognition that Trump is going nowhere, and one can’t pretend otherwise.

At the same time, it echoed previous rebukes of Trump, in that Biden avoided saying his name. There was a word curiously missing from Biden’s remarks: “Trump.” [Biden explained afterwards that he avoided politicizing the speech.]

Throughout the speech, Biden merely cited the “former president”—at least 16 times in a little over ten minutes—as if speaking his name was tantamount to legitimizing him, or that something would happen a la saying “Voldemort.”

The undersold rebuke

According to the Post, toward the end, Biden referred to something that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention: the implicit GOP idea that the presidential election was somehow stolen, but not other races.

In fact, a few days before January 6, this comparison was pushed by none other than Republican Representative Chip Roy (Texas), who had been Senator Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) former chief of staff. If the election results were suspect, Roy argued, why wouldn’t his fellow Republicans have objected to the seating of members who were elected on the same ballots? So Roy forced a vote, and all but two Republicans voted to seat the members.

What happens now

The question in the aftermath of Biden’s speech is what it means. Was this just about reminding people of an assault on democracy—one day only—or was it about spurring further action?

Democrats have pushed for revamping the nation’s voting laws, citing Republican efforts to rewrite them in the states, but that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Democrats have also shunned GOP leaders’ suggestions that the two sides could meet in the middle, by reviewing the Electoral Count Act that Trump sought to exploit January 6. Democrats have suggested this is a wholly insufficient step.

An alternate political explanation is that Biden understands his agenda probably isn’t going anywhere. That argument suggests that voters must be reminded of what happened in 2020 ahead of the 2022 election—when Democrats’ majorities are severely imperiled—and perhaps ahead of a potential 2024 rematch with Trump (or another Democrat running against Trump).

When the calendar turns to an election year, after all, the Post notes, legislation tends to grind to a halt, and those concerns take precedence. Biden’s goading of Trump certainly doesn’t discount this theory.

Either way, though, it’s a significant entry in the long-standing fight over democracy. And it was the most significant entry on that front from Biden to date.

Research contact: @washingtonpost