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Texas Republicans unanimously oppose House electoral reform bill co-authored by Rep. Liz Cheney

Houston Chronicle 9/21/2022 Benjamin Wermund, Washington Bureau
© J. Scott Applewhite, STF / Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Wednesday passed a slate of electoral reforms aimed at preventing presidents from overturning election results and making it harder for members of Congress to object to those results, as most Texas Republicans did after the election of President Joe Biden.

The legislation — co-authored by U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican who is among the most vocal critics of former President Donald Trump — was a direct response to Trump’s attempts to prevent Biden from taking office after he won the 2020 election, an effort in which Texas Republicans played key roles

"This bill is a very important and crucial bill to ensure that what happened on Jan. 6 never happens again," Cheney said, castigating her fellow GOP members — all but nine of whom opposed the legislation — for "defending the indefensible."

"If your aim is to prevent future efforts to steal elections, I would respectfully suggest that conservatives should support this bill," she said. "If instead your aim is to leave open the door for elections to be stolen in the future, you might decide not to."

The bill passed on a 229-203 vote. All Texas Democrats supported the bill, and every Texas Republican opposed it.  

BACKGROUND: Liz Cheney brings her campaign against election deniers to Texas

Republicans argued they were not consulted in the drafting of the bill, which they said would federalize elections. They argued that the Electoral Count Act, which the bill would reform, has been in place for more than a century and worked as it should on Jan. 6, when Biden's election was certified over the objections of GOP members. 

“The Democrats’ ongoing fixation to inject the federal government into elections threatens the preservation of liberty, and it is just another excuse to obsess about President Trump and the January 6th Committee,” said U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, a Friendswood Republican. “We must protect the integrity of our elections, but this bill does nothing to accomplish that key objective. At a time we should be addressing inflation, the runaway spending that is fueling it, and the assault on domestic energy, not to mention the invasion along our southern border, House Democrats chose to put on yet another partisan sideshow." 

Republicans also noted that Democrats have objected to counting electoral votes in each of the past elections won by GOP presidents since George W. Bush won the 2000 election. 

"It just strikes me that in all of the presidential elections of the 21st century, those won by Republicans are subject to some discussion or objection," said U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, a Pilot Point Republican. 

Democrats said what happened on Jan. 6 was different. None of the past elections saw the majority of one party object to certifying the results.

The bill's authors said it would put an end to the practice. 

U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who co-authored the legislation, said that under its parameters not a single objection raised by members of either party over the last 100 years would be allowed. 

“This would put an end to using frivolous challenges to the electoral count,” she said. 

The bill makes clear that vice presidents cannot intervene in the certification of an election as Trump pressured former Vice President Mike Pence to do in 2020. And it would require the support of one-third of the members of the House and Senate to raise any congressional objections to counting electoral votes.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, led an effort in the Senate to delay certifying Biden’s election win and objected to Arizona’s electoral votes less than an hour before demonstrators breached the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, pointing to “unprecedented” — and unproven — allegations of voter fraud.

Seventeen of the 25 Texas Republicans in Congress objected to counting Electoral College votes for Biden after the Capitol riots. 

Cruz at the time was pushing for an “emergency audit,” which he has argued could have provided the final say Trump supporters needed to accept the results.

The legislation would prohibit objections on all but a narrow set of constitutional grounds. It would require governors to transmit lawful election results to Congress and allow presidential candidates to sue those that do not, opening the door for federal courts to compel them to do so. The bill would also prohibit states from changing election rules after an election has taken place. 

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The electoral reform bill now heads to the Senate, where a bipartisan group of senators has been working on a separate slate of reforms to the Electoral Count Act. The two versions differ slightly, including in the threshold required to raise an objection. The Senate version would require just one-fifth of members of both chambers to do so. 

Its passage in the House marks a victory for Cheney, who lost a primary last month to Trump-backed attorney Harriet Hageman, after co-chairing the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.

Cheney was once one of the top Republicans in the House, but GOP members last year removed her from her post leading the conference in a show of loyalty to Trump after she repeatedly called out the former president’s lies about a stolen election.

The Wyoming Republican has since launched a political action committee with her campaign funds and said she plans to use the PAC to go after “election deniers,” including Cruz. Cheney is slated to speak at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin this weekend. 

Cruz, meanwhile, said on his podcast that Trump “shattered” Cheney’s mind and that she has “just become a liberal Democrat” because of her prominent role on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.

“Liz is unrecognizable,” Cruz said. “Cheney’s circus act on the Jan. 6 commission is indistinguishable from what Nancy Pelosi would say.”

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