Calmes: Congress is trying to stop its members from another coup attempt

Call it the (spineless) Republican rallying cry: “The things we do for orange Jesus.”

Those were the words Rep. Liz Cheney said a House Republican muttered on Jan. 6, 2021, as he joined other Trump toads in the party’s locker room to sign formal objections to Joe Biden’s electoral votes in key states. Those objections were exactly what then-President Trump and a growing crowd outside the Capitol were calling for.

Cheney watched his colleague and thought, “You know, you’re doing something that’s unconstitutional.” He recounted the episode to an audience at the center-right American Enterprise Institute on Monday, which was fittingly celebrating Constitution Day.

Congressional MAGAMAtons are still at it, of course, blindly following Trump’s wishes, even if their orange Jesus cry speaks to the disdain many feel for the 2020 loser.

From an opinion column

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes brings a critical eye to the national political scene. He has decades of White House and Congressional experience.

On Wednesday — nearly two years after they acquiesced to, or even colluded in, Trump’s coup attempt and then ran for their lives — nearly all House Republicans voted against a bill aimed at preventing another such coup after the 2024 election.

The measure passed the Democratic-controlled House by a vote of 229-203 with the support of just nine Republicans, including Cheney — all lame ducks whose congressional careers ended in party losses or the decision to retire in front of MAGA voters. anger that they failed to fully understand Trump.

This bill is a BFD, as then-Vice President Biden famously said of other important pieces of legislation.

It would reverse a 135-year-old election-counting law that Trump conspirators misunderstood in trying to get Congress to overturn Biden’s victory. The changes would clarify what had been understood for more than a century until Trump: the vice president (such as Mike Pence on January 6, 2021) presides over congressional certification of the states’ electoral votes only; he has no power under the law or the 12th Amendment to change those votes.

The House bill would also raise the threshold for lawmakers who must object to state votes before Congress takes up the issue — from one member of the House and Senate to one-third of each chamber. The bill would limit the grounds for filing objections. And a majority of the House and Senate would have to approve the objections.

Just two weeks ago, former federal judge J. Michael Luttig, a prominent conservative who advised members of the House and Senate on the issue, was part of bipartisan negotiations to fix the 1887 law. Then on Monday, Cheney and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, both members of the House Select Committee examining their bill on Jan. 6, 2021, introduced their bill.

It is extremely rare for an emergency bill to be introduced in Parliament on one day and passed two days later. But as Luttig says, the election count law needs to be changed is an emergency. Trump and his allies remain a “clear and present threat,” Luttig said. They are “again trying to overturn an election that doesn’t go their way.”

Cheney and Lofgren agree. They wrote in the Wall Street Journal this week that continued lies by Trump and his followers — including Republican candidates for Congress and candidates for state and local offices responsible for elections — raise the prospect of another attempt to steal the presidential election, perhaps with another attempt to subvert congressional procedures for counting electoral votes.

News of their bill’s surprise passage in the House and its version’s improved prospects in the Senate has received little attention. After all, it’s hard to break through amid the latest bombshell news of one alleged Trump misdeed or another — financial fraud in New York real estate, apparent theft of state secrets in Mar-a-Lago and tampering with his supporters’ recorded voting devices after the 2020 election.

On Thursday, sponsors of a bill to amend the Senate’s stand-alone election count law secured their crucial 10th Republican co-sponsor: Pennsylvania Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, who is retiring. With all 50 Democratic senators supporting the legislation, 60 votes are now needed to avoid Republican support and pass the bill.

Still, senators and members of the House of Representatives must reconcile differences on their respective bills. The Senate’s version is more lenient because states have more lenient grounds for objecting to electoral votes and require fewer objectors — one-fifth of each chamber instead of one-third. The goal is to reach negotiations on final language in time for a vote in the lame-duck session of Congress after the midterm elections in November.

“It would be an inexplicable and inexcusable disappointment to the country if Congress didn’t pass” some version of what’s on the table, Luttig said — “to make sure Jan. 6 never comes again.”

In these polarized times, there was a nice moment after the House vote when Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) descended the stairs and crossed the chamber well, where Cheney, now a pariah in his own party, had chatted with Lofgren and several other Democrats. Liberal Pelosi warmly shook the very conservative Cheney’s hand.

Unfortunately, even assuming the revised Election Counting Act has a happy ending, this is not the end of this legislative saga. Instead, what stands out is the failure of Congress to reach unanimity in either house in its attempts to rewrite a poorly drafted 19th-century law that was at the center of a bloody attack on lawmakers’ own corridors and potentially their lives.

As Luttig told me, “To this day, the Republican Party is not going against Trump.”

That its members are so dazzled by orange, the rest of us should see red.

@jackiekcalmes