Schumer puts election overhaul on June agenda, floats second attempt at 1/6 commission

Close margins will likely fuel drive to end the filibuster

 Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., talks with a reporter in the Ohio Clock Corridor before a news conference on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., talks with a reporter in the Ohio Clock Corridor before a news conference on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted May 28, 2021 at 3:15pm

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer announced Friday that he is planning to force a vote next month on a wide-ranging overhaul of election, campaign finance and ethics laws and bring the stalled Jan. 6 commission proposal back for another attempt at passage.

The Senate’s summer agenda will likely stoke further tension over the filibuster.

In a letter to the Democratic caucus, Schumer said he’d bring the Democratic effort to reshape elections to the floor in June, the first time he’s set a solid timeline for the bill.

“In the last week of the June work period, the Senate will vote on S. 1, the For the People Act, legislation that is essential to defending our democracy, reducing the influence of dark money and powerful special interests, and stopping the wave of Republican voter suppression happening in the states across the country in service of President Trump’s Big Lie,” Schumer wrote.

After leaving town Friday afternoon for a Memorial Day recess, the Senate is due to return the week of June 7 and work through June 25, which could make for a tight timeline to get the divisive bill through the evenly divided chamber.

The bill was marked up earlier this month in the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, in a bruising marathon session. Members of that panel, which is evenly divided between nine Democrats and nine Republicans, debated some 40 amendments, with most rejected on tie votes. In the end, after nearly nine hours, the bill was not reported out of the committee because the vote was tied 9-9, but Schumer can still bring the measure to the floor.

The bill, which the House passed in March, would require new disclosures of political spending, mandate minimum standards for such practices as automatic voter registration and early voting, revamp foreign and domestic lobbying rules, create an optional public financing system for congressional campaigns, establish independent commissions to draw congressional maps and restructure the Federal Election Commission, among other provisions.

The bill would give the federal government control over decisions about voter registration and balloting procedures that have traditionally been the sole domain of states or counties. The effort comes as GOP-led state legislatures across the country, citing public concerns fueled by former President Donald Trump's false claims that the 2020 election was “stolen," are proposing new restrictions on voting.

The elections bill is just one of a roster of measures Schumer plans to bring up next month that will reignite debate over the legislative filibuster, which requires a 60-vote threshold to move forward on most legislation.

“The June work period will be extremely challenging. I want to be clear that the next few weeks will be hard and will test our resolve as a Congress and a conference,” Schumer wrote in Friday’s letter.

Schumer also said he might force a second vote on a bill to set up a 9/11 style commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, after the proposal fell short of the votes needed to advance on Friday.

“Senators should rest assured that the events of January 6th will be investigated and that as Majority Leader, I reserve the right to force the Senate to vote on the bill again at the appropriate time,” Schumer wrote.

The procedural move on Friday required 60 votes and came up short at 54-35. Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Rob Portman of Ohio were the only Republicans who voted to end debate on whether to take up the legislation.

The vote could have been closer, if not for absences by 11 senators, including two Democrats. Some see this tight margin as Democrats being thwarted by the 60-vote filibuster threshold, although the Democratic caucus is not united behind eliminating it.

Schumer, during a floor speech Friday, lashed out at Republicans after the vote, accusing them of being in “fear or fealty to Donald Trump.”

“This vote has made it official. Donald Trump’s big lie has now fully enveloped the Republican Party. Trump’s big lie is now the defining principle of what was once the party of Lincoln,” Schumer said.

Sen. Susan Collins had proposed amendments to the commission bill that would have addressed two of the major concerns among her fellow Republicans: that staffing would be decided by Democrats and that the Dec. 2021 cutoff date for the panel’s findings are unrealistic.

Votes on the Collins changes, which she said had support from some Republicans and from Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, were not possible without getting cloture approval.

To make bringing the bill back to the floor easier, Schumer could have switched his vote to “no” in the final moments of the vote, but he did not exercise that tactical move available for majority leaders.

Already on the agenda for June is a bipartisan science research and development package that hit a snag this week and was punted until after the recess.

And just as discord over that research and development package brought the Senate into a rare Friday session before this holiday weekend, Schumer’s timing for the elections bill could drag action close or into the July 4 weekend.

Schumer also said he would bring up a paycheck fairness bill that Republicans filibustered during the Obama administration and is looking to bring up a House-passed LGBTQ rights measure and a gun measure.

Schumer promised committee action on President Joe Biden’s priority of infrastructure and jobs measures, pledging to pass legislation before the fall “with or without the support of Republican Senators.”

Kate Ackley and Chris Marquette contributed to this report.