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Lawmakers are weighing legislative fixes to the Electoral Count Act


Former Vice President Mike Pence pushed back on Friday against a false claim that his old boss is still making about 2020.


MIKE PENCE: President Trump is wrong. I had no right to overturn the election.

FADEL: The argument over the vice president's role in counting electoral votes fueled the January 6 insurrection, in part because of ambiguity in an old law, the Electoral Count Act. Now a push to clarify that law is gaining traction. Here's NPR's Claudia Grisales.


CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: A train ride away from the U.S. Senate chamber, a bipartisan group of senators recently met for the first time with key committee leaders on a new mission.

SUSAN COLLINS: We had a fruitful discussion.

JOE MANCHIN: You see everybody really working together, and it's very encouraging.

ROY BLUNT: If it can't be largely bipartisan, probably not going to meet the standard to get it done this year.

GRISALES: That's Republican Susan Collins of Maine, Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Roy Blunt of Missouri. They just broke up from a meeting on the third floor of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Collins is leading the bipartisan effort to reform the Electoral Count Act of 1887 and ramp up protections for U.S. elections.

COLLINS: Every single person in our group is committed to trying to get to a bipartisan solution.

GRISALES: The group is now up to 16 senators - that's nine Republicans and seven Democrats. They met with Blunt - the ranking Republican on the Senate Rules Committee - and its chair, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Election reform falls under their committee's jurisdiction. Here's Klobuchar.

AMY KLOBUCHAR: There's many other things they could do here, and I hope the bill is as strong as possible.

GRISALES: Days earlier, Klobuchar joined forces with Angus King - Maine's independent senator - and Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin to roll out their own draft proposal, including ensuring that a vice president cannot overturn presidential election results. They hope their plan could influence the bipartisan talks.

KLOBUCHAR: We hope it's helpful to them.

GRISALES: Beyond the Electoral Count Act, bipartisan members are also weighing new protections for election workers and safeguarding voting rights and practices. For now, Senate leadership is giving the group room to work on the Electoral Count Act reforms and more.

MITCH MCCONNELL: That particular law is clearly flawed and needs to be updated.

CHUCK SCHUMER: We'll have to see what they come out with.

GRISALES: That's Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. It's an about-face for Schumer, who once blasted the plan, saying it was a distraction to a much larger Democratic voting rights package they hoped to pass. But after that effort failed, he signaled newfound openness.

SCHUMER: I have encouraged our Democratic side to discuss and set up these bipartisan meetings with the Republican side.

GRISALES: In recent weeks, the group has added new members and a flurry of meetings to develop legislative priorities where they can agree. But they'll need to grow significant support in the evenly divided Senate, and Collins cautions it will take time to reach consensus. Still, the work so far has members of the bipartisan group, such as Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, upbeat.

CHRIS MURPHY: This group is full of members of the Senate that have experience in getting bipartisan bills to the floor of the Senate, so maybe this group will be more successful.

GRISALES: Many of these members have negotiated deals on infrastructure in a pandemic relief bill. Now they hope to add U.S. election security reform to their roster of wins.

Claudia Grisales, NPR News, the Capitol.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAY VANILLA'S "ACTUALLY URGENT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.