A key Senate committee is expected to vote as soon as Tuesday to advance Democrats’ sweeping elections overhaul, stamping its approval on a landmark voting rights expansion as Washington tries to blunt ballot restrictions by Republican-controlled statehouses.
The debate and anticipated vote in the Senate Rules Committee are a significant milestone for liberals who have made the bill, H.R. 1, their top legislative priority. If enacted, it would effectively override laws emerging in states like Georgia and Florida that raise barriers to vote with national requirements — like automatic voter registration, no-excuse early and mail-in voting and the re-enfranchisement of former felons — meant to lower them.
But any victory this week may be fleeting. With Republicans digging in to oppose the 800-page bill and even some Democrats expressing reservations about its approach, the path to passage on an evenly divided Senate floor is anything but clear. (The bill already passed the House.)
In the short term, Democratic leaders plan to crank up pressure on Republicans to bring them to the negotiating table. They intend to offer a series of amendments during a committee debate meant to stoke political outrage over Republicans’ attempts to curtail voting, including one by Senator Jon Ossoff of Georgia that would overturn his state’s ban on offering snacks or water to voters stuck in long lines.
“Our Republican colleagues face a critical choice: between working with Democrats in good faith to pass a law to protect our democracy or side with Republican state legislatures that are orchestrating the largest contraction of voting rights in decades,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said Monday.
Democrats will also propose technical and substantive tweaks during Tuesday’s session to address concerns raised primarily by state elections administrators who complained that some voting provisions would be expensive or onerous to implement. For now, though, they do not plan to remove any of the bill’s main pillars, which also include strict new ethics requirements for the White House and Congress, an end to partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, and new disclosure requirements for dark money groups.
Privately, Democrats concede that bipartisan support is unrealistic, given that Republicans in Congress have denounced the bill as a liberal power grab that could make it harder to win elections. They defended their state counterparts, arguing the new laws will clamp down on fraud of the sort former President Donald J. Trump falsely claimed plagued the 2020 contest.
They are prepared to offer dozens of amendments trying to strike or draw attention to provisions they find particularly objectionable. Both parties said amendment debate could push a final vote on the bill into Wednesday morning.
“This is a bad bill, full of bad policies that create problems not solutions,” Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, the committee’s top Republican, planned to say. “We should be focused on making it easier to vote and harder to cheat. Regrettably, the bill before us makes it easier to cheat and harder to detect.”
Liberal activists are putting intense pressure on Democrats to change Senate rules to allow it to pass with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes currently required to break a filibuster. Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, has rejected that approach so far. He has called for narrower legislation focused on expanding early voting and ballot security, and insists he will not vote to change Senate rules around the filibuster.
Democratic senators plan to meet privately Thursday afternoon to debate how to move forward, according to two Democratic officials. Proponents of the bill fear that if Congress does not act quickly, there will not be time to implement the changes before 2022.
At least some senators appear ready to make wholesale changes if necessary to win the support of Mr. Manchin and other hesitant Democrats. One of them, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, said the stakes were “existential” if Democrats failed.
“If we can’t unify behind it, I think there are going to be some tough decisions to maybe set pieces of it aside,” Mr. Kaine said in an interview.