Congress in final push to approve contentious legislation before midterms

With less than 50 days until the midterms, Congress is in its final push to approve legislation ahead of Election Day. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to make it harder to overthrow an election while the Senate debated Sen. Joe Manchin's energy permitting proposal. All of this as yet another government shutdown deadline looms. Lisa Desjardins joined Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Less than 50 days out from the closely fought midterm elections, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill to make it harder to overthrow an election. Meanwhile, yet another government shutdown deadline looms.

    And our Lisa Desjardins is here. And she's been following it all.

    Hello, Lisa.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Hello.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, what are we, more than a year-and-a-half since the attack on the Capitol on January the 6th, the contested 2020 election.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congress is now moving on bills that would essentially shore up, strengthen the presidential election process. So bring us up to date.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    We have just seen the first votes in either chamber on this idea of trying to reform that antiquated 1887 Electoral Count Act that is vague and left this kind of opening potentially legally for a President — former President Trump to make the argument that perhaps the election could be overturned inside Congress.

    So let's talk about what exactly the House passed yesterday. Now, in this bill, it would, first of all, clarify that the vice president has no substantive role at all in certifying the final electoral account or the outcome of the election. It would raise the objection standard, so that it would be a third of the members of each chamber vs., right now, it's just one member of each chamber.

    And it would sharply limit the grounds on which any member of either chamber could object. It would be exceedingly narrow cases. And, in fact, the objections we saw in 2020 and in years past from Democrats would no longer be able to stand muster, if you go with this bill.

    What's interesting, these ideas do not reflect any kind of political candidate, party. They're not about former President Trump or President Biden. But we did see a partisan divide here. Only nine Republicans voted in favor of this bill. These are the nine right there some of our viewers may recognize. All nine of them are not returning to the Capitol. They have either retired or they have lost primary races.

    So you see that, for Republicans — and I have this reporting from my sources — President — former President Trump has made this a test of loyalty. Now, what's going to happen next? The Senate has a bipartisan version of this idea. It's a little bit different, but it's close enough.

    I think, after the midterm elections, we will see a final version of this reform move forward in Congress.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Interesting that it is taking so long.

    So, different subject. Government funding runs out September 30. And, lo and behold, here we are again. They haven't come to an agreement. There's an issue standing in the way. It has to do with energy projects, and something called permitting reform, so explain.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right. Lots to cover quickly here.

    Judy, this is about the future of energy in this country and the future of the environment, including how tackles climate change. It's also about Senator Joe Manchin, who says he had a deal, an agreement that his permitting reform idea would make it into the end-of-the-year funding bill that's coming up.

    Here's what he wants to do. His bill, exactly, would have a two-year limit on environmental review. Sometimes, that goes on for many years right now. It would allow for some projects to be declared to have a national interest. It would clear the way for a specific project in West Virginia, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, that he's been trying to get through for a long time.

    Also, it's important, this bill would not just — environmentalists say this would help fossil fuel industry, but it would also help, for example, extend transmission lines, electric lines, which is good for renewable fuel.

    So there's a debate here. We wanted to talk to an activist in West Virginia. And listen to the debate, Senator Manchin's version of why this is needed, and then that activist in West Virginia on why it goes too far.

  • Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV):

    No matter what you want to build, whether it's transmission, pipelines, hydropower dams, more often than not, it takes too long, drives up costs. You can double your cost within a five- to six-, seven-year period, double from what the original costs may be.

  • Autumn Crowe, West Virginia Rivers Coalition:

    For an environmental review to be done thoroughly and adequate, you need to allow time for the scientist to get out in the field and actually assess what's happening on the ground. They need to be able to collect baseline data to ensure that there are no impacts to water resources.

    So you really can't fast-track that environmental review process.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Now, Autumn has said that there are already environmental problems with parts of this pipeline in the state. It runs basically down through West Virginia into Virginia.

    But, really, what this is about is how the federal government handles energy and how it handles the land and environment in this country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, we have got, what, just a week, over a week, barely, to get government funding figured out.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes. Yes. Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What's going to happen?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Senator Manchin has said this must be in the bill. He does not have the votes.

    Republicans say they're not on board, that his bill doesn't meet their standards. Democrats say that it's too conservative. So I think what's going to happen, Judy, as it stands right now, this portion of the bill will likely be removed. We will be seeing where we are on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.

    But, if that does come out, then it does clear the way potentially for a funding bill. We may be talking about money for Ukraine and other issues, dollar amounts, but this looks like Senator Manchin just doesn't have the votes that he needs.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, as we said, we're just days away.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I know you will be watching.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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