Conservative groups mobilize against Democrats' sweeping election bill, targeting moderate senators

Conservatives opposed to major elections bill see pressuring moderate Dems reluctant to steamroll filibuster as best strategy

Several conservative groups are redoubling their efforts against the sweeping elections bill Democrats are trying to force through Congress – particularly focusing on states with Democratic senators who may be reluctant to end the legislative filibuster – including through one nearly $2 million ad campaign launched Tuesday.

"Yesterday's markup in the Senate Rules gave the American people an inflection point in this debate around election integrity laws," Jessica Anderson, the executive director of the conservative Heritage Action, said in a virtual press conference on Wednesday.

"You saw the progressive left jamming very unpopular bills and provisions that are out of touch with the American people," she continued. "And then you contrast that with Republicans on the committee, everyone from Sen. Blunt to Cruz, McConnell, all talking about ways to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat."

The bill, given the number S. 1 in the Senate, would vastly expand the federal government's role in elections nationwide. This includes by requiring states to offer drop boxes for 45 days before an election, banning states from requiring photo ID to vote, raising barriers for states to clear voter rolls and restructuring the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) from a six-member body to a five-member body.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks at a Senate Rules Committee markup to argue against the For the People Act, which would expand access to voting and other voting reforms, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Heritage Action Executive Director Jessica Anderson praised McConnell and other Republican senators for their work during the markup. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks at a Senate Rules Committee markup to argue against the For the People Act, which would expand access to voting and other voting reforms, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Heritage Action Executive Director Jessica Anderson praised McConnell and other Republican senators for their work during the markup. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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Democrats say the bill aims to ensure all Americans have equal access to the polls in light of the 2020 election and new state election security laws. Republicans point out Democrats have been pushing this bill for years and praise the new election laws being put in place by many states. 

"Republicans across the country know they’re failing to connect with and deliver for the American people, so they’ve decided their winning playbook centers on making it harder for voters to make their voices heard," Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison told Fox News. "Voting is our most sacred right, but Republicans are telling Americans their voices don’t matter with new restrictions rooted in their desire to impose Jim Crow 2.0 in states across the country. Every day, passage of the For the People Act becomes more critical."

"The hysterical attacks that the political left has thrown at a new election law in Georgia, for example, have been thoroughly debunked by fact-checkers," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said at Tuesday's markup. "For multiple years now, Democrats have called this sweeping bill their top priority… The substance of the legislation has hardly changed. But the supposed rationales for it have changed constantly."

Heritage Action announced earlier this year that it would spend at least $10 million on efforts to tighten election security laws in eight swing states, Fox News first reported. 

Anderson said the group will refocus that effort to television ads to run through the summer in swing states including West Virginia, Arizona, Montana and New Hampshire. 

Those states are strategically important in the fight over Democrats' election bill, titled the For the People Act, because no Republicans have indicated that they support it. Therefore, Democrats would need to get rid of the Senate filibuster in order to pass it. And the Democratic senators from those states, Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., in particular, are considered the least likely to endorse such a drastic move. Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., is also considered a moderate and hasn't committed one way or another in keeping or eliminating the filibuster. 

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Manchin has said there are no circumstances in which he would support removing the filibuster and suggested that any election legislation be broken up into smaller pieces. He is also the only Democratic senator who is not a cosponsor of S. 1. 

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks to members of the media prior to his meeting with CIA Director Nominee Gina Haspel, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, May 7, 2018. Manchin is a frequent target of conservative groups opposed to S. 1 and H.R. 1 because of his opposition to ending the Senate filibuster. Democrats almost certainly could not pass their sweeping election reform package without getting rid of the procedural hurdle.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks to members of the media prior to his meeting with CIA Director Nominee Gina Haspel, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, May 7, 2018. Manchin is a frequent target of conservative groups opposed to S. 1 and H.R. 1 because of his opposition to ending the Senate filibuster. Democrats almost certainly could not pass their sweeping election reform package without getting rid of the procedural hurdle. (AP/File)

Anderson also said Heritage is activating its volunteers with a major focus on West Virginia.

"We have mobilized our two million grassroots activists across the country to drive calls, letters to the editor, actual meetings with members as well as rallies and events in Manchin's backyard, frankly," she said, "and then in Arizona looking at Sinema and Kelly."

Another right-leaning group, One Nation, which is associated with the conservative American Crossroads, announced Tuesday that it is spending $1.85 million over the course of about a week to place television and radio ads in Arizona, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Nevada and Montana. 

"We need safe and secure elections. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer are pushing legislation to undermine West Virginia's election laws, putting partisan bureaucrats in charge" a television spot running in West Virginia says. 

Meanwhile, Election Transparency Initiative Chairman Ken Cuccinelli said his group is spending money in "multi-hundred thousand dollar tranches" in West Virginia, New Hampshire and other states, including via digital and radio ads. An ad buy from the group earlier this month targeted Manchin, Sinema and Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester. 

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S. 1 has elicited passionate responses from both aides of the aisle, all the way up to the highest-ranking members of each party. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and McConnell tangled over the bill Tuesday in a rare appearance for both of them in a Senate Rules and Administration Committee markup of the bill. They also both appeared at a hearing on it earlier this year. 

Sen. Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz., applauds during the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 4, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Sinema, along with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is one of the few Democrats who supports keeping the legislative filibuster in place.  (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Sen. Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz., applauds during the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 4, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Sinema, along with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is one of the few Democrats who supports keeping the legislative filibuster in place.  (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

"In the wake of the 2020 elections.... former President Trump told a lie, a big lie, that the election was stolen... poisoning faith in our democracy and fomenting an armed insurrection at the Capitol," Schumer said Tuesday. 

He continued to say that GOP state legislatures have "seized" on Trump's claims to pass laws restricting ballot access because they "no longer want to let the voters pick their politicians. They want to let the politicians pick their voters."

"My God, why aren't my Republican colleagues outraged by this?" Schumer asked.

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"In 2016, American voters made a presidential decision that Democrats did not like. This legislation was cooked up and presented as a massive overhaul, an emergency repair job for a broken democracy," McConnell replied to Schumer. "Last autumn, voters made a decision that Democrats liked better. Suddenly their side stopped calling our democracy broken. Now our democracy was beyond reproach. But curiously enough, Democrats still want the exact same sweeping bill, just as desperately."

He continued to slam S. 1's provisions, saying that "popular safeguards like voter I.D. would be neutered. Ludicrous practices like ballot harvesting would be made mandatory, coast to coast."