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Soon to take majority, Senate Democrats introduce voting reform bill

Hearings start for Biden's cabinet nominees
Hearings start for Biden's cabinet nominees 11:44

Senate Democrats announced on Tuesday that the first major legislation they will aim to pass once they take the majority will be a voting and elections reform bill that languished in the Senate after being passed in the House two years ago. Democrats will have the slimmest possible majority once three new senators are sworn in this week, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to cast any tiebreaking vote in the evenly split Senate.

"This legislation will bring about long-needed democracy reforms that will ensure that government is finally able to respond to the pressing needs of the American people. Anyone who believes in a government by the people and for the people should support this important legislation," said incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a statement.

The act includes voting reforms intended to block recent state laws which have made voting more difficult with provisions allowing online voter registration and making it illegal to prevent anyone from registering to vote. It would also include campaign finance and ethics reforms. But it also includes some controversial provisions, such as expressing support for D.C. statehood and overturning the Supreme Court decision Citizens United on campaign finance.

A version of the act passed in the Democratic-controlled House in 2019, but then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to bring it to the floor in the Senate. The House, with a slimmer Democratic majority after November, has again introduced a version of the bill in the new Congress.

Democrats will have a 50-50 majority in the Senate, meaning that if there is no Republican support for the bill, all 50 Democrats would need to vote in favor of the bill, as well as Harris. Democratic Senators-elect Jon Ossoff, Raphael Warnock and Alex Padilla are expected to be sworn in after the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden this week.

However, if the bill does not gain sufficient support from Republicans, it could be subject to a filibuster, which would prevent it from even receiving a vote on the floor. Most legislation requires 60 votes to end debate. If Democrats aren't able to attract support from at least ten Republicans, they would not be able to end debate and bring the bill to a vote. Democrats are considering eliminating the filibuster, which would allow them to pass more progressive initiatives without Republican help.

Although Mr. Biden has expressed interest in reestablishing bipartisan relationships between his White House and Republican lawmakers, some Democrats in Congress worry that the powerful GOP minorities will be unwilling to cooperate with Democratic priorities.

"Obviously there is a lot of suspicion and doubt on our side given history of McConnell in the minority under Obama," Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal told reporters on Tuesday. McConnell strongly opposed former President Obama's priorities when he was in office, and frequently blocked his legislation and nominees after taking the majority in 2015.

Schumer and McConnell are expected to meet on Tuesday to discuss their power-sharing arrangement, a GOP source familiar with the conversation confirmed to CBS News.

Alan He contributed to this report.

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