Lawmakers skeptical of enacting Trump-backed bill in Nebraska that could give him edge over Biden

The proposal would affect how Electoral College votes are won.

April 3, 2024, 4:08 PM

Multiple key lawmakers in Nebraska are pouring cold water on the prospect of passing a long gestating bill newly endorsed by former President Donald Trump and Gov. Jim Pillen that would change the state's system of awarding Electoral College votes.

The proposed change, to a winner-take-all model, could have major implications for both Trump's and President Joe Biden's paths to victory in the 2024 election, observers say.

Nebraska currently awards three of its five Electoral College votes based on the results of its three congressional districts; the other two votes are awarded based on whomever wins the state overall.

In 2020, Biden won one of those districts and earned one Electoral College vote while Trump got the other four.

Candidates need at least 270 Electoral College votes to win the presidency.

Analysts say that there are various scenarios in November's general election where Biden may need that singular vote to make it to 270 and beat Trump.

Likewise, without that possibility, it could be easier for Trump to keep Biden to no more than 269 Electoral College votes -- which would mean Biden loses.

The proposed bill would reapportion the three electors awarded to the winner of each of the state's three congressional districts, instead awarding all five of them to the overall victor of the state, which leans Republican.

But despite the last-minute campaign by Pillen and national Republicans to codify the change, the legislation -- initially introduced 16 months ago by state Sen. Loren Lippincott, a Republican -- faces a severe time crunch to reach the governor's desk.

PHOTO: Gov. Jim Pillen speaks during the the Congressional statue dedication and unveiling ceremony in honor of author Willa Cather in Statuary Hall of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., June 7, 2023.
Gov. Jim Pillen speaks during the the Congressional statue dedication and unveiling ceremony in honor of author Willa Cather in Statuary Hall of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., June 7, 2023.
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

As of Wednesday, Nebraska's Legislature, whose members are known as senators, is already 54 days into its 60-day legislative calendar and will adjourn for the year on April 18, with no hearings for the bill currently scheduled.

Speaking on Wednesday to The Lincoln Journal Star, Lippincott said that the bill is "probably stalled" in the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, where it has lingered since it was first introduced in January 2023.

The last hearing on it was in March 2023.

In order for the proposal to become law, it must pass through committee and at least two rounds of floor debate before advancing to a final vote.

Lippincott said in a statement to ABC News, in part: "My staff and I are doing everything we can to seek options for getting this to the finish line. However, the harsh reality of a 2-day time frame is limiting."

"I stand in support of this bill and will continue to fight for this in the Nebraska Legislature," he said.

Sen. Tom Brewer, chair of the committee, told the Journal Star that he was "blindsided" by Trump and Pillen's calls to pass the legislation.

"It's past the 11th hour with this. We just don't have a way of making it fit," Brewer said, a sentiment echoed by Republican Speaker of the Legislature Sen. John Arch, who told the Journal Star he does not see a path for the bill either.

Arch conceded to ABC News in a statement that the proposal "remains in committee" and that he is unable to schedule a vote on a bill in committee.

Sen. Megan Hunt, an independent in the chamber who has supported Biden, wrote in a post on X that "legislatively there's just no time" to pass it.

"Nothing to worry about this year," she wrote.

Even if the bill were to leave committee or see its provisions added onto another bill with enough support to reach Pillen's desk before lawmakers adjourn this month, Lippincott suggested to the Journal Star that the proposal would face almost certain death in the face of a filibuster from Democrats.

"I have personally checked the body for 33 votes," Lippincott told the paper, referring to the number of votes needed for legislation to enter cloture and avoid a filibuster. "Don't have 33 votes."

Pillen is separately able to call for a special session of the Legislature to convene to take up the legislation if it does not pass. He has not yet signaled such an option is on the table.

A move by one member of the legislature could potentially change the calculus for Nebraska Republicans. State Sen. Mike McDonnell, an anti-abortion Democrat who was censured by the party this year, announced on Wednesday afternoon that he was switching parties, changing his affiliation to Republican.

While that, in theory, would give Senate Republicans the requisite number of votes to break a filibuster, McDonnell also said on Wednesday that he would not support changing the electoral vote structure in Nebraska.

"This has already been calculated into our vote count," Lippincott's office told ABC News.

Brewer, McDonnell and Pillen's offices have not yet responded to requests for comment.