In The News
Congressional House Democrats plan to move quickly on one of the first bills of the new Congress, citing the need for federal election standards and other reforms to shore up the foundations of American democracy after a tumultuous post-election period and deadly riot at the Capitol. States have long had disparate and contradictory rules for running elections. But the 2020 election, which featured pandemic-related changes to ease voting and then a flood of lawsuits by former President Donald Trump and his allies, underscored the differences from state to state: Mail-in ballots due on Election Day or just postmarked by then? Absentee voting allowed for all or just voters with an excuse? Same-day or advance-only registration? Democrats, asserting constitutional authority to set the time, place and manner of federal elections, want national rules they say would make voting more uniform, accessible and fair across the nation. The bill would mandate early voting, same-day registration and other long-sought reforms that Republicans reject as federal overreach.... “We have just literally seen an attack on our own democracy,” said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, referring to the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. “I cannot think of a more timely moment to start moving on democracy reform.” The legislation first introduced two years ago, known as the For the People Act, also would give independent commissions the job of drawing congressional districts, require political groups to disclose high-dollar donors, create reporting requirements for online political ads and, in a rearview nod at Trump, obligate presidents to disclose their tax returns.... While Democrats control Congress for the first time in a decade, the measure’s fate depends on whether enough Republicans can be persuaded to reconsider a bill they have repeatedly rejected. If not, Democrats could decide it’s time to take the extraordinary and difficult step of eliminating the Senate filibuster, a procedural tool often used by the minority party to block bills under rules that require 60 votes to advance legislation. Advocates say the bill is the most consequential piece of voting legislation since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. House Democrats vowed two years ago to make the bill a priority, and they reintroduced it this month as H.R. 1, underscoring its importance to the party. “People just want to be able to cast their vote without it being an ordeal,” said Rep. John Sarbanes, a Democrat from Maryland who is the lead sponsor of the House bill. “It’s crazy in America that you still have to navigate an obstacle course to get to the ballot box.” Current plans would have the full House take up the bill as soon as the first week of February. The Senate Rules Committee would then consider a companion bill introduced in the Senate, and a tie vote there could allow it to move out of committee and to the floor as early as next month, said Klobuchar, who is expected to become the committee’s next chair.
The January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol brought into hideous relief the perilous condition of the oldest democracy in the world. But the mob assault on the Capitol was a capstone, the latest in a long line of symptoms that the American system of government was flatlining. Those other symptoms include, but are by no means limited to, racially motivated voter suppression, politically driven gerrymandering, the influence of the super-wealthy and corporations in elections, the flow of untraceable dark money, and the spread of viral disinformation such that Americans can’t even agree on basic facts anymore. To meet this crisis, House and Senate Democrats have introduced a pair of companion bills, both titled the For the People Act, a mega-bill filled with reforms and repairs that would begin the long-overdue work of restoring American democracy. House Democrats first introduced and passed H.R. 1 in 2019, but then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked the bill from passage. Now, with Democrats in control of Congress, H.R. 1 and S. 1, the Senate companion bill, are a top priority for the Democratic Congress and President Biden. Rolling Stone spoke with one of the architects of H.R. 1, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), about what’s in the new version of the bill, how the late Congressman John Lewis shaped H.R. 1’s sweeping set of voting-rights reforms, and the bill’s prospects for passage in Congress.”
After Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections, they introduced and passed the For the People Act as H.R. 1 — the first bill of their majority. It aimed to restore voting rights, reform campaign finance laws and enhance ethics enforcement. Senate Democrats have now done the same after reclaiming the chamber majority with the introduction of S. 1, their version of the For the People Act. These nearly identical bills contain a suite of policies to protect, enhance and expand democracy, according to supporters. These policies would institute national standards for expanded voting rights, create a system for publicly financed congressional elections, ban undisclosed “dark money” and forbid partisan gerrymandering. But there’s more urgency now. American democracy is imperiled like at no other time in modern history; the country is coming off an election in which President Donald Trump refused to accept his loss. With the help of national and local Republicans, he launched legal efforts to overturn or nullify the voting results. These lies culminated in the violent sacking of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 that left five people dead.... Democrats do not intend to waste time. The House bill, introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) on Jan. 4, could get a floor vote as early as Jan. 28, according to a congressional aide. But it may take longer for the bill to move on the Senate side.... There is a lot at stake in whether Democrats can pass the For the People Act quickly. State-level Republicans are already gearing up to pass a raft of new voting restrictions in states including Georgia and Texas, inspired by Trump’s lies about widespread voter fraud in the November election. The states will also begin a new round of redistricting this year, which could cement Republican Party gerrymanders in dozens of states for another 10 years. The first section of the bill would institute national standards for voting in every state to expand access to the ballot. These include mandating automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, at least 15 days of early in-person voting, “no excuse” mail-in voting with postage prepaid, online voter registration and the restoration of voting rights to felons upon release from custody. The bill would also block states from making it harder to vote by banning certain voter purge practices while imposing new penalties for deceptive electioneering. And it would require every state election system to maintain a paper ballot trail, among many other election security provisions. This section was largely written by the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights hero. It was Lewis who first introduced these reforms as the Voter Empowerment Act in each Congress beginning in 2012 until his death in 2020. He incorporated them into the For the People Act in 2019 as a co-author along with the bill’s lead sponsor Sarbanes and many other Democratic lawmakers.
Maryland's members of the U.S. House of Representatives explained their positions, some on the House floor, on impeaching President Donald Trump for a second time.... Maryland's House Democrats urged colleagues to impeach the president, saying there must be consequences for inciting a violent and deadly mob last week at the U.S. Capitol.... "This is a declaration to the world: Do what's necessary to strengthen our democracy," said U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, D-District 3.
The vote to impeach Trump came after Vice President Mike Pence said he would not invoke the 25th Amendment and work with members of the cabinet to remove the president’s powers on the grounds that he is unfit for office. That left the House with no choice but to use the impeachment process, Rep. John Sarbanes said. “Every moment that Donald Trump remains in office, he presents a grave danger to our country,” Sarbanes said in a statement released after the vote. “He must be removed from office — immediately.” In his comments on the floor, Sarbanes emphasized the attack on the Capitol and the harm done to the country’s reputation. “The Capitol dome is a symbol of freedom and democracy, not just for Americans but for the people of the world over,” he said. “The action we take today, this impeachment, is a declaration to the world that when there is an attack on our democracy, whether it comes from without or whether, tragically in this instance, it comes from within, we will respond to that threat and attack and do what’s necessary to strengthen our democracy.”
House Democrats move toward punishing President Trump with a history-making second impeachment, they are also pressing ahead with a parallel effort to try to ensure that Mr. Trump’s four-year record of violating democratic and constitutional norms cannot be repeated. Mr. Trump’s term has revealed enormous gaps between the ideals of American democracy and the reality. Even before he incited a mob to attack the Capitol and the legislative branch of government, he ignored watchdog rulings and constitutional safeguards, pressed to overturn the outcome of an election, and pardoned those who covered for him, all while funneling taxpayer dollars to his family business. In response, lawmakers and pressure groups are pushing for a wide-ranging overhaul of ethics laws, the likes of which have not been seen since the post-Watergate era, hoping to reconstruct and strengthen the guardrails that Mr. Trump plowed through. “If anything, the events at the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday create even more urgency to swiftly reform the structural flaws in our democracy,” said Representative John P. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat who is leading the legislative effort. Among the changes embraced by House Democratic leaders are limits on the president’s pardon powers, mandated release of a president’s tax returns, new enforcement powers for independent agencies and Congress, and firmer prohibitions against financial conflicts of interest in the White House.... Two major pieces of legislation, the Protecting Our Democracy Act and H.R. 1, will be the main vehicles to address the sweep of questionable practices in the Trump era, which culminated in the president’s efforts to reverse the election outcome and provoke a riot to thwart the final electoral vote for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. Last Tuesday, a provision in the Protecting Our Democracy Act, which would shield independent inspectors general from retaliation and help ensure that vacant watchdog slots are filled promptly, was pulled out and passed by the House by a bipartisan voice vote. As keen as Republicans may be to put limits on Mr. Biden’s presidency, they may not be so acquiescent to the Democrats’ broader bills if they are seen as a rebuke to Mr. Trump. But Democrats say they will press hard, especially in the wake of the Capitol’s desecration. “This president has exploited people’s fears in a way that is reckless and hugely damaging to our democracy and our society,” said Representative John P. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat who is leading the legislative effort. Congress, he added, must seek “ways of hardening our democracy against attacks from within and without.”
Much of Maryland’s Congressional delegation began pushing for the removal of President Donald Trump from office Thursday, issuing calls for his impeachment or the use of the 25th Amendment in the wake of a violent occupation of the U.S. Capitol that left four people dead. U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat representing Maryland’s 8th Congressional District, led the charge locally for impeachment, retweeting a message Thursday from Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, announcing they were circulating articles of impeachment along with California Rep. Ted Lieu..... More than half of the state’s 10-member delegation joined officials across the county in calling for the president’s ouster by Thursday evening, a day after a previously unthinkable confrontation at the Capitol. Trump supporters stormed the building after the president encouraged a crowd rallying on the National Mall to oppose Congress’ certification of Electoral College votes. The crowd clashed with limited security on the building’s stairs and people forced their way inside, sending lawmakers into hiding and delaying the certification process by several hours.... Rep. John Sarbanes also favored Trump’s removal. The Democrat representing Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District said the president has “long demonstrated that he is unfit to hold the office.” “His recent statements culminating in yesterday’s thinly cloaked invitation to rioters to descend upon the U.S. Capitol punctuated just how dangerous the situation has become,” Sarbanes said in a statement Thursday. “It is now tragically clear that his continuation in office, even for the short time between now and Jan. 20, poses a threat to the safety and security of the United States.”
Rep. John P. Sarbanes (3rd District) On Twitter: “President Trump has long demonstrated that he is unfit to hold the office of the Presidency, but his recent statements culminating in yesterday’s thinly cloaked invitation to rioters to descend upon the U.S. Capitol punctuated just how dangerous the situation has become. It is now tragically clear that his continuation in office, even for the short time between now and January 20th, poses a threat to the safety and security of the United States. He should be removed – either by invocation of the 25th Amendment or by impeachment.”
Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes said Donald Trump, “has long demonstrated that he is unfit to hold the office of the Presidency, but his recent statements culminating in yesterday’s thinly cloaked invitation to rioters to descend upon the U.S. Capitol punctuated just how dangerous the situation has become.” Sarbanes said that “even for the short time between now and January 20th, he poses a threat to the safety and security of the United States. He should be removed—either by invocation of the 25th Amendment or by impeachment.”