In The News

March 4, 2021

On Wednesday night, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed H.R. 1, the For the People Act, the most sweeping set of democratic reforms since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and an effort to fortify our democratic system after the turbulence of the past six months. H.R. 1’s passage sets up a clash in the U.S. Senate where the bill stands little chance of passage without amending or removing the filibuster, an anti-democratic relic of the Jim Crow era that gives a minority of senators the power to block most legislation. Unless Senate Democrats reform the filibuster, H.R. 1 is dead on arrival, and the best hope for repairing and improving our democracy dies with it. At the same time, Republican lawmakers in state capitals across the nation are introducing hundreds of bills to restrict the right to vote, using former President Donald Trump’s lie about a stolen election as a rallying cry and as political cover. This wave of legislation, experts say, will disproportionately restrict access to the ballot box for young, black, and brown voters — the most reliable voting blocs for the Democratic Party.... The stakes of this moment aren’t lost on those leading the push for reform. “This is not a matter of ‘we can do it now or later,’” Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), one of the architects of H.R. 1, tells Rolling Stone. “If we don’t do it now, there may not be a later....” Rep. John Sarbanes says it’s no coincidence that for two sessions in a row House Democrats chose the For the People Act as their symbolic first bill: H.R. 1.... “The legislation is much the same as it was [in 2019] because we built it pretty carefully to respond to the grievances we heard from people out there,” Sarbanes says. But after the January 6th attack and the attempt to thwart the 2020 election outcome, he adds, “I think the appetite in the country for this kind of change is even broader and deeper than it was two years ago.” In 2019, every single House Democrat voted in favor of H.R. 1; the same happened again on Wednesday evening. This time, however, the commander-in-chief is also a supporter of the bill, with the Biden administration saying in a statement that H.R. 1 was “urgently needed.” But yet again, H.R. 1 faces a likely demise in the Senate. With only 50 members, Senate Democrats lack the votes to overcome a filibuster of any non-budget-related bills — and their Republican counterparts have made plenty clear they plan to filibuster H.R. 1 to death.... None of those reforms can happen with the filibuster intact. Rep. Sarbanes, the H.R. 1 architect, told me he understands this. Democrats, he says, should look at “every possible consideration for how we can get this thing over the finish line.” “I think the public wants to see this,” he told me. “And if we don’t deliver that, what are we saying to people across the country who feel so desperate right now? This is a moment of truth for lawmakers and our democracy.”

March 4, 2021

The U.S. House passed sweeping voting rights, redistricting, campaign finance and ethics reform, late Wednesday night along party lines in a 220 to 210 vote, but the historic package will face an uphill battle in the Senate as no Republicans currently support the bill. Even though Democrats control Congress and the White House, their slim majority in a 50-50 Senate is not enough to enact into law a massive package that tackles dark money in campaigns, voter suppression and election security that requires 60 votes rather than a simple majority. The push to end or reform the Senate filibuster is growing among Democrats who are aiming to get the package on President Joe Biden’s desk in the hopes that some of those changes can be enacted before midterm and gubernatorial races in 2022. “I’m not optimistic on the Senate side,” Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), the architect of the bill said during a Tuesday press conference, arguing that with the filibuster in place it’s unlikely that 10 Senate Republicans would vote on the bill. However, Sarbanes said he’s optimistic that Senate Democrats can find a way around the filibuster and pass the bill with a simple majority. “I will say that I’m attracted to the argument that you’re hearing increasingly made, which is that when it comes to something as fundamental as restoring majority rule in America, which is, I think, what H.R. 1 is seeking to do, it would be jarring and incongruous to subject that reform to a supermajority requirement,” he said.... The package aims to increase voter turnout by restoring voting rights to those with a felony record, expanding early voting and same-day voter registration, getting rid of ID requirements and requiring states to set up automatic voter registration for eligible voters for federal elections. The Biden administration is supportive of the bill. “In the wake of an unprecedented assault on our democracy, a never before seen effort to ignore, undermine, and undo the will of the people, and a newly aggressive attack on voting rights taking place right now all across the country, this landmark legislation is urgently needed to protect the right to vote and the integrity of our elections, and to repair and strengthen American democracy,” the administration said in a statement....  Sarbanes also argued that the package would help restore faith in democracy for Americans after baseless conspiracy theories of voter fraud and election irregularities were spread by the former president and many Republicans. Multiple reports from the Department of Justice and FBI found that last year’s elections were secure and there was no evidence of voter fraud. “This is not controversial,” Sarbanes said about the bill. “We’re just trying to create some baseline, universal standards so people can get to the ballot box....” A section of the bill sets up a federal public financing program for people running for Congress, which uses money from criminal and civil penalties and settlements from corporations, corporate officers or tax code violators in the top income brackets, to match small donations.... Sarbanes said this program was included in the bill in the hopes that it allows people from different financial backgrounds to run for office.

March 4, 2021

The House of Representatives passed two sweeping pieces of legislation late Wednesday night.... The For the People Act, which would establish Election Day as a federal holiday, automatic voter registration, allow for widespread early voting and voting-by-mail, as well as reforming campaign finance.  The final vote on the For the People Act passed in a 220-210, with 1 Democrat breaking with the caucus to vote with Republicans against the measure. "This is something that is enormously popular among the American people," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said earlier Wednesday. "The American people want to reduce the role of big, dark, special interest money in politics, which is preventing so many good things from happening. The people want to see an end to voter suppression." President Joe Biden praised the House for passing the measure, one of his key priorities, and pledged to work with Congress "to refine and advance this important bill." "In the wake of an unprecedented assault on our democracy; a coordinated attempt to ignore, undermine, and undo the will of the American people never before seen in our history; and a new wave of aggressive attacks on voting rights taking place in states across the country, I applaud Speaker Pelosi and the House of Representatives for passing H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2021," Biden said in a statement Thursday. "The right to vote is sacred and fundamental — it is the right from which all of our other rights as Americans spring," Biden added. "This landmark legislation is urgently needed to protect that right, to safeguard the integrity of our elections, and to repair and strengthen our democracy." "It will rein in the outrageous gerrymandering that distorts our democracy," the president went on to say. "It will empower the Justice Department to crack down on laws that curtail voting rights along racial lines. It will reform our campaign finance system to amplify the voices of the people — not the powerful. And it will modernize and secure our future elections against all manner of threats."

March 4, 2021

A stunning 147 Republicans in Congress voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election based on lies about widespread voter fraud ― lies that, by lawmakers’ own admission, incited supporters of then-President Donald Trump to violently storm the U.S. Capitol in January. The ultimately unsuccessful effort sought to toss out electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania, potentially disenfranchising millions of Americans. Now, many of those same Republican lawmakers are up in arms about a Democratic bill on voting and campaign finance reform that passed by a near party-line vote in the House of Representatives on Wednesday. The legislation, called the For The People Act, would effectively nullify the new wave of voter restrictions that Republicans are pushing at the state level. It faces exceedingly difficult odds of passage in the Senate. Among other provisions, the bill mandates that states provide no-excuse absentee voting, at least 15 days of early voting and provisional ballots; requires that states establish automatic voter registration; and restores voting rights to people convicted of felonies upon release from prison in states that ban them from voting. In essence, it would maintain and expand voter accommodations that some states made during the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans are objecting to the House bill on the grounds that it would force states to adopt procedures decreed by the federal government, arguing that states should be left free to decide how they run elections. This is a principle that many Republicans abandoned in January when they sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election because they opposed state laws governing that election, which were passed in some cases by GOP-controlled state legislatures. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), one of those 147 Republicans who voted to toss the Electoral College results, claimed that the Democratic bill would “put a thumb on the scale of every election in America.” Sen. John Kennedy (La.), one of seven GOP senators who voted to throw out the election results, said the bill “takes all the things that went wrong in our election of Nov. 3 and makes them the law.” “Basically, Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi just wants to federalize elections. She wants to federalize everything,” Kennedy told HuffPost. But just two months ago, it was Republicans in Congress arguing that the federal government should interpret state laws in ways that would help Trump overturn the results of the 2020 election he lost.... When Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) objected to the election results from Arizona, he did not mention any specifics about Arizona’s election laws. He instead proposed the creation of a special electoral commission made up of federal officials to investigate the six states where Trump falsely claimed fraud had cost him the election. Yet on Thursday, Cruz chided House Democrats for displaying “arrogance” in advancing a bill that would exert federal standards over state election systems and, he charged, create opportunities for voter fraud.  “Today’s Democratic Party will do anything in pursuit of political power,” Cruz told HuffPost. To Democrats, however, all this GOP criticism of the House election bill sounds disingenuous given the events of Jan. 6, when Republicans tried to erase the results of elections administered by the states even after an armed mob invaded the U.S. Capitol in hopes of forcing them to do so. “I think that their conduct in the wake of the election disqualifies them from being experts or even responsible commentators on what democracy in America should look like,” said Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), the lead sponsor of the House bill. “They have spent the last month complaining about these state laws and how we need to have change,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), one of the lead sponsors of the corresponding Senate bill. “They want to have commissions look at things. Well, here’s your chance, man.”

March 3, 2021

The House has once again passed a bill aimed at voter reform and campaign finance overhaul. The Wednesday night vote was 220-210. Democrats reintroduced the bill in January, after passing it in 2019, banking on the party's narrow majority in the Senate to get it passed through both chambers this cycle. The bill seeks to "to expand Americans' access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and implement other anti-corruption measures for the purpose of fortifying our democracy, and for other purposes." The bill's language calls for a complete overhaul of the current system, which varies widely by state and which critics say promote unfair barriers to voting.... The 2021 "For the People Act" is a reboot of a 2019 bill of the same name. At the time, the House passed the bill along party lines, but it never had a chance to move forward in the Senate, which was controlled then by Republicans. In addition to revamping voting laws, the bill also takes aim at "dark money" in politics by requiring organizations to disclose large donors and creates a matching system for small donations. "Our democracy is in a state of deep disrepair. During the 2020 election, Americans had to overcome rampant voter suppression, gerrymandering and a torrent of special interest dark money just to exercise their right to vote. Across the country, people of all political persuasions – including Democrats, Independents and Republicans – are profoundly frustrated with the chaos, corruption and inaction that plague much of our politics," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Administration Chair Zoe Lofgren and Rep. John Sarbanes said in a joint statement earlier this year. "That's why House Democrats are doubling down on our longstanding commitment to advance transformational anti-corruption and clean election reforms by again passing H.R. 1, the For the People Act."

March 3, 2021

House Democrats have passed HR 1, their signature anti-corruption and voting rights reform bill, for the second time in two years. But even though their party now holds the majority in the Senate, the bill has a tough road ahead of it. As the numeral suggests, HR 1 and its Senate component S 1 — also known as the For the People Act — are Democrats’ first legislative priority. The sweeping democracy reform bill has been top of the list since House Democrats first took back the majority in the 2018 midterms and immediately set out to expand voting rights and curb the influence of money in politics. There’s a lot of ground covered in its nearly 800 pages, but some of its key points are creating a national system for automatic voter registration, putting in transparency requirements for political advertising, and instituting nonpartisan redistricting commissions to end partisan gerrymandering. Polling back in 2019 and now shows the bill is broadly popular with the public, but it went nowhere in the Republican-led Senate in 2019. Even with the current slim Democratic control (a 50-50 Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker), it will be incredibly difficult to pass with the required 60 votes to skirt the Senate filibuster. The politics are even tighter this time around; some moderate House Democrats who voted for the bill before pushed more aggressively for changes in the current bill. The bill’s future in the Senate is also untested, as then-Majority Leader McConnell never allowed it to come to the floor in 2019. “If Mitch McConnell is not willing to provide 10 Republicans to support this landmark reform, I think Democrats are going to step back and reevaluate the situation,” Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), the author of HR 1, told Vox in a recent interview. “There’s all manner of ways you could redesign the filibuster so [the bill] would have a path forward....” “If we can get this done and into law in the next few months, there will be enough time to implement many of these things in time for the 2022 midterm election, including how reforming how this redistricting is done,” Sarbanes said.

March 3, 2021

House Democrats pushed through a sweeping expansion of federal voting rights on Wednesday over unified Republican opposition, opening a new front in a raging national debate about elections aimed at countering G.O.P. attempts to clamp down on ballot access. The bill, adopted 220 to 210 mostly along party lines, would constitute the most significant enhancement of federal voting protections since the 1960s if it became law. It aims to impose new national requirements weakening restrictive state voter ID laws, mandate automatic voter registration, expand early and mail-in voting, make it harder to purge voter rolls and restore voting rights to former felons — changes that studies suggest would increase voter participation, especially by racial minorities. The vote was the latest bid by Democrats to beat back Republican efforts in statehouses across the country to enact new barriers to voting that would consolidate power for the Republican Party amid false claims of rampant election fraud heralded by former President Donald J. Trump and many of his allies in Congress.... “You can win on the basis of your ideas and the programs you put forward, which is what we choose to do,” said Representative John Sarbanes, Democrat of Maryland and a leading author of the bill. “Or you can try to win by suppressing the vote, drawing unfair districts across the country and using big money to spread disinformation.”

March 3, 2021

The House on Wednesday passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws. The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing America's voting systems. The House measure passed 220-210, with one Democrat joining all Republicans in voting against it. The bill would also strengthen oversight of political lobbying and campaign finance by preventing members of Congress from serving on corporate boards and requiring presidents to release their tax returns. Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., first introduced the legislation, also known as H.R. 1, in 2019, when it passed the House but it stalled in the Senate, which was controlled by Republicans at the time. He reintroduced the act in January. "The 2020 election underscored the need for comprehensive, structural democracy reform. Americans across the country were forced to overcome rampant voter suppression, gerrymandering and a torrent of special-interest dark money just to exercise their vote and their voice in our democracy," Sarbanes said in a statement.... The White House Office of Management and Budget released a statement Monday in support of the bill, which would also commit to restore the Voting Rights Act, combat voter purging and reform redistricting. President Joe Biden said in a statement Thursday that he would work with Congress to refine and advance the bill and applauded its passage following the events leading up to the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol and state-level efforts to pass restrictive voting laws. "The right to vote is sacred and fundamental — it is the right from which all of our other rights as Americans spring," Biden said in touting the bill's provisions. "This landmark legislation is urgently needed to protect that right, to safeguard the integrity of our elections, and to repair and strengthen our democracy." However, the filibuster may stand in the way of the bill's passage in the Senate.

March 3, 2021

With a supercharged assault on voting rights that includes introducing more than 250 new laws aimed at restricting voting in 43 states, the Republican Party this year has initiated a nationwide crusade against the foundation of American democracy. This week, House Democrats in Washington launched a counteroffensive that will soon move to the Senate, where this critical fight will likely lead to an all-out battle over how that chamber conducts its business. On Wednesday, the House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on—and presumably pass—HR 1, dubbed the For the People Act, the most significant democracy reform bill since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The bill would go a long way toward thwarting the new GOP voter-suppression efforts by enacting a wide range of pro-voter measures for federal elections. This includes nationwide automatic and Election Day registration; two weeks of early voting in every state; the expansion of mail-in voting; the restoration of voting rights to people convicted of a felony who have served their time; restrictions on discriminatory voter-ID laws and voter purges; and the creation of independent redistricting commissions for House districts to prevent extreme gerrymandering. The bill also cracks down on dark money by implementing public financing for congressional campaigns, and it establishes new ethics rules for federal officeholders.... After being passed in the House on a party-line vote, the measure is expected to be blocked once again by Republicans in the Senate—that is, unless Senate Democrats eliminate the filibuster, which would require a supermajority of 60 votes for passage. In the 50–50 divided Senate, it is highly improbable that the Democrats will be able to win over 10 GOP votes to defeat a Republican filibuster. So a Senate clash over HR 1 is likely to become a key front in the ongoing battle over the Senate filibuster. And Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a chief sponsor of the voting rights legislation, tells me she supports killing the filibuster to pass this legislation. “I would get rid of the filibuster,” Klobuchar says. “I have favored filibuster reform for a long time and now especially for this critical election bill....” It’s become clear since the November election that Republicans are doubling down on anti-democratic policies, such as voter suppression and gerrymandering, to consolidate their power at the state level and increase their odds of winning back control of Washington in 2022 and 2024. “Much of what HR 1 is trying to do is restore majority rule in America,” says Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), the chief House sponsor of HR 1. “We’ve seen an effort to narrow participation in the political arena through voter suppression, partisan gerrymandering, the use of dark money. You put that together and that creates minority rule in America, which producers a lot of anger and frustration. That makes it easier for extreme elements to access the political space without accountability.” 

 

March 3, 2021

House Democrats on Wednesday night approved a sweeping voting rights and government ethics bill that seeks to expand voting access and make campaign finance more transparent. The nearly 800-page bill, which would overhaul key areas of elections administration, faces steeper odds in the closely divided Senate. “It establishes all the best practices and standards that we want to see when it comes to how people register and vote in America,” Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland, the chief sponsor of the bill known as H.R. 1, said during a conference call Tuesday. “And we have the opportunity to get it done.” The legislation is advancing as Republicans in statehouses around the country are pushing for dozens of new restrictions on voting after record turnout in the 2020 election, which federal officials in President Donald Trump’s administration called “the most secure in American history.” The turnout handed Democrats control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, and helped Republicans expand their majorities in statehouses. It also spurred Republicans, led by Trump, to repeatedly make false claims about a rigged election and call for new restrictions on early and absentee voting. The House passed a similar voting rights bill in 2019. Unlike then, Democrats now control the evenly split Senate, but the legislation still faces difficult odds. Sarbanes acknowledged that the barriers ahead in the Senate “are tricky.” Some Democrats are pushing for an end to the filibuster rule that requires a 60-vote majority for most legislation, but there does not appear to be enough support within the party at this time. Sarbanes said there is a “powerful” sense that the opportunity to enact such expansive voting protections may not be there in the future. “The general environment and atmosphere that this change is coming forward in, this bill is being presented in, increases the chances that we can get it over the finish line,” he said. “Exactly how that gets done, I’m not going to pre-judge. But I think it can happen, and I think it can happen early enough in this election cycle that many of these important changes can be implemented in time for the 2022 midterms.” The bill has several provisions aimed at standardizing rules across states to make it easier to vote, including expanding early and absentee voting. The legislation would allow for online and same-day voter registration and would make voter registration automatic when a person interacts with a government agency like a department of motor vehicles, unless they opt out. The bill would also require super PACs and other organizations that spend money in elections or judicial nominations to disclose more information about donors who give more than $10,000 during an election cycle.

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