In The News

March 10, 2021

A $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that Congress passed Wednesday contains an “unprecedented” level of funding for Baltimore and other Maryland cities and counties that have been clamoring for help after seeing revenues plunge because of the coronavirus pandemic, state lawmakers said.... The American Rescue Plan, which the House approved 220-211 Wednesday, was Democratic President Joe Biden’s first major initiative since taking office Jan. 20. Biden had vowed to “set aside the politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation.” He planned to sign the bill Friday.... The bill expands child tax and Earned Income Tax Credits, sends many Americans direct payments, extends a $300 weekly unemployment supplemental benefit and provides new support for restaurants and other small business. Rep. John Sarbanes, a Baltimore County Democrat, said the measure “will help put money in people’s pockets, keep roofs over heads, place food on kitchen tables, bring millions of children out of poverty, extend unemployment benefits to laid-off workers, support small businesses, increase access to affordable health insurance, expand child care and allow our schools to safely reopen....” Baltimore will get about $670 million in direct support, while the state will independently receive about $4 billion, according to Cardin and Van Hollen. Separately, Maryland counties will share $1.1 billion in aid, and state municipalities will split a similar sum.... The package will allow families a larger child tax credit, a change expected to lift 52,000 Maryland children out of poverty, according to estimates by the Maryland senators and their staffs.

March 10, 2021

This past weekend marked the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, when voting rights marchers were brutally assaulted by law enforcement officers while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Broadcast on national television, images of state troopers attacking peaceful demonstrators, including John Lewis, a civil rights icon who went on to become a long-serving Democratic congressman from Georgia, shifted public opinion and galvanized Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). This year's commemoration — the first since Lewis's death last year from cancer — took place as many state legislatures are ramping up an assault on voting rights.... As Republican state lawmakers scramble to limit voting, congressional Democrats and voting rights advocates are going on the offensive to protect and expand access to the ballot box. Last week the U.S. House passed the For the People Act (H.R. 1), which Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice, called "the most significant democracy reform legislation in at least half a century" and "the next great civil rights bill."  It passed the chamber despite unanimous Republican opposition. Sponsored by Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland, H.R. 1 includes provisions to strengthen the VRA, expand voting by mail, overhaul the campaign finance system by requiring full disclosure of donors and contributions, increase election security by modernizing state election systems, end gerrymandering, and make the democratic process more inclusive. "We're not pursuing this reform against the backdrop of the status quo," Sarbanes told ABC News. "We're pursuing it against the prospect that the Republicans will take things in the wrong direction, and in a significant way." Senate Democrats plan to move the bill forward, but their Republican colleagues have committed to fight with every tool available — including the filibuster, which was also used by Southern segregationists trying to block multiple civil rights laws in the 1950s and 1960s. Consequently, Democrats are now discussing filibuster reforms, with even conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia saying he's open to some changes.

March 8, 2021

This state has been using phony fears of voter fraud for years to mask official efforts to limit voting, especially among people of color. Other states seem eager to catch up. Some efforts are more brazen than others. In Georgia, for example, Trump devotees are seeking to outlaw Sunday voting, knowing that voting on Sunday after church is an African American tradition.... Democrats in Texas and other states have filed bills to offset some of these voter restrictions — but chances they will pass, especially here in Texas, are slim. The better remedy may well be to count on the feds. The U.S. House passed H.R. 1, also known as the “For the People Act,” sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md. Among other provisions, H.R. 1 would restore many of the protections included in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, protections gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013.... Those sweeping changes deserve robust debate in the Senate — and senators must be ready to look for compromise. The alternative is to let the Trump-inspired hordes in statehouses across the country, including our own in Austin, make war on the bedrock right that makes America the nation it is: the right to show up, stare down intimidation, and choose our own leaders. That’s exactly what more than 160 million Americans did four months ago. The losers can’t be allowed to change the rules now that they have seen what happens when American voters are inspired to show up and cast ballots.

March 5, 2021

CNN's Don Lemon speaks to Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) about HR 1, a sweeping government, ethics and election bill that, among other things, would counter state-level Republican efforts to restrict voting access, which was just passed in the Democratic-led House.

CNN's Don Lemon and Congressman Sarbanes Video Player

March 5, 2021

There has always something essentially quixotic in Rep. John Sarbanes’ “For The People Act,” its title as idealistic as anything found on its nearly 800 pages of content. In sum, what H.R.1 attempts to do is fix much of what is broken in this nation’s election system, chiefly by making voting more accessible, ending partisan redistricting, raising ethical standards, and exposing and reducing the influence of big money in politics. Americans should be celebrating its passage in the U.S. House of Representatives late Wednesday and giving thanks to the 58-year-old Maryland Democrat, the eldest son of the late Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who has made this worthy cause a personal crusade. Don Quixote may have tilted at windmills, but John Sarbanes went after something real and far more daunting: a political system that runs on money and disenfranchises far too many Americans. Yet, this remarkable achievement has, unfortunately, if predictably, fallen into partisan tooth gnashing and gross over-simplification. Republicans have reduced these sweeping reforms to one unifying idea — that it’s a reckless power grab by Democrats.... There is an undeniable public good in removing barriers to voting and establishing national voting rights standards. No-excuse mail voting, early voting, automatic voter registration, returning rights to felons who have served their time, these have broad societal benefits. And, as the last election demonstrated (and was confirmed by dozens of legal challenges), they do not give rise to rampant voter fraud.... Granted, democracy is difficult. Politics are tough. But if Republicans are going to continue to look at the last election as some kind of scandal because so many more Americans were able to participate or, worse, make outrageous and false claims about fraudulent voting schemes (the kind that some people take seriously enough to stage an assault on our most sacred temple to democracy), they are going to encounter a lot worse problems than how their own congressional districts are drawn. Mr. Sarbanes may not defeat any ferocious giants on this day, but perhaps he will inspire others to take up the worthy cause of voting rights. They are certainly plenty of state houses where these essential democratic ideas are under attack from those who would benefit from turning back the clock and returning (or retaining) power among the privileged.

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."

Pages