In The News

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.

March 3, 2021

The House late Wednesday night passed a sweeping ethics and voting rights package, first introduced in 2019.The "For the People Act of 2021" is something Democrats say is urgently needed as Republican-controlled state legislatures scramble to change voting laws in the wake of the 2020 presidential election. The House passed the election reform bill in a 220-210 vote. The measure now heads to the Senate. The package would automatically register people to vote and restore the voting rights of felons. It would also mandate more than two weeks of early voting, encourage voting-by-mail and expand absentee ballot drop boxes across the country -- along with other provisions meant to address concerns raised by election officials during the 2020 election cycle. "We're not pursuing this reform against the backdrop of the status quo. We're pursuing it against the prospect that the Republicans will take things in the wrong direction, and in a significant way," Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., the lead sponsor of the bill told ABC News.... The legislation, like other key pieces of House Democrats' agenda, heads to the Democrat-controlled Senate, but is expected to languish given a lack of Republican support. Democrats need the backing of 10 Republicans to advance the package past the 60-vote threshold. Still, advocates said the passage of the measure is necessary in the House to put more pressure on Senate Democrats to consider changing the chamber's rules and eliminating the legislative filibuster, in order to pass their priorities through the narrowly-divided Senate when Democrats control Congress and the White House. "It's going to be hard without looking at reforming the filibuster," Sarbanes said of passing HR 1. "This sends a very clear message to our colleagues in the Senate of the high priority."

March 3, 2021

The most explosive battle in decades over access to the voting booth will reach a new crescendo this week, as Republican-controlled states advance an array of measures to restrict the ballot, and the U.S. House of Representatives votes on the federal legislation that represents Democrats’ best chance to stop them. It’s no exaggeration to say that future Americans could view the resolution of this struggle as a turning point in the history of U.S. democracy. The outcome could not only shape the balance of power between the parties, but determine whether that democracy grows more inclusive or exclusionary. To many civil-rights advocates and democracy scholars I’ve spoken with, this new wave of state-level bills constitutes the greatest assault on Americans’ right to vote since the Jim Crow era’s barriers to the ballot.... In Georgia, Texas, Arizona, Iowa, and Montana, Republican governors and legislators are moving forward bills that would reduce access to voting by mail, limit early voting, ban ballot drop boxes, inhibit voter-registration drives, and toughen identification requirements—measures inspired by the same discredited claims of election fraud that Donald Trump pushed after his 2020 loss.... As a result, Democrats may have a single realistic opportunity to resist not only these proposals, but also GOP plans to institute severe partisan congressional gerrymanders in many of the same states. That opportunity: using Democrats’ unified control of Washington to establish national election standards—by passing the omnibus election-reform bill known as H.R. 1, which is scheduled for a House vote today, and the new Voting Rights Act, which is expected to come to the floor later this year. Democrats may have only a brief window in which to block these state-level GOP maneuvers.... If Democrats lose their slim majority in either congressional chamber next year, they will lose their ability to pass voting-rights reform. After that, the party could face a debilitating dynamic: Republicans could use their state-level power to continue limiting ballot access, which would make regaining control of the House or the Senate more difficult for Democrats—and thus prevent them from passing future national voting rules that override the exclusionary state laws. “There’s an increasing appreciation,” Democratic Representative John Sarbanes of Maryland, H.R. 1’s chief sponsor, told me, that “if we can’t get these changes in place in time for the 2022 midterm election, the efforts that Republicans are taking at the state level to lock in this voter-suppression regime” and maximize their advantage via partisan gerrymanders “will reshape the environment in a way that makes it impossible to get this, or frankly many other things, done.” The outcome in the House for both H.R. 1 and a new VRA isn’t in much doubt. No Democrat voted against either bill when the chamber first passed them in 2019. This year, every House Democrat has already endorsed H.R. 1, ensuring its passage today. Although some Senate observers have questioned whether the moderate Democrat Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, will support H.R. 1’s Senate equivalent, most election-reform advocates I’ve spoken with expect that, in the end, Manchin and every other Senate Democrat will back both voting-rights bills, as they did in the previous Congress.... Senate Republicans are likely to try to kill these bills with a filibuster. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, the principal sponsor of H.R. 1’s Senate analogue, has been urging his colleagues to consider ending the filibuster for these bills alone, even if they are unwilling to end it for all legislation.... One White House official, who asked not to be identified while discussing internal strategy, told me that “the president is committed to defending the voting rights of all Americans, and keenly aware of the ongoing threats to those rights....”  Although Democrats first introduced H.R. 1 and the new VRA long before the 2020 campaign, everything that has happened since Election Day has underscored the stakes in this struggle. The GOP’s state-level offensive amounts to an extension of the assault Trump mounted in the courts, in state legislatures, and ultimately through the attack that he inspired against the Capitol. If nothing else, the GOP’s boldness can leave Democrats with little doubt about what they can expect in the years ahead if they do not establish nationwide election standards.... In red states, civil-rights and government-reform groups are struggling to combat these restrictions.... H.R. 1 would reverse many of the restrictive policies advancing in red states.... Against the backdrop of the red-state voting offensive, the fate of H.R. 1 looks like a genuine inflection point.... More and more Democrats, Sarbanes said, are coming to recognize that “this isn’t just about trying to do something now that we can do later. This is about doing something now that we may not get the chance to do again for another 50 years.” Democrats face an unforgiving equation: a fleeting window in which to act, and potentially lasting consequences if they don’t. “If you look at all the stakes that are involved,” Sarbanes continued, “the notion that you would miss this opportunity becomes incomprehensible.”

March 3, 2021

The House approved a sweeping political money, elections, influence and ethics measure Wednesday, but the bill faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, where it will trigger renewed debate over the legislative filibuster.  Championed by Democrats and dubbed HR 1 to symbolize its high priority, the overhaul package passed the House 220-210 in a late-night vote.... The HR 1 measure totaled some 800 pages and included 60 pieces of legislation, according to chief author Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland. It would reshape how congressional candidates may fund their campaigns, set minimum access standards for voting and establish new ethical standards for lobbyists, lawmakers and federal officials.  “HR 1 is designed to restore the voices of Americans who felt left out and locked out for too long,” Sarbanes said Wednesday during a news conference on the steps of the Capitol.... Given its sweeping scope, here are the details on five lesser-known provisions: A hallmark of the package would set out an optional system to finance congressional campaigns with public money. It would provide a 6-to-1 match of small-dollar campaign donations and, supporters say, would reduce the influence of big campaign donors in the political system and provide a way for less affluent candidates, who don’t have networks of big donors, to run for office.... All states would be required to send voters an application to cast their ballots by mail, according to a manager’s amendment to the bill. Proponents say such provisions aim to make voting easier and more accessible, while opponents argue that Democrats are trying to make permanent some of the emergency changes implemented during the coronavirus pandemic....  Provisions in the bill seek to dial back so-called shadow lobbying, the behind-the-scenes guidance that formerly elected officials often make their post-government living on without having to register as a federal lobbyist and disclose who is paying for their knowledge and influence. Anyone who keeps their lobbying activities under 20 percent of their time for a client (and avoids making one contact with a member of Congress or other “covered official”) can remain under the public radar.  HR 1 would take that threshold down to 10 percent. In short, it would expand the scope of activities that require registering as a federal lobbyist.... Supreme Court justices would face a code of conduct in the bill that would institute new transparency and ethics rules.... Finally, included in the manager’s amendment to the bill was a provision making Election Day a public holiday. 

March 3, 2021

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a landmark bill on Wednesday to overhaul U.S. elections amid a pitched partisan battle sparked in part by false claims of fraud in the November election. The bill, H.R. 1, passed 220 to 210 in the House, but it is unlikely to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate, as most Republicans oppose it. The bill would make it significantly easier to vote, limit gerrymandering of congressional districts, require third-party groups to reveal secret donors and reform a dysfunctional election watchdog, among other changes.... House Democrats passed a similar bill in 2019, which never came up for a vote in the Senate, which was then controlled by Republicans. While Democrats are now in charge of the upper chamber, they will not be able to reach the 60-vote threshold to defeat a filibuster and do not have the votes on their own side to change Senate rules and pass the bill on a simple majority. The bill’s author, Maryland Representative John Sarbanes, said the legislation would stop Republican efforts to add new voter restrictions, which have long been criticized for targeting minorities. “If we don’t pass it in this session of Congress, the 2022 election is going to be a story of increased voter suppression across the country,” he said. “Republican lawmakers are stampeding toward more obstacles to voting, blocking access to the ballot box in ways that could really create a kind of two-tiered society when it comes to how our democracy operates....” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made elections reform a top priority, designating the bill H.R. 1, and Sarbanes said Senate colleagues have assured him that it’s a priority, but it’s unclear how it will get around the procedural hurdles.... Sarbanes said there are ongoing conversations about other ways to get the bill through the Senate. Though he declined to say what has been discussed, he said he believes the filibuster should be adjusted for issues like elections. “When it comes to passing a bill that’s trying to restore majority rule in America, which I would argue that H.R. 1 is trying to do, it makes sense that passage would come with a simple up-or-down majority vote,” he said.

 

March 3, 2021

In 2018, House Democrats won the majority on a promise that we would refocus the chamber on delivering “For the People.” The centerpiece of that effort was HR 1, the For the People Act, comprehensive legislation to root out corruption in government, increase transparency and accountability, impose higher ethics standards, strengthen voting rights, limit the influence of dark money in our politics, and reform the way we draw the maps for congressional districts to make them fairer.  Within weeks of assuming control, thanks to the leadership of Rep. John Sarbanes and input from across our caucus, we brought HR 1 to the floor and passed it. Unfortunately, the Republican-controlled Senate refused even to consider it and let it die with the 116th Congress. This week, as one of the first actions of the 117th Congress, I am proud to bring HR 1 to the floor again, this time with a Democratic-led Senate and a president in the Oval Office committed to governing For the People. As we seek to return the focus of American government to the people, Democrats will press forward with our reform agenda, which starts with HR 1. With the bill’s key reforms, Congress can renew Americans’ faith that government exists to serve them, elevate their voices, and help them get ahead — by placing the power of government back in their hands.... I was proud to lead the last major legislative reform of our voting rules in 2002, when Congress passed my bill, the Help America Vote Act. Now, it is time to enact HR 1 and take the next steps forward....  Democrats are cognizant that we cannot restore the people’s trust overnight. No single piece of legislation alone will accomplish that. But HR 1 will go a long way toward that aim. This is an effort that unites Democrats and enjoys broad popular support among Americans across the political spectrum. When the House passed this bill in 2019, not a single Republican voted in favor. That was disappointing, and I hope that, this time around, Republicans eager to move forward from the corruption and ethical lapses of the past four years will join us in sending a message that government can and must do better.  When government works — when it is truly “of the people, by the people and for the people” — it can be a powerful tool to help our people attain the justice, opportunity and economic security that enable them to make it in America. As we face the twin crises of a deadly pandemic and its severe economic impact, opening government up and making it more accountable and transparent will help us build back better and stronger by ensuring that all Americans are full participants in this great national effort.  That’s why HR 1 is so critical — and why Congress and the president must do all we can to see it enacted.

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