In The News

February 22, 2021

Every House Democrat has signed onto a new voting rights act that would expand early voting, create automatic voting registration systems, and simplify voting by mail as some of its many reforms.... Democracy Reform Task Force Chair Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland announced Monday that all 221 Democrats in the House of Representatives are supporting the measure. 'House Democrats are united in our steadfast commitment to advance transformational anti-corruption and clean election reforms by swiftly passing H.R. 1,' he said in a statement. 'Our historic reform effort will end decades of dysfunction in Washington, return power to the people and build a more just, equitable and prosperous country for all Americans.'

February 22, 2021

Democrats have control of the House and Senate, and they want to use it to reform elections and make it easier to vote. But first, they’ll have to get past Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Congressional Democrats are pushing a sweeping package of voting rights, gerrymandering, election, campaign finance and ethics reforms, called the For the People Act. It’s listed as H.R. 1 in the House and S. 1 in the Senate, signifying that it is Democrats’ top legislative priority. For the past two decades, every bill labeled both H.R. 1 and S. 1 has become law. If the For the People Act is to pass, though, Democrats will need to surmount the one obstacle clogging up almost all legislation that doesn’t directly affect the federal budget: the filibuster. Democrats hold only 50 votes ― plus Vice President Kamala Harris’ to break ties ― and Republicans could easily use the filibuster to prevent voting reform. McConnell, who previously called the legislation “socialism” and a “power grab,” blocked it from a Senate vote in 2019.... Former President Barack Obama, Democratic lawmakers and activists are already paving the way to make that argument. At the funeral for civil rights hero and Democratic Rep. John Lewis last summer, Obama called the filibuster a “Jim Crow relic” and said that if Republicans dared to filibuster legislation to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act (a bill that is now named for Lewis), Democrats should not hesitate to eliminate the filibuster to pass the bill. The same could be argued of the For the People Act: Lewis and his staff wrote the entire first section, which greatly expands voting rights and limits voter suppression tactics. These reforms are all the more vital now, Democrats argue, as Republicans seek to pass new voter restrictions at the state level, spurred on by former President Donald Trump’s voter fraud lies. If Democrats don’t pull off these reforms now, they could be too late. They intend that the For the People Act become law. Whatever it takes. “It’s all systems go to try to make that happen,” said Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), the bill’s chief sponsor in the House.

February 22, 2021

House Democrats want to make sweeping changes to campaign finance and election law, and that begins with H.R. 1, the “For The People Act.” It passed in the House but languished in the GOP-controlled Senate in 2019 — this is round two.... “The bill contains the reforms we need to restore democracy,” said Daniel Weiner, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Election Reform Program. He considers it a historic piece of election reform legislation he likens to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which the bill references. “We strongly support this bill.” H.R. 1 includes election, campaign finance, anti-corruption and voter registration measures. It also makes statehood for Washington, D.C. more attainable.... Weiner sees the bill as a victory for both sides of the aisle. “The reason this bill needs to be a top priority is because the proper functioning of our democracy affects pretty much every other issue that people care about,” he said. “You would see an election system in which everyone who is eligible has a meaningful opportunity to participate, and in which the priorities of ordinary voters on both the left and the right take more precedence over entrenched interests.” Introduced in the House on Jan. 4 by Rep. John P. Sarbanes (D-Md.) and referred to committee, the bill has garnered 217 co-sponsors and is expected to come before the full House first, followed then by the Senate in the spring. “H.R.1. , in many respects, it represented the coming together of a tremendous set of very robust reform proposals proposed over many, many years,” Rep. Sarbanes said in a video on his website. “We had to respond in a meaningful way to this undue influence that big money and corporations and other insiders have in Washington. So H.R. 1 is a direct product of what the American people have been telling us for years.” “Throughout the country’s history, the best way to defend democracy is to strengthen democracy. S. 1 [the Senate has introduced the bill as well] would be the most significant democracy reform in more than half a century,” stated Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, which helped develop its policies.... Other bill supporters include including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of over 200 national organizations. Its statement had over 50 directly undersigned organizations, including the AFL-CIO, the NAACP, the Sierra Club, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the League of Women Voters. The House has promised to pass H.R. 1 quickly, the expectation is it will leave committee and come to a floor vote and approval in March. It is a priority of Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), but will need 60 votes to pass, which may be difficult to secure.

February 22, 2021

ON BOARD: Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), the Democracy Reform Task Force Chair, says all House Democrats are behind H.R. 1, the For the People Act, ahead of its expected House floor vote during the first week in March. The bill aims to protect and expand voting rights and clean up corruption, among other things. “House Democrats are united in our steadfast commitment to advance transformational anti-corruption and clean election reforms by swiftly passing H.R. 1,” Sarbanes said in a statement.

February 18, 2021

The League of Conservation Voters released its annual congressional scorecard Thursday, and the Maryland delegation lined up about as expected. Six House Democrats — Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, Kweisi Mfume, Jamie B. Raskin, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John P. Sarbanes and David J. Trone — received perfect 100% scores. Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D) got 95% on the scorecard, and the state’s two senators, Benjamin L. Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both Democrats, scored 92% grades. The lone Republican in Maryland’s congressional delegation, Rep. Andrew P. Harris, got a zero.

February 18, 2021

The White House on Wednesday indicated that President Biden would support studying reparations for slavery, the same day that U.S. House Democrats held a hearing on legislation that would set up a reparations commission. But White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki stopped short of saying Biden would sign the bill under consideration by the House Judiciary Committee.... The bill’s commission would study how the U.S. government can craft reparations to address disparities in wealth, education, health, housing and mass incarceration, among others. No Republicans have signed on to H.R. 40, but more than 160 Democrats have — including Maryland Democratic Reps. Anthony G. Brown, Kweisi Mfume, Jamie B. Raskin, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John P. Sarbanes and David J. Trone.

February 17, 2021

President Biden could help reverse the harm done by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy — and hasten his exit — by filling the vacant seats on the U.S. Postal Service’s Board of Governors, members of Congress said in a letter this week. The letter, sent to Biden on Tuesday, was signed by 80 members of the U.S. House, including Reps. Dutch Ruppersberger and John P. Sarbanes (both D-Md.). Their letter comes as Americans endure a spike in delayed mail…. In their letter, the lawmakers label DeJoy a “Republican Party mega-donor… who had no experience working for the Postal Service prior to his appointment.” They said his actions have “rapidly transformed the Postal Service to the detriment of Americans....” Filling the vacancies could pave the way for DeJoy’s ouster, the lawmakers suggest. “There is a plethora of evidence that Postmaster General DeJoy is not equipped to meet the rigors of these challenges,” they told the president.

February 11, 2021

Members of Maryland's congressional delegation are again asking the postmaster general for answers. Reps. Kweisi Mfume, John Sarbanes and others sent a letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.... Mfume and Sarbanes are on the Oversight and Reform Committee. Its members also want answers about another troubling issue: The deaths caused by COVID-19 of more than 100 postal employees and more than 16,000 in quarantine. The committee's members want to know what proactive steps the U.S. Postal Service is taking to protect workers from COVID-19 health risks. "We want to understand from the postmaster general, what's the plan here to deal with this crisis in terms of the impact of the pandemic?" Sarbanes said. The congressmen said they also wonder about changes being implemented to make the post office run more like a business. "This is not the time. The postal service is already operating under a lot of duress because of the pandemic. He needs to back up and have something that's more stable to offer," Sarbanes said.

February 8, 2021

Trump’s departure from the White House may have effectively terminated the case against him, but we still secured a significant victory: Judge Peter J. Messitte of the Maryland federal district court ruled in 2018, the year after we filed suit, that the Constitution forbids the president from receiving anything of value from a foreign or domestic government.... Now Congress must build upon that to broadly preclude future presidential conflicts and self-dealing.... The struggle to defend the Constitution during the Trump era yielded the bitter realization that too many of the guardrails upholding our democracy are untested or unenforceable. As three participants in that effort, we believe it would be irresponsible for the country to move past this period without action to address these vulnerabilities. Congress and the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris Administration must work together to reinforce the checks on a rogue president and build stronger controls into the system. Fortunately, Congress is reportedly set to consider legislation in the weeks ahead—the landmark HR1-SB1 package, sponsored by Congressman John Sarbanes and Senator Jeff Merkley—that offers several badly-needed reforms to protect the public from a corrupt president. Known as the “For the People Act of 2021,” the legislation applies the same sort of tough ethics rules that apply to executive branch appointees to the president. Our litigation made it abundantly clear that a president can slip through many current loopholes to evade accountability. Chief among them: The president is not bound by the same ethics rules and conflicts rules that other public officials must follow and is not subject to any real requirements regarding transparency. Sarbanes’ and Merkley’s bill heightens disclosure requirements around financial entanglements and requires the president and vice president to divest from ties that pose a potential conflict. This one-two punch offers a model approach to preventing presidential corruption, combining tough, enforceable rules on divestiture with greater transparency. In the Trump years, the American people were often left wondering whether the president was acting to benefit his own bottom line rather than their well-being. These proposals would fix that, making it easier for the public and the courts to hold a corrupt president accountable. The legislation also builds additional, automatic anti-corruption safeguards into the White House.... Finally, the legislation would make it a legal requirement that all candidates for president and vice president must disclose their tax returns for the 10 years preceding their run for office. The public should not have to rely on presidential goodwill or leaks to the press to understand how candidates made their money—or, for that matter, how much they’ve paid in taxes. With this law, all candidates would understand they must trade some degree of financial privacy for the privilege of campaigning for the people’s trust. To ensure that no future president can profit from the office as Trump did, Congress should also pass a law enforcing the emoluments prohibition. To avoid any doubt about how to deal with a rogue president like Trump, the law should codify Judge Messitte’s ruling—specifically that the Emoluments Clauses refer to anything of value. Turning that strong template into a statute—limiting the receipt of foreign or domestic emoluments—would shut off any spigot of money flowing from foreign or domestic governments into the president’s coffers.

February 8, 2021

Maryland lawmakers are urging leaders of the United States Postal Service (USPS) to fix mail delivery problems they say continue to plague the USPS well after the holiday rush has ended. In a letter sent out on Friday, the full Maryland congressional delegation including U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Congressmen Steny Hoyer, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Kweisi Mfume, Andy Harris, Anthony Brown, Jamie Raskin, and David Trone, pushed for USPS officials to investigate and revolve what they are calling widespread delivery delays.... "Packages have been delayed while mail has been delivered to the wrong addresses or not delivered at all," the letter from the congressional delegation said. "These problems have not subsided since the end of the holiday season. In fact, we have heard increasingly urgent stories from more and more constituents throughout the past month." The delegation said the problems are contributing to late fees after bills are being delayed and are causing the hold up of checks and economic stimulus payments. The letter also states delays in delivering pharmaceuticals are having a devastating effect on patient care.

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