WASHINGTON (The Hill) — House Democrats passed a sweeping electoral reform bill in a 234-193 party-line vote on Friday.
The For The People Act, better known as H.R. 1 — spearheaded by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) — aims to expand voting rights, implement new ethics rules and increase transparency in elections, according to its proponents.
The bill includes provisions to enable automatic voter registration, strengthen resources to stave off foreign threats on elections and make Election Day a national holiday for federal workers.
Democrats unveiled the legislation shortly after the start of the 116th Congress, underscoring its importance in their agenda. Supporters of the bill argued it’s necessary in order to tackle corruption and dark money in politics. Under the legislation, the Citizens United Supreme Court case, which got rid of some limits on corporate and union political spending, would be overturned and coordination between super PACs and candidates would be prohibited.
Freshman Rep. Josh Harder (D-Calif.) lamented that Washington is home to 11,000 registered lobbyists — “25 lobbyists per member of Congress,” he said — and recounted a lobbyist dinner he attended on one of his first nights in Washington.
“I thought it was going to be a chance to talk about some of the issues that I hear from families in our community,” he said. “Imagine my surprise when the only thing these lobbyists wanted to talk about was what would benefit their clients.”
“It’s far too easy for well-financed lobbyists to crowd out the needs of our families in favor of their clients,” he continued.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Friday that enactment of the package is vital if Congress is to restore the voters’ trust in the idea that Congress is working in the public interest.
“It is fundamental to our democracy that people believe — they believe — that actions taken here will be in their interest,” she said. “That is what this legislation will help to restore.”
Portions of the bill appear to directly take aim at President Trump, including language requiring the president and vice president and candidates for those positions to disclose a decade’s worth of their tax returns.
But Republicans have blasted the bill as a power grab by Democrats, arguing it limits free speech and overreaches on states rights. Top Republicans have also slammed Democrats for failing to work across the aisle on bipartisan reforms, with many saying there are provisions in the bill they could have supported.
Language that would create a 6-to-1 federal campaign match on small donations has been one of the most controversial for Republicans, who argue taxpayer dollars should not be used for campaign purposes.
“The most important bill that the democrat socialist majority has is to take more of your money and give it to the politicians who want to vote for this bill. How ironic,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on the floor ahead of the vote.
“Now, even though H.R. 1 has such broad spectrum of where to go, it was referred to 10 committees —imagine that, 10 committees but 40 percent of this bill has not even been marked up.”
Provisions advocating for D.C. statehood, a prohibition on gerrymandering and language allowing federal workers to take up to six days of paid leave to work at polls also received strong pushback from the GOP.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has vocally opposed the bill, which Republicans have dubbed the “Democrat Politician Protection Act,” asserting the measure is going nowhere in the upper chamber.
McConnell’s pushback played a key role in rallying all House Republicans against the bill and helping them remain on message, one senior GOP aide told The Hill.
“We really did unite everyone in opposition to this and pushed hard against it,” the source said. “Obviously, we’ll lose the vote, but I think there’s satisfaction among members that we had a cohesive and unified message against this. And working with McConnell and getting him engaged against this was huge.”
The Hill’s Mike Lillis contributed to the contents of this report.