House Democrats pass sweeping voting rights, ethics legislation

By: - March 8, 2019 5:07 pm

Bill Pugliano, Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Michigan’s congressional delegation was split down the middle on Friday as the U.S. House passed a broad election reform and ethics bill that Democrats have made their top legislative priority this Congress.

The 14-member delegation is evenly divided by Republicans and Democrats and the vote on Friday followed that pattern.[0]=68.ARCapWMhPPit1sjngFYQokQtZudMeX5XWuqQ_LLx3kg-5Xb5tMXh4zI_OrJThX8_0sHcQ4giuCciAimuZR4Aw0DCywKp8HNnSwoQi4SzKVAQ10xgo6iOtEK30W-9YCJijU5lPlWJuLIFkxiCmJtLiCPbswfcbZDmZuZM4ZvBZCGIKQHwPkhuSDwWa1dP9lFRY5Nruz5irbYFutGABoh8zh27iEsb2iCBCUlvBMjGvf-d1kfaeiX98nVEsRziS9XaMdyJNrOgwSFwlUlFM620axP-5QYVUafuspnTBhN4FYIpPWLObdyfnjcq7H51L-otZUQ_TGP7bc_qVZ1VU6o4XeLQm-j3524&__tn__=-R

“Too many Americans have lost faith in our democracy. The American people elected a new House majority to restore transparency and accountability in government,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint), majority chief deputy whip. “This legislation begins to restore people’s faith in government by making sure that government works for the public interest, not special interests. By ensuring fair elections and making it easier to vote, to reforming our campaign finance system, this transformative legislation makes sure the American people come first in our democracy.”

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) speaks at a press conference featuring House Democrats at the U.S. Capitol April 20, 2016, in Washington, DC | Win McNamee, Getty Images

The legislation, referred to as House Resolution 1, passed the House on a vote of 234-193 along party lines. Its passage marks a symbolic win for Democrats, who seized control of the chamber this year after eight years in the minority. But the measure is unlikely to get a vote in the GOP-controlled Senate or make it to President Donald Trump’s desk.

The House Democrats’ massive bill aims to — among other things — curb the influence of money in politics, increase public financing of campaigns, expand voting rights, end partisan gerrymandering and force the disclosure of presidential candidates’ tax returns.

“For months, for years, really for decades, millions of Americans across the country have been looking at Washington and feeling like they’ve been left out and left behind,” U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), the lead sponsor of the bill, said Friday outside the U.S. Capitol.

HR 1, Sarbanes said, seeks to “restore ethics and accountability, to fight back against the interests of big money in our politics, and to make it easier, not harder, to register and vote in America.”

Paul Mitchell

Republicans in the House and Senate have opposed the bill, warning that it’s unconstitutional, would limit political speech and would use taxpayer cash to fund political campaigns.

“H.R. 1 is an overreaching bill which aims to federalize state and local elections, burden free speech, and subsidize political candidates with taxpayer funds,” said U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Dryden). “While I believe that encouraging voter participation and election security are extremely important, I have substantive concerns about many provisions of this legislation.”

While two Michigan Republicans, U.S. Reps. Justin Amash of Cascade Township and Fred Upton of St. Joseph, recently broke with their party on another big vote. The pair voted to condemn President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration to build his border wall, but both were in line with their party on HR 1.

House Democrats “want the government to interfere in our free and fair elections,” U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in a video posted this week. “It’s not designed to protect your vote. It’s designed to put a thumb on the scale of every election in America and keep the swamp swampy.”

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (L) returns to the U.S. Capitol from a meeting at the White House Jan. 9, 2019 | Alex Wong, Getty Images

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the effort a “power grab” by the Democrats. He has also called the bill a “parade of horrible” and said he wouldn’t hold a vote on it “because I get to decide what we vote on.”

Democrats are using McConnell’s comments against him.

“One senator said this is a power grab. Yes it is, it’s a power grab for the American people,” California Democratic U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren said Friday.

Democrats in both chambers intend to use the House passage of the bill — and the expected inaction by the Senate — as a messaging tool. They think GOP opposition to the bill won’t go over well with voters.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said ahead of the vote, “Let us look to the Senate and say, when we pass this bill, it’s not just what happens on this floor, it’s the message it sends to the American people.”

Pelosi added, “We’re not going to end until we win. … We can save a lot of time by the Senate just agreeing to the ‘For the People’ agenda.”

Advance Editor-in-Chief Susan J. Demas contributed to this report.

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.