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Pelosi renews push for election reform bill that GOP calls 'power grab'

Senate GOP Leader McConnell has said the bill, H.R. 1, would "grow the federal government's power over Americans' political speech and elections."

Updated: January 27, 2021 - 5:52pm

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House Democratic leaders are renewing their push for an election reform bill that stalled in the GOP-led Senate in the last session of Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the For the People Act would "reduce the role of big, dark special interest money in politics" and give "more leverage to small donors and grassroots activists" as a way to end voter suppression. 

"The status of H.R. 1 is that it is in an exalted position," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during a news conference last Thursday. "It is a priority for us."

Pelosi connected the bill to the riot that took place at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

"That is what January 6th was about as well, voter suppression, and the list goes on," she said.

Pelosi added that passing H.R. 1 could help Congress address issues like climate change and gun control.

"What's important about it," she said, "is that it gives people the hope that, yes, we can have clean air and clean water and address the climate crisis because big, dark money will not dominate the policy; yes, we can have gun violence prevention because big, dark, special interest, gun lobbyist money will not dominate the process." 

Under the legislation, Super PACs would be required to publicly disclose their donors, and the bill would "match small donations (up to $200) to participating congressional candidates at a 6-1 ratio." The bill also establishes a nonpartisan redistricting commission, and it requires automatic voter registration with an opt-out provision for individuals. In addition, the legislation makes Election Day a holiday for federal employees. It also prohibits states from placing restrictions on a voter's ability to cast mail-in ballots.

Maryland Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes, the sponsor of the bill, has formally reintroduced the legislation and argued that the 2020 presidential election demonstrated the need for "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," he said in a statement calling for passage of H.R. 1.

According to CNBC, Wall Street donors favored Biden over former President Trump in the 2020 campaign, contributing over $74 million to Biden compared to about $18 million for Trump.

In November, Just the News asked Pelosi if Biden accepting more Wall Street contributions than Trump damages the credibility of Democrats seeking to pass H.R. 1. In response, Pelosi called Republicans the "handmaidens of the special interests."

"I have no idea how much dark money Wall Street put on the Republican side, so it would be hard to quantify who actually supported whom," she said on a conference call. "All I know is that they have so overwhelmingly supported Republicans. Now, there are Democrats on Wall Street, and some of them came forward to support Joe Biden because they believe in a better future for our country, but institutionally, I think, if we could see the dark side, we would see where their support has gone." 

Pelosi has said the public shouldn't look at Republicans and Democrats the same way when it comes to the influence of money in politics.

"The Republicans are the handmaidens of the special interest," Pelosi charged. "We are not, but the public doesn't necessarily see it that way. Sometimes they paint us all with the same brush, and we have to make sure that they know who has their interest at heart. By interest, I mean, who is here to serve them."

Jessica Anderson, executive director of Heritage Action, told Just the News that the best way to fix America's broken election system is to stop H.R. 1, which she said would "federalize" the nation's election system from Washington with uniform rules and regulations. She argued that election law changes should be handled by state legislatures.

"It federalizes it instead of having it in this state-by-state process," she said. 

In a 2019 op-ed published in The Washington Post, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell referred to the legislation as a "power grab" by the Democrats and argued that it would “grow the federal government's power over Americans' political speech and elections."

"It should be called the Democrat Politician Protection Act," McConnell wrote.

Florida Republican Rep. Greg Steube said that Democrats are seeking to "solidify" their power with H.R. 1.

"The House Democrats' push for the For the People Act is nothing but a radical power grab for them to manipulate elections and solidify power," he wrote Tuesday on Twitter.

The bill passed the House in 2019 but stalled in the GOP-led Senate. Now, Democrats have a slim 50-50 majority with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote. Still, Senate Republicans could block the bill from passing if the legislative filibuster stays in place. In the past, both Republicans and Democrats have used the legislative filibuster as the minority party to block certain bills from passing in the Senate.

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