Passage of H.R. 1, ‘For The People Act,’ Urgently Needed to Repair America’s Broken Democracy

Interview with Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of Public Citizen, conducted by Scott Harris

President Trump and a majority of Republican party legislators attempted to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election based on Trump’s “Big Lie” that through massive fraud, the election was stolen from him. For the first time in U.S. history, a political party tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power from one president to the next. Despite multiple failed lawsuits and the Trump-inspired deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, the seditious GOP effort failed.

Now, repeating a pattern begun over a decade ago, the Republican party is working to pass new voter suppression laws, designed to make it more difficult for communities of color and young people to vote in future elections. In fact, as of mid-February, GOP lawmakers in 43 states had introduced more 253 bills to restrict voting access.

Responding to the decade-long right-wing attack on fair elections, the foundation of America’s democracy, House Democrats recently passed legislation H.R. 1, dubbed the “For the People Act.” Now facing an uncertain future in the U.S. Senate, the 800-page bill would stop voter suppression efforts and partisan gerrymandering, expand voting rights, reform campaign finance laws and strengthen ethics rules. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president with Public Citizen about the importance of the “For the People Act” and previews the fight ahead for passage in the U.S. Senate.

LISA GILBERT: Hard to overstate the importance of this legislation. You know, it is groundbreaking. It’s reforming democracy at a moment when it is sorely needed. And so it’s been incredibly exciting to see the priority level that members of Congress and senators have put on this legislation, designating it H.R. 1, designating it S.1 In the Senate, just showing that they are really grappling with the crisis that is facing us. They understand that the country is emerging from a very dark time where we had a president who, not only did everything he could to undermine the law, but anywhere there was a norm around democracy, he broke it when it comes to corruption and self-dealing. And so, you know, there just is a low point in terms of trust in government and to fix that and to make sure that our democracy works for everyone, we have to pass this legislation. You know, if this legislation passes, we will truly see a sea change in our democracy.

SCOTT HARRIS: Now, when it comes to the voter suppression laws we’ve seen really come into force in many states since 2010, what could you say about pushing back on the voter suppression laws, many of which are now being promoted by Republicans across the country. There are some 250, I believe, that are now in play.

LISA GILBERT: So this legislation does a number of incredibly common sense things that will push back on the restrictions conservatives nationwide are pushing to limit access to the ballot. So first it requires each state to set up an automatic voter registration system that would gather individuals’ information from government databases and register them unless they intentionally opt out. So that alone would register people in a completely different way and push back on limitations that conservatives are pushing nationwide. The law would also guarantee voters same day registration, either at early voting sites or at precincts on Election Day. So this would in turn push back on restrictions that different states are pushing to try to limit early voting and same day registration voting. So both of those things alone would be game changers. But in addition — just to list one more thing from the litany of greatness in this legislation — it would also set up nonpartisan redistricting commissions in an attempt to get rid of gerrymandering, to require each state to use independent commissions not made up of lawmakers to approve newly-drawn congressional districts. So regardless of whether it’s a red state or a blue state, we have been seeing significant manipulation in the drawing of districts for years. This is something that, you know, if fixed, it would present an opportunity for independent, unbiased, balanced redistricting that is just good government, but also pushes back on restrictions that are being pushed nationwide.

SCOTT HARRIS: There’s a major fight ahead: For the People Act, H.R. 1 In the U.S. Senate, the major obstacle of course, is the filibuster that requires 60 votes to close debate. And of course, there’s been a lot of discussion recently about repealing the filibuster because it stands in the way, not just of this legislation, but anything else that Democrats are likely to pass in the next couple of years. I’m wondering what you can say just initially about the filibuster as it pertains to the For the People Act.

LISA GILBERT: Many eyes have turned to looking at the filibuster. Certainly, it is a tool that could be used if it stays in place by Republicans, by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to send — not only For the People Act, but, many other pieces of critical legislation that the House is going to pass, including H.R. 4 Voting Rights Advancement Act — to Mitch McConnell’s legislative graveyard, if you will. We certainly don’t think that the Senate minority should be able to block such popular legislation, bills that are integral to a functioning democracy. And it’s an outdated procedural tool. It’s not something that is in the Constitution. It’s something that we can change. And so we’re hopeful that that can happen.

I think, you know, all eyes have turned to some of the moderates in the Senate, who have thus far not been open to doing away with the filibuster altogether. But, I don’t think that that forecloses making changes to it that would make it easier for us to move legislation like the For the People Act, whether that means, you know, reinstating a talking filibuster, meaning the senators would literally have to hold the floor to stop legislation from moving. Or, you know, some sort of carve out for democracy legislation. I think there are a lot of options for reform short of abolition of the filibuster, although at Public Citizen, we would support doing away with it altogether.

SCOTT HARRIS: And Lisa, I did want to ask you about public opinion. What do we know about the popularity of For the People Act H.R. 1 and its provisions?

LISA GILBERT: It is outrageously popular. I mean, poll after poll shows that the American people, Republicans, Democrats, independents alike want ambitious reforms like this package to become law. There’s no question that it’s actually not partisan. You know, 67 percent of Americans say they support H.R. 1, even after they’re provided opposition messages to try to persuade them away from it. You know, it’s just understood that Big Money controls our politics and we need to deal with that. That voting rights is essential and we need to fix that part of our system. The politicians are too corrupt and we need to do ethics laws to fix that. I think it’s ingrained in the American psyche right now that our democracy is broken and needs to be fixed.

For more information, visit Public Citizen at citizen.org, Common Cause at commoncause.org and The Brennan Center for Justice at brennancenter.org.

 

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