Congress

House passes HR 1 government overhaul, sending it back to campaign trail

With Senate not planning to take it up, Democrats plan to continue fight into 2020

Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., led Democrats' effort to draft the HR 1 government overhaul package as chair of the Democracy Reform Task Force. The House passed the measure Friday on a party-line vote. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

With passage of HR 1, House Democrats’ political money, ethics and voting overhaul, the mammoth proposal now heads exclusively to the 2020 campaign trail, where candidates in both parties say they believe their message will woo voters.

The House passed the measure 234-193 Friday morning. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the bill’s foe in chief, has assured his side he plans to officially ignore it in his chamber, refusing to bring it for a vote even as the Kentucky Republican said Wednesday that he believed his party could win elections against people who support it.

Despite its expected doom in the Senate, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said he is planning to unroll his version of the package Wednesday and will seek Democratic and Republican co-sponsors. Even if it somehow were to pass the Senate, President Donald Trump has threatened to veto it, and business and conservative interests have mobilized against it en masse.

“The thing that we’ve seen from the Republican leadership and the lobbyists and K Street is that they are completely against it from day one,” Udall said. “It’s a real full-court press to stomp this out early.”

[After HR 1 vote, Democrats ready to move quickly on other top 10 bills]

The overhaul, totaling about 700 pages, seeks to remake the nation’s voting, campaign finance and ethics laws. It would impose new requirements on states to offer early voting and online and same-day voter registration and would establish an optional 6-to-1 public matching system for political donations under $200. The proposal would mandate nonpartisan commissions to redraw the boundaries of congressional districts.

Running on ethics

It would establish new ethical standards for executive branch officials and Supreme Court justices and impose new prohibitions for the post-government of federal officials and would lower the threshold for that amount of time spent working for advocacy clients that triggers registration as a federal lobbyist. The overhaul also would step up federal oversight of foreign influence campaigns with revisions to the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

“Millions of Americans across the country have been looking at Washington and feeling like they’ve been left out and left behind. They see the influence that big money and special interests have up here in Washington, and they feel like their voice doesn’t matter,” said Rep. John Sarbanes, the Maryland Democrat who was the chief sponsor of the measure, during a pep-rally-themed press conference on the Capitol steps just minutes before the vote.

The dozens of Democratic lawmakers who attended the event held miniature American flags — and presented a show of party unity that they’ve struggled with all week amid conflict over an anti-hate resolution aimed at quelling concerns over comments from Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who has criticized the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. She stood in the front row.

Watch: Pelosi on HR1 and the anti-Semitism resolution in weekly presser

House Democrats were flanked at the rally by advocates from liberal outside groups including Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress; Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21; Lisa Gilbert of Public Citizen; and Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United.

Sarbanes added that his bill was designed “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.”

Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, who serves as the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, said Democrats pushed the bill through with no outreach to his side of the aisle. Though he won his race in 2018 by a razor-thin margin, Davis said he had no concerns about how his constituents would view his opposition.

“How can I worry about being against a bill that is paraded around as an election reform bill but is simply nothing more than taxpayer dollars that could be allowed to flow to members of Congress’s campaigns?” he said during an interview in the Speaker’s Lobby.

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House Democrats revised the bill to establish what they’ve dubbed as a Freedom From Influence Fund at the Treasury Department to fund the optional public matching system, instead of using straight-up appropriated taxpayer dollars to pay for it. Democrats say the money will come from corporate fines for such matters as tax fraud.

Davis called it a “shell pay-for” that would actually embrace using corporate money in campaigns.

“They can’t argue with me when now what their solution to campaign finance reform issues is is to enrich their own campaign coffers with corporate money that’s going to be corporate fines,” he said. “Right now, we can’t take corporate dollars, no matter what anybody says. So their solution is to actually allow campaigns to take corporate money.”

Freshman fears?

McConnell said he believes his party can win elections against people who vote for “this turkey,” as he called the proposal. But if the freshman Democrats — many of whom campaigned in support of the the overhaul and beat incumbent Republicans — are scared of voting for the bill, they are putting on quite the act.

Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kan, said in voting for the bill: “I am so proud of this that I get to be a part of it.”

Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., said he was 100 percent confident that “the Senate will pass HR 1, and if it doesn’t happen with the current leadership, it’ll happen with the leadership we elect by running on this agenda.”

His fellow freshman Democrat, New Yorker Max Rose, who like Malinowski and Davids, flipped a Republican seat to get to Congress, said he was eager to hear what Republicans’ counterproposal to the overhaul is.

“We’re going to take a victory lap after this, obviously. But this is just the opening salvo,” he said. “We’re going to put a very simple question before the Republicans in the Senate: Are you on the side of your own voters or are you on the side of special interests? I am eager to hear what their answer is, and I know that those who are going to go to the polls in 2020 are equally eager as well.”

[House passes anti-hate resolution after days of debate over response to Omar comments]

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