House Democrats pass major voters' rights bill, but the road ends there

PHOTO: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats rally ahead of passage of H.R. 1, "The For the People Act," at the Capitol in Washington, March 8, 2019.PlayJ. Scott Applewhite/AP
WATCH Pelosi commends freshman class on transformative 'For the People Act'

House Democrats passed their first signature legislation Friday, a wide-ranging bill that aims to protect voters' rights, reform campaign finance, reduce gerrymandering, and increase accountability of public officials.

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But H.R. 1, the "For the People Act," is dead on arrival in the Senate, and President Donald Trump has already threatened to veto it. Still, the bill, which passed the House 239-186, is a major priority for freshman Democrats, many of whom campaigned on these issues.

"In the course of the campaigns, the freshmen connected with the American people who told them that they wanted their voices to be heard. What great messengers, our freshman class, great messengers they are!" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi proclaimed on the Capitol steps Friday, where she had symbolically gathered House Democrats to celebrate the achievement, including freshmen Reps. Ilhan Omar, Katie Hill, and Lauren Underwood.

PHOTO: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, poses with all House Democratic women members of the 116th Congress on the East Front Capitol Plaza on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 4, 2019, as the 116th Congress begins. Andrew Harnik/AP
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, poses with all House Democratic women members of the 116th Congress on the East Front Capitol Plaza on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 4, 2019, as the 116th Congress begins.

The bill seeks to reform campaign finance laws, requiring super-PACs to reveal their large donors. It also encourages small donations by creating a matching incentive, restructures the Federal Election Commission, and works to ban foreign money accessed through shell companies.

To protect voters' rights, the bill would create automatic voter registration, expand early voting, restore voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences, and prohibit voter rolls purges. The bill would designate Election Day as a federal holiday.

The bill also covers some anti-corruption efforts, including one aimed squarely at President Trump: a requirement for presidents to release ten years of tax returns.

Republicans have labeled the bill a "power grab" for Democrats, designed to keep them in office. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has called the act the "Democrat Politician Protection Act" and has said it's a "parade of horribles."

PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 6, 2019. Susan Walsh/AP
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 6, 2019.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Friday called the bill a "massive federal government takeover that would undermine the integrity of our elections."

Pelosi fired back on the "power grab" line Friday, saying "Yes, it is a power grab: a power grab on behalf of the people."

Some of the bill's provisions have come under fire by the American Civil Liberties Union. Though the ACLU supports the bill's overall goals, the group argued that language on campaign communications and disclosure laws was overly broad and could infringe on First Amendment freedom of speech rights.

McConnell has already promised the bill will see no floor time in the Senate, so its passage in the House will remain symbolic.