After three days of pointed debate, the House voted along party lines on Friday to approve a sweeping voting, elections, and government ethics reform package, as Democrats championed the changes as essential to democratic government, while Republicans denounced the details as nothing more than a political effort to tip the election scales against the GOP.
"We were sent to Washington with a sacred task to do everything in our power to reinstate Americans’ hope and faith in our democracy," said Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), one of dozens of new members elected in 2018, as Democrats filled the over 600 page bill with a laundry list of reforms to make it easier to vote, including making Election Day a national holiday.
"H.R. 1 will promote online registration, same day and automatic voter registration, because we should be making it easier, not harder, for people to vote," said Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA).
"Every eligible voter should be able to cast a vote!" said Rep. Chrissy Houlihan (D-PA), another newly elected Democrat.
The bill also includes a raft of ethics reforms to apply to government officials, lobbyists, and more in Washington, D.C., as backers proclaimed it would be the biggest changes since Watergate.
"The American people elected a new Congress to clean up corruption and make Washington work for them," said Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL).
This past election, Georgians faced blatant assaults on our most fundamental right, the right to vote. Today I’m voting for #HR1 to protect every citizen’s right to vote, ensure the integrity of our elections, end voter roll purging, and modernize the U.S. voting system. pic.twitter.com/9XQ2qKOjrV— David Scott (@repdavidscott) March 8, 2019
While Democrats hailed the reforms, which included independent boards to draw Congressional district lines, as essential to the future of the United States, Republicans were furious, denouncing the measure as a big government, Socialist hodge podge of unworkable liberal ideas which would take away election decision-making by the states.
"This bill, as a whole, is nothing more than a charade to make permanent the Democratic majority that just came into existence just a few months ago," said Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), as Republicans fired wave after wave of attacks at Democrats about the bill, known as the "For the People Act."
"When Republicans were in the majority, we reserved H.R. 1 for legislation that actually benefited the American people," said Rep. Rick Allen (R-GA).
"It is not for the people," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK). "It is, instead, for the Democratic majority, by the Democratic majority, in hopes of maintaining the Democratic majority for many years to come."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell - who has already made clear that he won't bring the bill up for a vote - has labeled the plan, the "Democrat Politician Protection Act."
What does HR 1 do? Not only does it take your tax dollars and put it in politicians’ pockets, it also takes away the rights of the states to run their own elections. Our Founding Fathers intended for elections to be run at the local level, not by the federal government. pic.twitter.com/A90R2wAXP3— Rep. Bradley Byrne (@RepByrne) March 8, 2019
On the House floor this week, Republicans openly chafed at a variety of provisions in the bill, like one which would force states to hold extra early voting hours and days - including Sunday.
"For my colleagues who may be unfamiliar, minority communities, particularly African American and Latino, use Sunday early voting to energize their communities to make their voices heard," said Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL).
"My own State tried to shut it down in 2012," Crist added, as the House adopted a plan to include Sunday early voting as an election requirement.
"I don’t think the Federal Government should be involved in the minute details of early voting hours," countered Rep. Davis.
Some of the efforts by Democrats to further expand the bill fell flat with their own party - for example, the House voted 305-126 against an amendment which would have lowered the minimum voting age in federal elections to 16 years old.
The House did vote on Friday to allow 16 and 17 year olds to pre-register ahead of their 18th birthday, to make sure they are ready to vote when they reach their 18th birthday, an idea which also was denounced by Republicans.
Democrats had hoped to spend the entire week trumpeting their action on this measure, but it was almost completely overshadowed by the internal intrigue over anti-Semitic statements from Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), as the House interrupted debate on the bill Thursday to approve a resolution denouncing hatred against any groups.
"We're busy with our legislative work," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, "despite what we might read in the press."
For those who want to look at the details - here is the link to the text of the 622 page bill before the House debate began.