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House Passes Sweeping Voting Rights Bill Over GOP Opposition

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the Democratic Caucus gather to address reporters on H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2021, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. House Democrats are expected to pass a sweeping elections and ethics bill, offering it up as a powerful counterweight to voting rights restrictions advancing in Republican-controlled statehouses. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats passed sweeping voting and ethics legislation Wednesday over unanimous Republican opposition, advancing to the Senate what would be the largest overhaul of the U.S. election law in at least a generation.

House Resolution 1, which touches on virtually every aspect of the electoral process, was approved on a near party-line 220-210 vote. It would restrict partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, strike down hurdles to voting and bring transparency to a murky campaign finance system that allows wealthy donors to anonymously bankroll political causes.

The bill is a powerful counterweight to voting rights restrictions advancing in Republican-controlled statehouses across the country in the wake of Donald Trump’s repeated false claims of a stolen 2020 election. Yet it faces an uncertain fate in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it has little chance of passing without changes to procedural rules that currently allow Republicans to block it.

The stakes in the outcome are monumental, cutting to the foundational idea that one person equals one vote, and carrying with it the potential to shape election outcomes for years to come. It also offers a test of how hard President Joe Biden and his party are willing to fight for their priorities, as well as those of their voters.

This bill “will put a stop at the voter suppression that we’re seeing debated right now,” said Rep. Nikema Williams, a new congresswoman who represents the Georgia district that deceased voting rights champion John Lewis held for years. “This bill is the ‘Good Trouble’ he fought for his entire life.”

To Republicans, however, it would give license to unwanted federal interference in states’ authority to conduct their own elections — ultimately benefiting Democrats through higher turnout, most notably among minorities.

“Democrats want to use their razor-thin majority not to pass bills to earn voters’ trust, but to ensure they don’t lose more seats in the next election,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said from the House floor Tuesday.

The measure has been a priority for Democrats since they won their House majority in 2018. But it has taken on added urgency in the wake of Trump’s false claims, which incited the deadly storming of the U.S. Capitol in January.

Courts and even Trump’s last attorney general, William Barr, found his claims about the election to be without merit. But, spurred on by those lies, state lawmakers across the U.S. have filed more than 200 bills in 43 states that would limit ballot access, according to a tally kept by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

In Iowa, the legislature voted to cut absentee and in-person early voting, while preventing local elections officials from setting up additional locations to make early voting easier. In Georgia, the House on Monday voted for legislation requiring identification to vote by mail that would also allow counties to cancel early in-person voting on Sundays, when many Black voters cast ballots after church.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court appeared ready to uphold voting restrictions in Arizona, which could make it harder to challenge state election laws in the future.

When asked why proponents sought to uphold the Arizona laws, which limit who can turn in absentee ballots and enable ballots to be thrown out if they are cast in the wrong precinct, a lawyer for the state’s Republican Party was stunningly clear.

“Because it puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats,” said attorney Michael Carvin. “Politics is a zero-sum game.”

Battle lines are quickly being drawn by outside groups who plan to spend millions of dollars on advertising and outreach campaigns.

Republicans “are not even being coy about it. They are saying the ‘quiet parts’ out loud,” said Tiffany Muller, the president of End Citizens United, a left-leaning group that aims to curtail the influence of corporate money in politics. Her organization has launched a $10 million effort supporting the bill. “For them, this isn’t about protecting our democracy or protecting our elections. This is about pure partisan political gain.”

Conservatives, meanwhile, are mobilizing a $5 million pressure campaign, urging moderate Senate Democrats to oppose rule changes needed to pass the measure.

“H.R. 1 is not about making elections better,” said Ken Cuccinelli, a former Trump administration Homeland Security official who is leading the effort. “It’s about the opposite. It’s intended to dirty up elections.”

So what’s actually in the bill?

H.R. 1 would require states to automatically register eligible voters, as well as offer same-day registration. It would limit states’ ability to purge registered voters from their rolls and restore former felons’ voting rights. Among dozens of other provisions, it would also require states to offer 15 days of early voting and allow no-excuse absentee balloting.

On the cusp of a once-in-a-decade redrawing of congressional district boundaries, typically a fiercely partisan affair, the bill would mandate that nonpartisan commissions handle the process instead of state legislatures.

Many Republican opponents in Congress have focused on narrower aspects, like the creation of a public financing system for congressional campaigns that would be funded through fines and settlement proceeds raised from corporate bad actors.

They’ve also attacked an effort to revamp the federal government’s toothless elections cop. That agency, the Federal Election Commission, has been gripped by partisan deadlock for years, allowing campaign finance law violators to go mostly unchecked.

Another section that’s been a focus of Republican ire would force the disclosure of donors to “dark money” political groups, which are a magnet for wealthy interests looking to influence the political process while remaining anonymous.

Still, the biggest obstacles lie ahead in the Senate, which is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats.

On some legislation, it takes only 51 votes to pass, with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker. On a deeply divisive bill like this one, they would need 60 votes under the Senate’s rules to overcome a Republican filibuster — a tally they are unlikely to reach.

Some Democrats have discussed options like lowering the threshold to break a filibuster, or creating a workaround that would allow priority legislation, including a separate John Lewis Voting Rights bill, to be exempt. Biden has been cool to filibuster reforms and Democratic congressional aides say the conversations are fluid but underway.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has not committed to a timeframe but vowed “to figure out the best way to get big, bold action on a whole lot of fronts.”

He said: “We’re not going to be the legislative graveyard. … People are going to be forced to vote on them, yes or no, on a whole lot of very important and serious issues.”

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Trump impeachment leader Schiff joins California Senate race

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who rose to national prominence as the lead prosecutor in President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial, said Thursday he is running for the Senate seat held by long-serving Democrat Dianne Feinstein.

The 2024 race is quickly emerging as a marquee Senate contest, even though the 89-year-old Feinstein, the oldest member of Congress, has yet to announce if she will seek another term, though her retirement is widely expected. Schiff is jumping in two weeks after Rep. Katie Porter became the first candidate to declare her campaign for the safe Democratic seat.

Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, made clear he intends to anchor his candidacy to his role as Trump’s chief antagonist in Congress. In his campaign kickoff video, he said the “biggest job of his life” was serving as impeachment manager, and he promised to continue to be a “fighter” for democracy.

“If our democracy isn’t delivering for Americans, they’ll look for alternatives, like a dangerous demagogue who promises that he alone can fix it,” Schiff said of Trump, who has announced his 2024 campaign for the presidency.

Feinstein, a former San Francisco mayor who joined the Senate in 1992, told reporters in Washington this week that she will make a decision about 2024 in the “next couple of months.”

The jockeying for the seat has created a politically awkward dynamic for Feinstein, who has broken gender barriers throughout her decadeslong career in local and national politics. In recent years, questions have arisen about her cognitive health and memory, though she has defended her effectiveness in representing a state that is home to nearly 40 million people.

Schiff, 62, said in an interview Thursday that he had spoken to Feinstein a day earlier to inform her about his plans.

“I want to make sure that everything I did was respectful of her and that I did so with her knowledge and her blessing,” Schiff told The Associated Press.

Asked if he was aware of the senator’s plans, Schiff said, “I don’t want to presume to speak for Sen. Feinstein, and I think she’s earned the right to announce her decision when she’s ready to make that announcement.”

Schiff was first elected to Congress in 2000 and represents parts of Hollywood. He has been a frequent target of conservatives — Trump in particular — since the then-GOP-led House Intelligence Committee he served on started investigating Trump’s ties to Russia in the 2016 election. Schiff appeared frequently on television to question Trump’s actions.

That criticism intensified when Democrats took the House majority in early 2019 and he became the committee chair, and it reached a full-on roar with his role in the impeachment investigation of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Trump was impeached in December 2019 on charges he abused the power of the presidency to investigate rival Joe Biden and obstructed Congress’ investigation.

In an impassioned plea to the Senate in early 2020, Schiff urged Trump’s removal from office and framed the choice in moral terms. “If right doesn’t matter, we’re lost,” he said at the time.

“You know you can’t trust this president do what’s right for this country,” Schiff said. “You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump. He’ll do it now. He’s done it before. He’ll do it for the next several months, he’ll do it in the election if he’s allowed to. This is why if you find him guilty you must find that he should be removed. Because right matters.”

The Republican-led Senate acquitted Trump of both charges. In 2021, he became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice, this time for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol after he lost the 2020 election. He was again acquitted by the Senate.

Republicans are still angry about Schiff’s starring role at the impeachment trial, with new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy accusing him of using his leadership position to “lie to the American public again and again.” McCarthy, R-Calif., said this week that he intended to block Schiff from continuing his service on the House Intelligence Committee.

With the centrist Feinstein in the twilight of her career, the race in the heavily Democratic state already is shaping up as a showcase for an ambitious, younger generation on the party’s left wing.

Both Schiff and Porter are nationally recognized — Schiff through his leading impeachment role and Porter, a favorite of the party’s progressive wing, through her tough questioning of CEOs and other witnesses at congressional hearings. Each is also a formidable small-dollar fundraiser.

Neither has run statewide before, and each would face the challenge of becoming better known beyond their Southern California districts. Democrats are expected to dominate the contest — a Republican hasn’t won a statewide race in California since 2006, and the past two Senate elections had only Democrats on the November ballot.

The field is expected to grow, with other possible contenders including Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Asked how he would stand out in what is expected to be a crowded field, Schiff said he would emphasize his central role of national struggles over democracy and the economy.

“I think that record of leadership, that record of staunch defense of our democracy, and the way that I’ve championed an economy that works for everyone, I think are a powerful record to run on,” he said.

In his announcement video, Schiff mixed shots of his family and highlights from his courtroom work with video from the impeachment proceedings and clips of Trump and other Republicans.

He warns that the threat of extremism is not over.

“Today’s Republican Party is gutting the middle class, threatening our democracy” Schiff says. “They aren’t going to stop. We have to stop them.”

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Florida House Democrats React to House Bill 1 Passing its First Committee

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In response to the committee vote referring House Bill 1 to its next House committee, Florida House Democrats provided the following statements.

“While I am disappointed my third amendment was not accepted to give Florida’s families the accountability and transparency they deserve so they make the right choice for their children, we will continue working with our Republican counterparts to ensure no student gets left behind,” said Choice and Innovation Subcommittee Democratic Ranking Member Representative Susan L. Valdés (D-Tampa).

“Today’s committee hearing hosted a robust discussion about policy and finance, but we need to realize that is ultimately about the children,” said Representative Kevin Chambliss (D-Homestead). “Each child is different and unique, especially those with disabilities. Every child deserves quality education, and I sincerely hope we can work together to put our children before the politics of the bill.”

“Today’s vote is disappointing. While there is definitely room for innovation in the public-school system, the negative fiscal impact on public schools will be felt on the back of public school students,” said Representative Katherine Waldron (D-Wellington).

This morning’s Choice and Innovation Subcommittee hearing can be replayed any time via The Florida Channel’s archive.

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Randy Fine Announces Endorsement of Brevard State Rep. Chase Tramont

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Melbourne Beach, Fla. – Today, State Representative Randy Fine (R-Melbourne Beach)
announced the endorsement of Brevard County State Representative Chase Tramont in Fine’s
bid for the open State Senate District 19 seat.

“For many years, I have had the privilege of knowing Representative Fine and observing his
service in the Florida House,” said Tramont. “I can personally vouch for his tenacious spirit.
When it comes to fighting for our families, he’s left it all on the field. I have no doubt he will
do the same in the Florida Senate.”

Representative Tramont joins fellow Brevard County Representative and former Senator Thad
Altman in endorsing Fine, along with former Senate President from Brevard Mike Haridopolos
and Republican Party of Florida Chairman and Senator Joe Gruters. Fine’s political committee,
Friends of Randy Fine, has almost $500,000 on hand.

“Representative Tramont has been a fantastic addition to the Brevard Delegation,” said Fine.
“Many legislators talk about fighting for the most vulnerable among us; Representative Tramont
is an inspiration in living that fight every day. I am so excited to work with him this term in the
House, and moving forward, in the Senate.”

Representative Fine currently serves as the Chairman of the House Health & Human Services
Committee, where he oversees all aspects of health care and welfare reform in Florida.

Previously, he served as Chairman of the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, where
he sponsored the largest School Choice expansion in American history and as Chairman of the
House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, where he redesigned the process of
capital funding for state universities. He also served as the Chairman of the House Select
Committee on Gaming. In his time in the legislature, Fine has passed over two dozen pieces of
legislation, including the bill holding Disney accountable for its wokeists attacks on Florida’s
parents.

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