What's Wrong With H.R. 1?

A lot. And that's a tragedy.

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Let’s start with this: Any discussion of voting rights has to begin with a threat assessment: how serious is the attack on democratic norms at the state level?

According to the Brennan Center, legislators have filed 253 bills with provisions that restrict voting access in 43 states. This comes just two months after an attack on the nation’s Capitol that aimed to overturn a free and fair election — an assault based on the Big Lie of voter fraud that is now being used to leverage legislation across the country to restrict access to the ballot box.

In Iowa, the governor has just signed legislation to make it harder to vote early. In Georgia, GOP legislators are poised to roll back no-excuse absentee balloting — despite using the system since 2005. As Judd Legum notes this morning, “For 15 years… Republicans and white voters took advantage of no-excuse absentee voting more than Democrats and voters of color.”

That changed last year. “For the first time, Black voters took advantage of absentee voting more frequently than white voters. The shift coincided with an upset victory in the state by Joe Biden.”

So the GOP is now changing the law to make it harder to vote by mail.

Subtle it is not. But it is clearly part of the GOP’s new identity and its ongoing assault on voting rights.

As JVL noted last week: “The GOP is a revanchist minority, which is why their only paths forward are geographic leverage and voter suppression. Which is why the D’s first priority should be expanding voting rights. That’s the cornerstone of the pro-democracy movement.”

This is exactly right. Which is exactly why there is so much wrong with H.R 1.

The bill is frequently described as being “sweeping,” but that hardly captures the scope of the legislation, which effectively federalizes election law, while rewriting the rules governing political speech.

In yesterday’s Bulwark, we ran a lengthy piece that broke down the key elements of the bill: it’s impact on voting and elections, campaign finance, and ethics.

The authors wrote: “[H.R. 1] It has taken on a partisan tinge, but it’s neither a progressive nor partisan bill—it’s a pro-democracy bill that should appeal to Americans of all political backgrounds.”

If only that were true. Unfortunately, the reality is that the bill is bloated, overstuffed, and of dubious constitutionality.

While it has valuable provisions — protecting mail-in voting, making it harder to purge voters, gerrymander reform — it has all the makings of legislation crafted by an overcaffeinated committee of progressive activists. It overturns hundreds of state laws and essentially strips states of their ability to regulate voting. Not content with that, it matches campaign contributions with tax dollars and dramatically seeks to rewrite campaign finance rulings by creating new restrictions on constitutionally protected free speech.

And all of that makes it less likely to address the urgent challenge to democracy in a meaningful way, because it is almost certainly dead on arrival on the senate. Not even abolishing the filibuster can save H.R. 1.

Again, this is tragic, because the threats to voting rights are radical and call for a radical response. But this isn’t it.

The folks at R Street — who support pro-democracy reforms — note that “restricting money spent on political causes, while perhaps well-intentioned, also restricts speech. H.R. 1 only adds to the labyrinth of laws and regulations that govern spending money on political causes and it should be opposed for that reason alone.”

Even the ACLU has objected to the sweeping restrictions in the bill. In a 13-page letter, the group warned that “there are also provisions that unconstitutionally impinge on the free speech rights of American citizens and public interest organizations. They will have the effect of harming our public discourse by silencing necessary voices that would otherwise speak out about the public issues of the day.”

Communications that refer to a candidate in the context of an important public policy issue may have nothing to do with supporting or opposing that candidate’s election, and yet that speech would trigger disclosure. When an organization’s speech has no relationship to the election or defeat of a candidate, the disclosure of that organization’s donors would do little, if anything, to serve the public’s interest in knowing who is providing substantial support to the election or defeat of candidates.

Our friend, Christian Schneider notes that H.R. 1 has lots of flaws, but the worst is the bill’s attempts to limit anonymous speech, “which has been a cornerstone of activism since a trio of Founding Fathers banged out The Federalist Papers under the name ‘Publius.’ Benjamin Franklin famously wrote political tomes under names like ‘Benevolus,’ ‘Silence Dogood,’ ‘Caelia Shortface’ and ‘Martha Careful.’”

If made law, HR1 would require a ridiculous scheme in which the federal government would have to decide what tweets, videos and other advertisements to regulate based on what constitutes “political speech.” In an era when more people have the ability to use social media to speak on political matters, regulation of such speech is nearly an impossibility.

So what is to be done? At this point, the best options for the pro-democracy movement are (1) a much skinnier H.R.1 that focuses narrowly on voting rights, and (2) a full-court press for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act which restores the full protections of the original, bipartisan Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013.

That’s a fight worth having, and it might even attract some Republican votes. If not, it’s worth abolishing the filibuster to pass.

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Major News.

UPDATE:


Why this time might be different.

Republicans are hoping (and acting like) the passage of the massive COVID relief bill will be 2009 redux — a springboard to their mid-term victory.

But Jeff Greenfield explains why this may play out quite differently.

This time, the benefits to tens of millions of Americans will be clear: $1,400 in bank accounts; extended jobless benefits; expanded childcare help. Donald Trump understood the impact of such assistance when he insisted his name be on the checks sent to American households. Joe Biden won’t be as blatant, but the direct aid will be a sharp contrast to what happened under Obama’s stimulus, when most Americans didn’t even realize they were getting a tax cut. It’s a sharp departure as well from the impact of Obamacare, where the benefits did not begin until long after the bill was passed, and after the midterm elections as well.


Arizona’s white-nationalist adjacent Rep. Paul Gosar has some thoughts. (And no, I have no idea what this tweet is actually trying to say.)

And ICYMI:


“No more money for RINOS,”  the former guy declared in a statement Monday. “They do nothing but hurt the Republican Party and our great voting base — they will never lead us to Greatness.” 

Rather than giving to Republicans, he urged his supporters to send the cash straight to his own Save America PAC by using his personal website.

And with that, the guy cut off the flow of Trumpian cash from a party that has spent the last four years abasing itself to his whims.

This comes after the former guy issued a cease and desist demand that neither his name nor image be used in any GOP fund-raising without his explicit permission. On Monday, the RNC pushed back. The party’s chief counsel J. Justin Riemer said the committee “has every right to refer to public figures as it engages in core, First Amendment-protected political speech” and said “it will continue to do so in pursuit of these common goals.”

We’ll see. But the karma is strong with this one as it becomes clear that the grift is forever.


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A victory for religious liberty:

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday sided with a former Georgia college student who sued his school after it prevented him from expressing religious views in a free-speech zone on campus.

The 8-1 decision, authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, said that Chike Uzuegbunam -- who was silenced by Georgia Gwinnett College officials even after he had obtained a permit to proselytize and handout religious literature -- can seek nominal damages despite the fact that the school ultimately changed course and Uzuegbunam subsequently graduated.


An advance for academic freedom:

From the mission statement of the new group, the Academic Freedom Alliance.

The AFA commits to two means of protecting academic freedom. First, our members will defend faculty members' freedom of thought and expression in their work as researchers and writers or in their lives as citizens, within established ethical and legal bounds; freedom to design courses and conduct classes using reasonable pedagogical judgment; and freedom from ideological tests, affirmations, and oaths.

Second, the AFA will aid in providing legal support to faculty whose academic freedom is threatened by institutions' or officials' violations of constitutional, statutory, contractual, or school-based rights.

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Quick Hits

COVID-19’s Big Fat Non-Surprise

Mona Charen in today’s Bulwark: Tip-toeing around the linkage of coronavirus mortality and obesity doesn’t do anyone any favors

There is solid evidence suggesting that this virus is like a guided missile aimed at out-of-shape and overweight Americans and denizens of other wealthy countries. Nor is it only this coronavirus that discriminates this way. The World Obesity Federation warns that other viruses such as the H3N2 and H1N1 flus also result in higher morbidity and mortality for the overweight and obese.

So before the next pandemic strikes, we need to take steps to prepare. We should have learned by now to stockpile PPE, syringes, and so forth. And we need better coordination at all levels of government. But Americans can also take responsibility for their own health by shedding those extra pounds.

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Cheap Shots

This is a compliment?


Whither the Lincoln Project?