People For the American Way

We “Packed the Room” to Support the For the People Act on Capitol Hill

People For in Action

On February 6, People For the American Way joined a coalition of activists who “packed the room” with supporters of the For the People Act (H.R. 1) as the House Committee on Oversight and Reform considered this new piece of legislation. Some of the organizations who joined us included the Brennan Center, Public Citizen, and Common Cause.

Although Republicans have tried to paint the bill as a “power grab” by Democrats, the For the People Act sets out to put the power of democracy back into the hands of the American people by striving for government transparency, strengthening and expanding voting rights, and stopping the influence of big money in politics. The hearing itself focused on issues that fall under the committee’s jurisdiction including Title VIII of the bill, the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act, and the Election Day Holiday Act.

The panel of witnesses included Karen Hobert Flynn of Common Cause, Rudy Mehrbani of the Brennan Center for Justice, and Walter Shaub of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Each focused on a specific section of H.R. 1. For example, Karen Hobert Flynn, discussed how their research shows that mistrust in the government is at an all-time high. She believes the parts of the bill involving government transparency and oversight are necessary to restore the public’s faith in our democracy.

After opening statements from the panel, representatives from each side began questioning witnesses about the merits of the For the People Act and why reform is needed. The debate became unusually heated for this committee when Representatives Mark Meadows, R-N.C., Chip Roy, R-Texas, and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio all made misleading statements about the nature of the bill and the motivations for its introduction. Their basic argument centered on the incorrect premise that Democrats are using this bill to usurp power and expand federal control, when in fact the bill simply strives for democratic transparency and access.

To combat these attacks, Democratic representatives explained the true merits of the For the People Act and why it is necessary to advance it in order to protect our democracy, especially in a time when there are overwhelming reports of the general public losing faith in our system. Representative Elijah Cummings, D-Md., gave a particularly heartfelt speech about why voting rights is important to him personally as a Black man whose family has experienced firsthand voter suppression and intimidation. On his mother’s death bed, her last words to him were “Do not let them take the vote away from us.”

Representative John Sarbanes, D-Md., used his time to correct some of the most outrageous claims made about the bill by his Republican colleagues. Specifically he explained that a provision the Republicans were framing as a privacy violation that would suppress the freedom to make donations freely was actually just aimed at mega donors who give more than $10,000. Representative Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., also gave a moving statement about the unnecessary hostility in the room and how certain degrading statements made by Republicans were a clear symptom of a much larger, systemic problem. She explained that the For the People Act was commonsense legislation to anyone who wanted to end voter suppression and assist in promoting integrity in elections.

Finally, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., discussed a hypothetical “really bad guy” who wanted to take advantage of the system to push a personal agenda. She described the system as “fundamentally broken” and pointed out that the For the People Act was really only the first step in many reforms that should be set in place. She also indicated that secret money in politics acts as a pervasive force throughout Congress, and questioned whether some of the arguments set forward that day were due to the “outside influences” imposed on the committee because of the big money donors who set the agenda for many of our leaders who accept large donations.