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Incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks during Martin Luther King Day celebration at National Action Network headquarters in New York on January 18, 2021. (Photo: Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks during Martin Luther King Day celebration at National Action Network headquarters in New York on January 18, 2021. (Photo: Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Senate Democrats Prove 'Democracy Reform Is a Top Priority' by Putting 'For the People Act' First

"From a violent insurrection at the Capitol to the countless attempts to silence the vote of millions of Americans, attacks on our democracy have come in many forms," said incoming Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Jessica Corbett

On President Donald Trump's last full day in office, Democratic leaders who will soon take charge of the U.S. Senate announced Tuesday that the For the People Act—a far-reaching package of democracy reforms—will be the first bill introduced, a clear signal of the incoming majority's top priorities.

"From a violent insurrection at the Capitol to the countless attempts to silence the vote of millions of Americans, attacks on our democracy have come in many forms," said incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). "Senate Democrats are committed to advancing real solutions and fighting to uphold the core tenets of our constitution, which is why we are announcing today that the first bill of the new Congress will be the For the People Act."

Schumer's remarks came in a joint statement with Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the bill's lead sponsor, Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who vowed that "as the incoming chair of the Rules Committee, which has jurisdiction over federal elections, a number one priority will be to make voting easier and more secure and to halt the flood of special interest and dark money that is drowning out the voices of the American people."

After Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock—who both won recent runoff elections in Georgia—along with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris' replacement, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, are sworn in on Wednesday, there will be a 50-50 split in the Senate, with Harris breaking tie votes. Schumer is reportedly already working on a power-sharing agreement with outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has been a major barrier to Democratic legislation.

The new makeup of the Senate has added fuel to demands for doing away with the filibuster—an ancient rule that could hamper efforts to advance legislation that lacks Republican support, as Common Dreams reported Sunday. The possibility of passing the For the People Act has bolstered calls for killing the filibuster.

When the For the People Act (H.R. 1) was initially introduced in the Democrat-controlled U.S. House by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) in early 2019, advocates hailed it as "a no-brainer for anyone who actually cares about American democracy." On January 4, Sarbanes reintroduced the legislation, which remains H.R. 1 for the new session, with support from Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, both of California, as well as a long and diverse list of advocacy organizations.

Jana Morgan, director of the Declaration for American Democracy—a coalition of nearly 180 labor, racial justice, voting rights, faith, environmental, women's rights, good government, and other groups—welcomed Senate Democrats' decision to introduce the bill as S. 1 and called on lawmakers to urgently pass it to "actualize the groundbreaking reforms put forth in this legislation."

"By designating the For The People Act as S.1, the Senate has made clear that democracy reform is a top priority," Morgan said. "The For The People Act ensures greater accountability and transparency in our government, eliminates dark money in our politics, halts partisan gerrymandering, and expands and protects voting rights so that the voices of all Americans, particularly Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities who have long been disenfranchised, can be heard."

"The January 6th insurrection attempt was not only an attack on the U.S. Capitol, it was an attack on the heart of our democracy," Morgan added. "These events only further underscored the need for serious change to our political system to ensure something like this cannot happen again. With pro-reform majorities in Congress, and a democracy champion coming into the White House, now is the time to pass transformative reforms and build a more just, fair and inclusive democratic society."

House Democrats and 10 Republicans voted last week to impeach Trump a historic second time for inciting the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol. At a rally before the right-wing rioters stormed the Capitol, Trump—who now faces a trial in the Senate—repeated lies about the November election that he decisively lost to President-elect Joe Biden, whose inauguration on Wednesday will feature an unprecedented number of security forces from due to concerns about right-wing violence.

"We have all been reminded in the starkest terms that government of the people, by the people, and for the people is not guaranteed," Merkley said Tuesday. "A violent assault on the Capitol is not the only way to attack democracy. Everyone who believes in our constitutional vision should support reforms that make sure the American people are able to vote and that their government reflects their preferences and works for them."

Last week, in the wake of the Capitol attack, Public Citizen executive vice president Lisa Gilbert wrote in an op-ed for the Miami Herald that at a time when "distrust in our government has never been greater, and with good reason... our clearest path toward a new and more-equitable democracy would be to pass the 'For the People Act.'"

Gilbert reiterated that position in a statement Tuesday. Noting that Pelosi also termed the bill H.R. 1, Gilbert said that "naming the For the People Act S.1 is a clear signal from the Senate and Leader Schumer that fixing the systemic problems of our democracy caused by long-term corruption is an absolute priority."

"At a moment where we face an acute crisis of confidence in our democracy," she said, "the legislation includes provisions to make voting access easier, improve election security, limit secret political spending, deal with gerrymandering, create a small donor-focused public financing system to allow more candidates to run, install new ethics rules for the administration and Congress and much more."

"This legislation would begin to repair the damage caused by the disturbing behavior we've seen under President Donald Trump and assist in the process of restoring Americans' trust in government," Gilbert added. "And with the myriad challenges facing our nation, it's no wonder that congressional leadership firmly believes rebuilding must begin today."

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