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House to vote on sweeping government, ethics and election bill

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds a news conference on the day after violent protesters loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Congress, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

(CNN) — The House is expected to vote Wednesday on HR 1, a sweeping government, ethics and election bill that Democrats have made a signature legislative priority.

HR 1 passed the House during the last Congress after Democrats won back the majority, but it failed to advance in the Republican-controlled Senate. Now that Democrats also control the White House and the Senate, House Democrats, led by Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland, are poised to pass the legislation again. It is still likely to hit a roadblock in the Senate, however, where it’s not clear there would be enough Republican support to overcome a filibuster.

Democrats describe the package as anti-corruption legislation that would expand voting access and improve accountability and transparency in Washington.

“I don’t think the urgency has ever been greater,” Sarbanes told CNN in an interview. “When you look at what Republicans are doing across the country in statehouses to roll back access to the ballot box, we need to do what we can to establish baseline standards and best practices that allow people to register and vote in America without it being an obstacle course for them.”

“All of these things are designed to restore people’s faith in democracy at a time when we can see with our own eyes that things are pretty shaky,” the congressman said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, echoed that message, telling reporters Tuesday, “We believe that HR 1 needs to pass because the Republican state legislators, concerned about their losses, either in their own states or in the country, are again upping their efforts to make it more difficult for people to vote.”

Republicans, however, argue that the legislation limits political speech and represents an overreach and a federal power grab that Democrats are advancing in an effort to gain an advantage in elections. House Republicans have urged their members to vote against it.

When HR 1 gets a floor vote, it will be largely the same as the version that passed during the last Congress. Notable changes, however, include revisions that Democrats say will make it safer and easier to vote amid the coronavirus pandemic as well as measures to protect against foreign interference in elections.

Despite the narrow Senate majority, which limits what Democrats can do in the chamber, Sarbanes said he is “optimistic about the path” forward.

“I think that our responsibility in the House is to put as much power behind this effort as we possibly can with a strong vote,” he said. “I think if there’s the will, and I believe there is the will … then there should be a way to get this done.”

The congressman added, “We have to take advantage of this moment, and I think there will be an appreciation of that in the United States Senate. We’ll see if it can be done on a bipartisan basis. If not, then I think it makes sense to step back and reevaluate the filibuster and whether that makes sense and figure out if there’s another path forward.”

The legislative package calls for far-reaching ethics and government changes that would impact Congress, the president and even the Supreme Court.

It would institute an ethics code for the US Supreme Court that would apply to justices and would implement measures intended to prevent presidential conflicts of interest.

HR 1 would ban congressional lawmakers from sitting on corporate boards. It would also stop lawmakers from using taxpayer money to reach settlements in employment discrimination cases stemming from their own actions.

The bill takes aim at Citizens United, the landmark 2010 Supreme Court decision, by calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the ruling, which opened the door to unlimited spending by corporations and unions to influence elections.

The legislation also bars states from restricting the ability to vote by mail and, among other provisions, calls for states to use independent redistricting commissions to create congressional district boundaries.

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