Letters From an American

The For the People Act

Turns out that Americans care a lot about gerrymandering.

The For the People Act

Of all today’s news, the fate of the For the People Act is one that most certainly will matter in the future.

February 25, 2021

There are lots of stories in the news tonight, but most of them seem like preludes. What happened today will eventually be overridden by the stories’ outcomes.

So, for example, we learned that former president Trump’s accountants, Mazars USA, turned over Trump’s financial information to the Manhattan district attorney’s office on Monday. This got a lot of headlines, but we had a pretty good sense they would turn over the information just as soon as the Supreme Court said they must, so this part of the story will get forgotten.

What is of more interest is that the district attorney’s office has hired a high-powered outside forensic accounting firm to review the documents, indicating it thinks there is something there.

There is news in the investigation of what happened on January 6 that might lead to later insights. Today, the House Appropriations Committee, which oversees the Capitol Police, heard testimony from acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman. One thing the hearing established was that ex-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund had requested backup from the National Guard by 12:58 pm on January 6, and had continued to call for the next hour. On Tuesday, the former House sergeant at arms, Paul Irving, insisted he had not received a request for National Guard backup until 1:28.

Pittman also said that 35 officers are being investigated for their behavior on the day of the insurrection. Six have been suspended and had their police powers revoked. The Capitol Police union opposes the investigations, saying they are an attempt to distract from the failures of leadership on January 6.

Also offering hope for future information is news that came from the communications director for Tim Ryan (D-OH), the chair of the committee. Michael Zetts said that security videos of Capitol tours before the insurrection have been turned over to the office of the U.S. Attorney General.

There are stories from today, though, that do have staying power. One is the passage through the House of Representatives of the Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. The bill passed by a vote of 224 to 206. Three Republicans joined the Democratic majority to pass the bill.

Another is that the Biden administration launched an airstrike today on Syrian facilities used by Iran-backed militias that have been attacking US troops in Iraq. The strike was a response to a rocket attack in Iraq that killed a US contractor and wounded coalition troops earlier this month. The airstrike, coming at a time that the US is hoping to get Iran to rejoin talks about the 2015 nuclear deal Trump rejected, was likely a sign that Iran should expect that the US will remain engaged in talks but will still respond to attacks.

Another development that has staying power is the attempt of Democrats to guarantee the right to vote. In the face of voter suppression legislation in Republican legislatures around the country, Democrats in Congress are trying to pass a law, called the For the People Act, to stop partisan gerrymandering, limit money in politics, and expand voting access.

The For the People Act, numbered in Congress as H.R. 1 and S. 1, would provide for automatic voter registration across the country and would require paper ballots. It would require that early voting be made available, and would expand mail-in voting. It would authorize $1 billion for upgrades to state voting systems.

Polling by Data for Progress and Vote Save America shows that the principles in H.R. 1 are very popular, across parties. Sixty-eight percent of Americans approve of the reforms in the bill. Sixteen percent oppose the measure. The items within the bill are also popular. Eighty-six percent of Americans support a plan to prevent foreign interference in our elections; 7% oppose it. Eighty-five percent of us want to limit the amount of politics; 8% oppose that idea. Eighty-four percent of us want more election security; 8 percent do not.

Seventy-four percent of us want to see nonpartisan redistricting; 11% do not. Sixty-eight percent want to see 15 days of early voting; 19% do not. Sixty percent want same-day voter registration; 29% do not. Fifty-nine percent want automatic voter registration; 29% do not. Even with the Republican attacks on mail-in voting, fifty-eight percent of us want to be able to vote by mail; 35% do not.

Democrats passed a version of H.R. 1 in the previous Congress, but then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to take it up. Now, every House Democrat supports the bill, while Republican lawmakers oppose it.

To try to stop the bill from becoming law, Republicans are launching a full-throated defense of the filibuster, a tradition that enables a minority in the Senate to stop legislation unless it can command 60 votes. Republican objections to this popular, and seemingly vital, measure will test whether the Senate will protect the filibuster or continue to chip away at it.

Of all today’s news, then, this issue—the fate of the For the People Act—is one that most certainly will matter in the future.

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Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson teaches American history at Boston College. She is the author of a number of books, most recently, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. She writes the popular nightly newsletter Letters from an American. Follow her on Twitter: @HC_Richardson.