Heritage Action: S. 1 Markup Hearing on Bill to Nationalize Elections ‘Was Just a Farce’

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., listens during a markup of the "For the People Act of 2021" in the Senate Rules Committee, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. The bill, which would expand access to voting and other voting reforms, was already passed by Democrats in …
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Jessica Anderson, executive director of Heritage Action, said Tuesday’s Senate Committee on Rules and Administration markup hearing on S. 1, the bill labeled by Democrats as the “For the People Act,” designed to nationalize the administration of elections in the United States, “was just a farce and allowed Democrats to just double down on their extreme provisions.”

The committee failed to give the bill a favorable report, with all 9 Democrats voting to report it out of committee and all 9 Republicans voting against a favorable report. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is able to move the bill forward on a procedural matter, since the Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, is the tie breaker in a Senate evenly divided between 50 Democrats and Independents and 50 Republicans.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a companion bill, H.R. 1, in March on a straight party-line vote, 220 to 210.

Markup is defined by the U.S. Senate glossary as, “The process by which congressional committees and subcommittees debate, amend, and rewrite proposed legislation.”

Anderson’s comments came in a virtual press conference hosted by Heritage Action on Wednesday that also featured comments from Ken Cuccinelli, chair of the Election Transparency Initiative, and Jason Snead, executive director of the Honest Elections Project.

Cuccinelli noted that if S. 1 becomes law, “the majority of states that forbid convicted murderers from voting after they are convicted of murder will have their laws overridden by S. 1 to force the voting rights of murderers.”

Anderson kicked off the virtual press conference with these comments:

Yesterday’s markup and the Senate rules, I think, gave the American people an inflection point in this debate around election integrity laws, certainly something that we have seen with our membership base and our grassroots. And you really saw kind of two sides of this discussion.

You saw the progressive left jamming very unpopular bills and provisions that are out of touch with the American people, trying to jam them through. Suggestions of amendments to bring more awareness to their efforts. And then you contrast that with the Republicans on the committee, everyone from Senator Blunt to Cruz and McConnell, all talking specifically about ways to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat and how the provisions that are included in S. 1 are out of touch with the American people and would federalize our election system in a very egregious way.

So what we want to do today is kind of talk first broadly about the bill, and then my colleagues, Ken and Jason, are going to talk through some of the specifics of the amendments. What we saw as the trend lines of the amendment process throughout Markup. And then I notice that we can take some questions. First off, I’d like to point out that at the end of the night, as it went through the full day, the bill received no Republican votes in the final vote.

And I think that’s really reflective that this is such a radically partisan bill. Even throughout the discussion of the day, you saw the progressive left really infuse itself in the discussions with Democrats because you saw them use lines like Jim Crow 2.0 and talking forcefully against some of the state election integrity bills that have been put forward at the state level like what we saw in Georgia and Iowa and Florida, Arizona now moving through Texas.

And so at the end of the day, I think what was the goal was not really ever to get Republicans in agreement on S. 1, but rather to squeeze the middle and put that pressure on Senator Manchin in the hope that he will come to the aid of the progressive left to nuke the filibuster and pass this bill ultimately if it gets to the floor later this year.

I think in that way, the effort was somewhat of a farce. We knew the conclusion that the bill would most likely tie as it did. And the point of it was to highlight kind of really the progressive left extreme agenda. You saw that in every inflection point of the amendments being brought out.

The last point I would just make, and then I’ll pass it to Ken is on the other side of this conservative saw firsthand, just how detrimental the provisions of S. 1 would be. And when you saw the discussions around the federal takeover of our elections, you saw the discussion of murders and child molesters voting with the provisions that allow felons release and then automatically be able to vote.

The discussions around public financing of campaigns, a partisan FEC. That back and forth was wild. And so you look at all of that and you see that there was never really an effort to get to an agreement. There was never really an effort to come together, largely because this bill’s starting point is so egregious and so out of touch with the American people that there was no way Republicans could even get to yes.

And in that regard, it was just a farce and allowed Democrats to just double down on their extreme provisions. And so we left the day largely where we thought we would begin it, which is this is really in the hands of Schumer to discharge the bill and bring it to the floor.

And then it becomes a matter of where do some of these more moderate Democrat senators come down on the process, namely Manchin and Sinema, potentially Tester and Hessler as well.

Cuccinelli continued the critique of the S. 1 markup:

Chuck Schumer was in that room less than any other Senator yesterday.

He made an opening statement and he left. The Republicans were engaged in participating, as we’re, frankly, most of the Democrats and Angus King, the Independent, who really votes as a Democrat. Some of the extraordinary amendments, the most extraordinary ones, didn’t pass. So let’s start with the good news, which it’s head shaking that this is even necessary.

But there was an agreement with Ted Cruz’s amendment to get rid of the religious test as part of redistricting. Federally mandated redistricting. Wow. That’s great news that couldn’t have survived a constitutional challenge anyway. However, the fact that it even came out of the House in the first place and by the way, was not part of Senator Klobuchar’s manager’s amendment, to my knowledge, is pretty extraordinary.

So when confronted with that challenge, the Democrats backed down to Senator Cruz. There was also a substantial amount of back and forth over states’ different decisions about who gets to vote after committing felonies. So some states, like the one I live in Virginia, bar you from voting after you become a felon, absent individually having your rights granted back to you.

One of the Democrats, I think it was the chair, Klobuchar said, but 20 states do this. Which really was an amazing thing for her to put forward as an argument for why to force it on the other 30, which seemed to be the argument. Rather, that is an argument for not doing this and for letting states decide it.

And the first and most all-encompassing aspect of this bill is the complete violation of federalism principles. The complete takeover by the federal government, as Senator King called it, a detailed takeover. Except he said it wasn’t a detailed takeover. The problem with saying that is there’s nothing much left for States to do if this passes.

And the criminals voting after a conviction was a great example. So there was agreement. I believe it was a 10-8 or 11-7 vote on the amendment to allow states, notice my language, allow states as if the federal government has to give them permission to do these things.

But under S. 1, that would be the case to allow states to exclude child molesters from the voting rolls when they come out of prison. However, the Democrats were not willing to exclude, I kid you not, murderers. And that means that the majority of states that forbid convicted murderers from voting after they are convicted of murder will have their laws overridden by S. 1 to force the voting rights of murderers.

Now we want to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat, but not for murderers or child molesters, etc. States have made that decision. They’ve made different decisions about how to treat criminals after conviction. But that is a pretty severe position for the Democrats to take. And I do not think they’d find even a quarter or a third of Americans who would support their position on that.

There were repeated amendments to attempt to eliminate or water down public financing of campaigns. Not just one-to-one financing of small donations, but six-to-one financing of donations. And our organization, the Election Transparency Initiative, was putting up through the day how much money that would have been worth to each of these Democrats in their last election cycle in my home state of Virginia would have been worth over $10 million dollars to Mark Warner.

It would have been an astounding sum. He would have maxed out the bill, which was said in a committee to be $80 million dollars for Ossoff in Georgia. Schumer would have gotten millions, etcetera. Ted Cruz taunted the Democrats by pointing out that they’ll get him $24 million dollars of public financing money. That was actually kind of amusing.

Snead noted, “There was a consistent attempt throughout the hearing to justify particular parts of H.R. 1 and S. 1 on the basis of a minority of states have already adopted these measures,” and continued:

And you heard this time and again. Ken brought up the example of Senator Klobuchar saying the 20 states have a rule that re-enfranchises felons, the second that they walk out of prison, to which Senator Cruz retorted, but that means that 30 states don’t have that rule.

And you got into a back and forth that ended basically at the point of Senator Klobuchar saying, well, I think the American people actually agree with us. That was the general mentality and the general argument. But you heard that repeatedly. You heard the argument that because 14 states don’t have a voter identification law, that no states should have a voter ID law.

And that because 20 states do same-day registration, that all states should. That because 19 states do automatic voter registration, that everyone should. And because five do all vote by mail elections, that every state should be mailing as many ballots as possible.

This is really an attempt, and we saw it throughout the hearing to flip the minority into the majority and to make arguments that because a few states have decided that these particular policies work for them that it means that the American people want to thrust on all 50 states by Congress. And I just don’t think that logic holds.

And we see that this is also true in terms of the way that you look at the popularity of these provisions or rather the lack thereof. Let’s say, voter ID, for instance. Well, we have polling data, and we put a memo out on this that shows that 77 percent of Americans actually favor photo ID laws including at overwhelming margins, a majority of Black and Hispanic voters.

Their voices essentially being ignored by the provisions of this legislation. We have in the same poll, data that shows that only 11 percent of voters think that ballot harvesting and trafficking by political operatives should be legal in their communities and their elections. But this provision would allow that in all 50 states.

In fact, it would mandate that it be legal. You’re going to be essentially taking these minority positions, these incredibly unpopular positions, and then in one act of Congress thrusting it on all 50 States. That was the under-riding theme.

Anderson noted that Heritage Action has “mobilized our two million grassroots activists across the country to drive calls, letters to the editor, actual meetings with members, as well as rallies and rallies and events in Manchin’s backyard, frankly, in West Virginia, and then in Arizona looking at Sinema and Kelly,” and said:

As far as spending goes, we’ve committed and invest $10 million-$12 million. Some of that has been already spent with the state election integrity fights with television ad campaigns up nationally and then in Georgia in particular. And then the S. 1 campaign in Arizona was six and a half figures.

And then we’ll have a second wave of television now going through the summer that will be upwards of seven figures, mainly in West Virginia and Arizona. And then we’ll sprinkle a little bit in Montana and New Hampshire.

Cuccinelli added, “Our membership base is about a million. And when I say we, the Election Transparency Initiative is a joint project of the Susan B. Anthony list. The largest pro-life organization and very active on the ground and the American Principles Project. Socially conservative and pro-family organization,” and continued:

And so just comparing Jessica’s organization and ours, you don’t have a lot of overlap. Maybe 15 percent or so overlap in our membership basis. So we’re really spreading the field in terms of activists being engaged. We are spending money typically in multi-hundred-thousand-dollar trenches in West Virginia, New Hampshire.

We’ve made calls into Maine, Montana, Arizona, and we’re both connecting our members to their senators as well as ordinary voters. We’ve also run digital and radio ads in several of those states addressing both the filibuster and S. 1. And obviously, we’re trying to preserve the filibuster, and that has utility beyond just S. 1 for pro-life, pro-family organizations.

But from the voter integrity perspective, it’s about maintaining that 180 year Senate rule approximately because, without some bipartisanship, a law like this can’t be enacted through the Senate. And it is so bad that no Republicans who often are frustrating on other issues, no Republicans are suggesting there’s any chance they could support any parts of this bill significantly.

So we’ll continue that effort. Again, both volunteer from our activist base and spending money to connect non-base voters so centrist voters, for instance, Democrats who agree with us on these issues to their elected officials as well.

Snead added, “And for the Honest Elections Project, we as a [501 (c) (3)] have been focused on assessing the policies and the implications of HR1 and S1 and looking at the impact on States on elections and on voter confidence in helping to drive that conversation and focus fire on the parts of the bill that are most likely to induce chaos or increase the risk of fraud and so on and so forth,” and continued:

We’ve also done a lot of polling data to help understand where the people are on the theory that if you’re going to pass the bill for the people, you should have to listen to them. And so we’ve also been using that to show exactly how unpopular a lot of these provisions are. And as you heard, I referenced some of that.

But we have a memo on our website that details a lot of the relevant findings on things like voter ID laws, ballot harvesting, and one of the really interesting ones, which I didn’t cover before, which is right now we’re sort of locked in a debate about whether we should be making it easier to vote or whether we should be trying to bolster the confidence of voters in the voting process.

Well, by a three to one margin, voters actually say we need more safeguards to increase confidence in our elections, not fewer to make it easier to vote. I think that tells you everything that you need to know when you’ve got a piece of legislation, like H.R. 1 that has, as its cardinal guiding post, that we should be getting rid of rules to make it easier and easiest, and effortless to vote. That’s not the direction that the American people are telling us they want to go.

Cuccinelli concluded, “It’s never been easier to register to vote and it’s never been easier to vote in America than it is today. So that whole line of argument is just a canard.”

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