House bill introduced last week completes ‘four legs of the table’ to stabilize democracy in US

  • September 27, 2021

Last week, House Democrats introduced the Protecting Our Democracy Act (PODA), which Charlie Savage of The New York Times called “a broad set of proposals that amount to a point-by-point rebuke of the ways that Donald J. Trump shattered norms over the course of his presidency.” 

With its introduction, Congress now has before it what we at Protect Democracy view as the four legs of the table Congress must build to lift up our democracy onto stronger footing. The other three legs include:

    The Freedom to Vote Act, which Senator Klobuchar introduced last week and which directly addresses the various efforts at electoral subversion in state legislatures around the country to change the way votes are counted, elections administered, and winners certified. The National Security Powers Act, which was introduced earlier this Summer by Senators Murphy, Lee, and Sanders and which would rebalance power between the executive and congress on war powers, emergency powers, arms exports and international trade.  The Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, which is working to produce not only an accurate national accounting of what happened on 1/6, but to devise paths to accountability for anyone who was responsible for what happened.

Together, these four efforts make up the four legs of the table Congress needs to build to lift our democracy onto stronger footing: checks against executive abuses; protections for voting and elections; a rebalancing of powers between the political branches; and accountability for past attacks on democracy. 

Included below is more information about each bill and further resources.

1) Protecting Our Democracy Act: 

Just like after Watergate, when Congress acted to constrain the abuses of the presidency, PODA serves as a response to the unprecedented shattering of norms and overreach of the Trump presidency. A vote on the House Floor is expected in the next few months. In the Senate, PODA will likely be broken apart and taken up piecemeal, with different parts attached to other bills. 

2) Freedom to Vote Act: 

This bill responds to anti-democratic efforts in states around the country to impede access to the ballot, to endanger the integrity of the electoral process (by criminalizing, politicizing or otherwise subverting the administration of elections and the vote counting and certification process), and to impose hyper-partisan gerrymanders that disempower voters and threaten to further polarize our politics. It is an unfortunate symptom of the current challenges facing our democracy that a bill such as this has the support of only one party and is needed in response to the actions of another, but casting that either as a flaw of the bill or as a reason to equate the positions of both sides as on the level is not just a denial of reality, but itself would contribute further to our democratic erosion. This is a pro-democracy bill, plain and simple. It will likely get a vote soon in the Senate that will fail to overcome a filibuster, forcing the issue of whether Senate procedures need to be strengthened and reformed.

  • Coverage:
    • Washington Post (Jen Rubin): “Jessica Marsden, counsel at the nonpartisan Protect Democracy tells me, ‘This bill pushes back on state legislatures who are systematically undermining the basic principle that voters, not politicians, should decide election outcomes.’ She adds, ‘Americans overwhelmingly support federal legislation that would secure ballots, combat voter intimidation and protect election results from partisan interference.’ In particular, Marsden urged the Senate to pass reforms that ‘safeguard our elections from partisan actors who appear willing to subvert the will of the people.’”
  • Additional background:
    • Protect Democracy statement in support of introduction
    • 2-pager: How the Freedom to Vote Act stops Electoral Subversion
    • Recent report from Protect Democracy on the 200+ bills in more than 41 states that threaten to subvert the electoral process and that served in part as an inspiration for Title III of FTVA: A Democracy Crisis in the Making
    • A recent poll by Protect Democracy and Secure Democracy found that “84% of voters nationwide would support a new federal law to ensure every eligible citizen’s right to have their ballot counted and included in the totals of votes, and 85% of voters would support a law to ensure that officials cannot influence election procedures to benefit a particular candidate or political party.”

3) National Security Powers Act: 

This bill reforms the War Powers Resolution of 1973, the National Emergencies Act of 1976, and the Arms Export Control Act of 1976 to return authorities to Congress that it has ceded to the executive branch over many decades. Much of this shift in power stems from the Supreme Court’s 1983 decision in INS v. Chadha, which struck down the one house legislative veto. As a result of that decision, many powers Congress intended to share with the executive, ended up being ceded overwhelmingly to the executive. This bill would fix that unintentional imbalance. Notably, one of the first Senators to propose a fix to that problem after Chadha was Senator Joe Biden in the mid 1980s. This bill builds on then-Senator Biden’s proposal and obviously already has broad ideological support.

4) Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol: 

Government 101 dictates that when a disaster occurs, government conducts an investigation to learn lessons from what happened in order to prevent future recurrences. That happened after the Kennedy assisination, after 9/11, after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill etc.  More importantly here, when the disaster involves an attack on democracy and the government itself, history and international experience teach that a failure to provide a full accounting and accountability increase the chances that such abuses and attacks will recur in the future. The committee faces a wide set of challenges, including limited resources to achieve its mission, and a disinformation campaign that asserts any investigation is politically motivated. Nevertheless it remains critical that this oversight occurs, and that it occurs out in the open.