Remember H.R. 1 or S. 1, the so-called “For the People Act?” We’ve done several episodes about it here on Explains where we’ve talked about how, if passed, it would fundamentally change America by letting D.C. control our elections instead of the states. Since our last episode, Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin from West Virginia actually wrote an op-ed digging his heels in, and rejected H.R. 1/S. 1. Or did he? Have you heard of H.R. 4? It's been described as the "backdoor" to the "For the People Act." The problem is that it might be worse. This week, we discuss the differences between H.R. 1 and H.R. 4, the state of play, and all that is at stake.
Tim Doescher: From The Heritage Foundation, I'm Tim Doescher, and this is Heritage Explains. I'm not a huge fan of hosting parties. However, if I set my mind to it, I've been known to throw a mean party every now and then, real ragers. Now, as a host, I have control of a lot of things: what time it starts, the food, the beverages, the entertainment, et cetera, et cetera. But one thing that's harder to enforce is when people leave. Even if you give an end time to the party, it's one logistic that just seems inherently flexible. A lot of the time, guests stay too long. Why? It's easy to invite people to come, but it's really tough to ask them to leave.
Doescher: But this isn't an episode about hosting parties. This is an episode about an issue in D.C. that doesn't seem to want to leave the party. Remember H.R. 1, or S. 1, the so-called for the people act? We've done several episodes about it here on Explains, where we've talked about how if passed, this law would fundamentally change America, by letting DC control our elections instead of states, and destroying things like donor confidentiality. Well, since our last episode on this, Democrat Senator, Joe Manchin from West Virginia, actually wrote an op-ed digging his heels in and rejected his party's bill. Or did he?
Nancy Pelosi: I don't give up on Joe Manchin. I've read the op-ed, and you read a part of it. I think he left the door open. I think it's ajar. I'm not giving it up.
Dana Bash: Well, and I wanted to ask you about that, because you're not just reading an op-ed, you have a relationship with him. Is there something that you know that we don't know, or a lot of people in your caucus were really upset don't know about Joe Manchin and the possibility of getting this election reform-
Nancy Pelosi:Well, I don't know anything specific about this, but I do know that he has certain concerns about the legislation that we may be able to come to terms on.
Dana Bash:So, it's bridgeable?
Nancy Pelosi: I think so. As I said to him, I've read the op-ed, you've left the door open, and-
Dana Bash: Oh, you talked to him about?
Nancy Pelosi: Of course.
Doescher: He left the door open, and we're going to go right in. I'd like to take this moment to add another party host pet peeve. People not invited to the party, but walking through an open door. That CNN clip of Nancy Pelosi talking to Dana Bash shows that this continues to be the left's most important issue, and they're not leaving it anytime soon. So, what is different about H.R. 4 compared to H.R. 1 and S. 1? What changes in order to bring mansion along? What's the likelihood it passes, and what are the consequences of the left's attempted election takeover? This week, heritage senior legal fellow, Hans von Spakovsky joins us again to clear up the issue. We'll say it this way. If I'm the host of this party, maybe he can play the bouncer. We'll get into our interview right after this.
Doescher: Hans, last time we talked, I asked you what stands in the way of a total overhaul of the American election system, essentially. You said Democrat Senator, Joe Manchin, and the filibuster. Well, since then, Senator Manchin actually went against his party, penned an op-ed opposing the for the people act, but now with H.R. 4, it seems like there's a chance he'll vote for it. So, just start off here, what has changed between now and then?
Hans von Spakovsky: We have two different bills: H.R. 1, S. 1, was stopped. They had a vote on it. Didn't get through, because Manchin said he wouldn't add the filibuster. But now he's come out in favor of the backup bill that Democrats have put in. That's H.R. 4, which it's been through three different names. It's been around for awhile. It's now called the John Lewis voting rights advancement act, because they wanted to rename it after John Lewis, because they want to therefore make people scared to vote against it. But in essence, look, H.R. was a straight takeover of the administration of elections. It had all these federal mandates. It simply said, can't have a voter ID law, you have to put in same day and automatic voter registration, all of these kinds of provisions.
von Spakovsky: What H.R. 4 does is it's the back doorway of getting H.R. 1, because what H.R. 4 would do, in essence, is say, "Oh, state legislatures, if you pass a bill on, for example, voter ID, changing your rules for voter registration, changing your rules on how you clean up your voter rolls, guess what? That law passed by your state legislature won't be effective until and unless bureaucrats and the U.S. justice department approve it." So, in essence, you're giving these federal bureaucrats control over state election laws.
Doescher: Okay. By the way, this isn't going away. It's the party guest that won't leave. You know?
von Spakovsky: That's right.
Doescher: So, clearly this is the biggest priority for Democrats.
von Spakovsky: It is.
Doescher: In the left. I mean, it's huge. But just go into that just a little bit. I want to know why. Why is it such a big priority for them?
von Spakovsky: Well, because they don't want to have to go to court and prove that a change to the law they don't like, like voter ID is a discriminatory in order to stop it. Why? Because they've been unsuccessful pretty much in doing that, because those kind of laws, they're not discriminatory. What they've been doing is they've been abusing the voting rights act. Look, the voting rights act was a great law, we needed it, but it's supposed to stop racial discrimination in the voting context. Look, racial discrimination vote, that's virtually disappeared in America.
Doescher: So, what are some of the main differences? I know some of the same provisions between H.R. 1, S. 1, and H.R. 4, voting ID, they changed that, correct? There's a couple other things that are similar, but there's also some things that are different. So, just do an overshoot of that.
von Spakovsky: H.R. 1 goes through and has a huge long list of things that it bans.
von Spakovsky: You know? You can't have voter ID in a state, you can't require a witness signature on a absentee ballot. It was a whole long list. H.R. 4, the second bill, it doesn't have a long list of what banned. Instead, it takes those things like voter ID, voter registration rules, clean up of voter registration lists, and says, "Oh, if you change any of those rules, that won't be effective until and unless the bureaucrats at the justice department approve it."
von Spakovsky: They're not going to approve anything that liberals don't like, so then states that will be put in the position of having to sue the justice department and spend huge amounts of money to override that decision. If I can give you just a quick example of this, years ago, when South Carolina passed its voter ID law, the justice department objected and said, "Oh, it's discriminatory. You can't do this." South Carolina went to court, won in the end, because the federal court said, "No, it's not discriminatory." But it cost them $3 million in attorney's fees to fight the U.S. justice department, which has almost unlimited resources to go after any state, and particularly any county government.
Doescher: Yeah. You hear speaker Pelosi talking about, well, this is a bipartisan thing, because when Republicans have control, it's going to be for both parties to keep them accountable kind of a thing. But we know how that works here in Washington D.C. There's an established bureaucracy that exists in the justice department. So, even if there was a Republican elected president, it's not necessarily going to mean that this is going to go both ways.
von Spakovsky: No, exactly right, because, look, I used to work in the civil rights division of the justice department, and I actually worked there as a career lawyer during the Bush administration.
von Spakovsky: The career lawyers were some of the most left-wing, ideological lawyers I'd ever encountered. Their only purpose seemed to be to be sure that they use their governmental powers to help the democratic party.
Doescher: Yeah. You said that this is almost certainly unconstitutional. For a lawyer, that's pretty hard language there, so you must mean that it's that serious. But we don't want this to have to get to the courts, because we also know how that goes, when certain justices get a hold of crucial pieces of legislation. Think Justice Roberts with Obamacare.
von Spakovsky: Right. No, that's true. Look, we actually saw that just recently. On the very last day of the Supreme Court's term, they released a decision in a case involving Arizona. Now, they came out with a good decision, but you had the three liberal justices on the court in essence saying that the fact that Arizona, like almost every other state, refuses to count the ballots of voters who vote outside of their assigned precinct, that that was somehow discriminatory under the voting rights act, even though that is the traditional rule followed by states for very good reasons, and has been for decades, and yet they wanted to allow the plaintiffs in that case to basically use the voting rights act to change an election rule that they simply didn't like, not because it was discriminatory, but because they didn't like it.
Doescher: Yeah. This is a power grab by politicians in Washington D.C., as you alluded to. They're just trying to stay in office. This would be a huge thing as I understand it from your writing, which I'll link to in the show notes. Does this come back... again, I mentioned this at the beginning of the interview, and we talked about it in the last time you were on, is this coming down to Joe Manchin again, or are there other people in Congress that are standing in the way of this, or where are we at? What's the state of play?
von Spakovsky: They're having a series of hearings to try to build up the record to support this bill. Joe Manchin unfortunately has come out in favor of it.
von Spakovsky: I'm hoping that as long as he refuses to change the filibuster rule, that Republicans will hold together and prevent this bill from going through, because in fact, it would be bad for all voters. I mean, this is not really a partisan issue. This is an issue of the voters in each state, whether it's a blue state or a red state, they should be allowed to determine what the rules are going to be in their state for how their elections are run, not bureaucrats in a government agency in Washington D.C. H.R. 4 would totally upend that.
Doescher: So, what is this? Is this going to come down to a big, quiet, but loud vote in August? When are they preparing to vote on this thing?
von Spakovsky: Well, what I've heard is, is that as I think most people know, Congress tends to take most of August off.
von Spakovsky: We're in the middle of July now. They are having a series of hearings on it, so I suspect it'll be September before we get to a vote. And I'm sure then it'll be very loud and very contentious.
Doescher: Well, we're going to have you back in when it comes up. Hans, I thank you once again for being with us this episode.
von Spakovsky: Thanks for having me.
Doescher: Thank you so much for listening to another episode of Heritage Explains. Head over to the show notes, especially those of you who are just joining us. I've linked to previous episodes where we got into H.R. 1 and S. 1. It'll give you good context, as well as we've linked to other good resources there. Also, feel free to send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We love to hear from our audience directly. It's great to know who's out there listening. Also, you can like us, you can leave comments wherever you listen. We really, really appreciate everything that you do. Thank you for coming back again next week.