Our constitutional civil rights are the heart of our democracy and the foundation of our government. Public trust in our government and elections is also essential to the health of our nation. Public trust can only be gained if we also stand up for the civil rights of all Americans, not only by ensuring that all citizens can participate freely in our democracy, but also by addressing injustice and making government work better for everyone, not just the well-connected.
When I first arrived in the Senate, scandals in Washington had eroded the public’s confidence in government and cast a shadow over the legitimacy of the laws and policies coming out of Congress. Our elected leaders should be focused on public service, not paid perks and privileges.
We’ve made progress in strengthening the ethics laws and standards for members of Congress and their staffs, including passing the first meaningful ethics reform legislation since Watergate and the first mandatory sexual harassment training for Senate employees. But I believe there is so much more we can do to restore the public’s trust in our institutions, including reforms that cut red tape and make government work better for people.
Institutional racism and economic injustices must be addressed. That’s why I support House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn’s and Senator Cory Booker’s 10–20–30 plan, in which 10 percent of federal resources are committed to communities where at least 20 percent of the population has been living below the poverty line for 30 years or more. I supported a version of the original 10–20–30 formula in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, and as our country recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, I will fight to ensure that sufficient resources are directed to the areas where they are needed most.
Restoring trust also requires free and fair elections. Our country is stronger when our campaigns are transparent and accountable to the people and when all Americans are able to participate freely in our democracy, confident that no foreign interference has occurred and that their votes have been counted and have not been suppressed. As the coronavirus pandemic presented difficult and unprecedented challenges for our democracy, I worked to secure additional funding for states to make their elections more resilient and to ensure that voters had options to cast their ballots safely. As Chair of the Senate Rules Committee, I am now leading the effort to advance the For the People Act in the Senate, legislation that would reform our elections, campaign finance, and ethics systems to ensure that our democracy is of, by, and for the American people.
Finally, we must work to ensure that all Americans—regardless of their race, gender, ethnic background, religion, or sexual orientation—are treated with dignity and respect, and that we protect their civil rights—including fighting against racial discrimination and preventing hate crimes, securing equal pay and reproductive rights for women, LGBTQ equality, and investing in equal access for people with disabilities.
Minnesotans hold their elected representatives, government, and elections to the highest standards. Our state has a proud tradition of civic participation—in fact Minnesota has had the highest voter turnout in the nation during the last two presidential elections. As I have traveled across our state, Minnesotans have joined me in emphasizing the need for strong ethics rules, free and fair elections, equal rights for all, and government reform that restores both integrity and common sense to our nation’s capital.
As Minnesota’s U.S. senator, I will continue to focus on these priorities:
- Protecting the civil rights of all Americans. We must continue to work to ensure that the civil rights of all Americans are protected. I have long fought and will continue to fight to address the systemic racism and discrimination in our laws, institutions, and economy. I have also worked to protect women’s rights to make their own health care decisions, prevent hate crimes including those that target people based on their race or religion, ensure equal rights for the LGBTQ community, prevent religious discrimination here and abroad, and ensure access to needed services for people with disabilities.
- Enacting reforms to our sentencing laws. I have consistently supported efforts to reform our sentencing laws to improve the fair administration of justice. Today, our country has more than 20 percent of the world’s incarcerated people, even though it accounts for less than 5 percent of the world’s population. In December of 2018, the First Step Act was signed into law, which was supported by a broad range of organizations and experts, including both law enforcement and civil liberties groups. I was a cosponsor of this important law, which made needed reforms to our sentencing laws and prisons, including by allowing judges to impose sentences below the mandatory minimum for certain non-violent, low-level drug offenders; reducing some of the longest sentences now on the books; and expanding access to substance abuse treatment and programs to prepare people to reenter society through employment and training opportunities. In addition, as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I have long supported the bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act and other reforms. I also support a Second Step Act, which would create federal incentives so that states can restore discretion from mandatory sentencing for nonviolent offenders and reform the unconscionable conditions in state prisons and local jails, which hold approximately 90 percent of incarcerated people.
- Reforming our criminal justice system. In addition to promoting public safety, our criminal justice system must be focused on the principles of fairness, compassion, and equality under the law. We must prioritize the systemic issues in policing and criminal justice that have gone unaddressed for too long. I will continue to work to pass the Justice in Policing Act, which holds officers accountable for misconduct, increases transparency in policing practices, improves police conduct and training, and includes my bill to prevent law enforcement use of chokeholds and other neck restraints.
As the Hennepin County Attorney, I worked with the Innocence Project to put policies in place like innovative eyewitness processes to protect against false identifications, and I have long supported videotaped interrogations, diversity in hiring, body cameras, and law enforcement resources and training. I also worked to provide specialized supports and services for those with mental illnesses and severe substance use disorders by building stronger collaboration among drug court staff, probation officers, case managers, and various treatment and social service providers. That’s why in the Senate I have led the effort to increase critical resources for our country’s drug courts, which are one of the most effective ways to reduce recidivism while helping people access treatment. We must also increase transparency about prosecutorial decisions, including by collecting statistics on charges, plea deals, and sentencing recommendations to help uncover implicit bias and discriminatory conduct, and we should invest in conviction integrity units to increase post-conviction sentencing reviews. Fixing our criminal justice system also means enacting important reforms to our bail system, equipping all law enforcement officers with body cameras, and increasing federal funding to support public defenders.
- Treating immigrants with fairness and compassion. When I first got to the Senate in 2007, Senator Ted Kennedy asked Senator Whitehouse and me to be members of the immigration reform working group, and I was proud to work with Senator Kennedy on that bipartisan effort with the Bush Administration. Unfortunately the bill ultimately did not pass the Senate. Later, as a member of the Judiciary Committee, I was part of the successful effort to pass the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill in the Senate that included a pathway to citizenship, prioritized enforcement of existing laws, reforms to our visa system, and the DREAM Act. In addition, the legislation would have decreased the deficit by $158 billion over 10 years. I took the lead in ensuring that the bill included provisions to help protect immigrant victims of domestic violence by allowing women in the U.S. with spouses on temporary visas to petition for independent immigration status—encouraging them to come forward and receive the assistance they need. No one should be forced to remain in an abusive relationship due to fear of losing their legal status, and that is why I worked to pass my amendment in the Judiciary Committee by a unanimous vote. In the end, despite President Obama’s support, the Senate-passed comprehensive immigration reform bill was not allowed a vote in the then-Republican House.
We must continue working to enact comprehensive immigration reform, which is crucial to moving our country and our economy forward. In February 2021, I joined Senators Menendez, Padilla, Luján, Hirono, and Booker in introducing the U.S. Citizenship Act, a comprehensive immigration bill that affirms our values and strengthens our economy by providing a pathway to citizenship, equips law enforcement with smart and effective investments to effectively manage the border, addresses the root causes of migration, and supports refugees and asylum seekers. Since my first year in the Senate, I’ve also worked to extend protections for Liberian immigrants in the United States, and in December 2019, legislation that I supported to allow eligible Liberians on Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) status to apply for permanent residency and provide them with a path to citizenship became law. I will continue to seek solutions and work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to advance bipartisan legislation to protect DREAMers and those with DED status or Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and restore programs for refugees and those seeking asylum while maintaining thorough vetting and strong national security measures. Our strength and vitality come from the diversity of our people. That’s true in Minnesota and it’s true across this country. [See Immigration]
- Protecting victims of hate crimes and combating discrimination. As a former county attorney, I have seen firsthand the trauma that hate crimes can inflict, not just on victims but on entire communities. According to the FBI, in recent years attacks motivated by bias or prejudice reached a 16-year high. I have fought to counter this dangerous trend by supporting the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. In 2020, I also worked with Senator Murkowski to introduce the bipartisan Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act, which will help to ensure that federal prosecutors can effectively enforce the federal hate crimes law. And after the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington was the target of a bombing in August 2017, and earlier that year bomb threats were made against the St. Paul Jewish Community Center and the Sabes Jewish Community Center in St. Louis Park, I joined my colleagues in cosponsoring legislation to strengthen protections for religious institutions that was signed into law in September 2018. Finally, I joined Senator Hirono on a bill to require the Department of Justice to invest the resources needed to fully investigate pandemic-related hate crimes against Asian Americans, which was signed into law in May 2021.
Addressing racial disparities in healthcare, housing, commerce, and the delivery of services. The coronavirus pandemic has shined a bright light on the systemic inequalities in our health care system and our economy, with data clearly showing that the virus is disproportionately impacting communities of color. In addition to getting high-quality demographic data to help target resources, we need to address the underlying causes of these racial disparities including pervasive inequalities in access to health care, discrimination and unequal opportunities in housing, underinvestment in public transportation in minority communities, and the existence of food deserts where people do not have sufficient access to grocery stores. In the pandemic relief bill that Congress passed in May 2020, I supported including funding specifically for small lenders and community-based financial institutions that serve the needs of unbanked and underserved small businesses—including minority- and women-owned businesses. These programs were also given priority in the comprehensive relief package passed by Congress in December of 2020. As Congress considers future legislation, we must do more to overcome historic disenfranchisement by considering the particular needs of minority communities, including minority entrepreneurs who have had difficulty accessing traditional sources of lending. Finally, in order to address disparities in federal spending, we must pass House Majority Whip Clyburn’s and Senator Booker’s 10–20–30 plan, which requires that 10 percent of federal resources are committed to communities where at least 20 percent of the population has been living below the poverty line for 30 years or more.
- Protecting women’s health care decisions. In the Senate, I have fought back against efforts to undermine the ability of a woman to make her own health care decisions, including cosponsoring the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would prohibit laws intended to restrict women’s access to reproductive health services, including abortion. I have opposed attempts to undermine the birth control benefit guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act; prevent clinics from providing comprehensive care and information to the patients who rely on them; and defund Planned Parenthood, which one in five women in America visits for everything from cancer screenings, primary care, and contraception. We must also ensure that women around the world have access to health care, which is why I am a cosponsor of legislation to permanently repeal the “global gag rule,” which denies federal funding for international non-governmental organizations if they provide information about abortion services or use their own funds to provide such services.
- Ensuring women’s economic equality. Today, women working full-time earn 80 cents for every dollar paid to a man, and the gap is even wider for women of color. I am a cosponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would ensure that employers pay employees equally for equal work. I am also a strong supporter of providing paid sick days and paid family leave at the federal level and believe that early, quality child care and education is one of the most important public investments we can make as a country. That’s why I am a cosponsor of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act as well as the Child Care for Working Families Act and support permanent increases to the child and dependent care tax credit. In addition, I have called for strengthening enforcement of our anti-discrimination laws, and I believe that we must focus on providing economic justice for communities of color when it comes to economic opportunity, access to credit, wages, and housing. I have also cosponsored the Equal Rights Amendment.
- Reforming sexual harassment policies in the Senate. I championed bipartisan legislation that reformed the way harassment claims in Congress are handled. In 2017, I passed my bill with a bipartisan group of senators requiring anti-harassment training for senators, staff, and interns of the United States Senate—which would send the message that harassment of any kind would not be tolerated in Congress. In 2018, I also led landmark bipartisan legislation that provides comprehensive harassment reform for the entire Legislative Branch of government. The new law protects victims and holds Members of Congress personally accountable for misconduct.
- Ensuring equal rights for LGBTQ people. In the last few decades, we have made progress in the fight for LGBTQ equality. When I first arrived in the Senate, I voted to finally pass the Matthew Shepard hate crimes bill after making the prosecution of hate crimes a priority when I was County Attorney. I also supported the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and was a cosponsor of the bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land. But we still have a lot more work to do. You can still drive across the United States on a cross-country trip and the laws and protections could be different at every stop you make. That’s why I was proud to cosponsor the bipartisan Equality Act, which will ensure that LGBTQ people receive equal protection under the law by updating federal civil rights law to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill will protect LGBTQ people from experiencing discrimination in their everyday lives, like in housing, health care, and banking and credit services. I also support President Biden’s decision to lift the ban that prevented qualified transgender people from serving in the military and to reverse other harmful anti-LGBTQ actions taken by the previous administration when it comes to education, health care, and civil rights.
- Removing barriers for people with disabilities. Equal access also means identifying and eliminating barriers for people with disabilities. In the Senate, I have worked to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to help students with disabilities receive the services they need while at school. I also worked to pass the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which allows people with disabilities to use tax-advantaged savings accounts to cover expenses like education, transportation, and housing without putting other support they count on at risk. In January 2020, I helped to introduce the Accessible Voting Act to support state and local efforts to improve voter accessibility, expand accessibility when registering to vote, and remove barriers to voting. As Ranking Member of the Rules Committee, I successfully worked to expand a program at the Library of Congress that is focused on providing books for people who are blind, helping secure more than $50 million for that program and starting a pilot to provide braille e-readers. I am also a cosponsor of the Disability Integration Act, which would expand access to home and community-based services for people with disabilities.
- Ensuring transparent and accountable social media policies and protecting Americans’ personal data. Major social media platforms store an enormous amount of data and have a user base larger than all of the major broadcasting companies combined, but the lack of oversight on how data is stored and how political advertisements are sold raises concerns about the integrity of our elections as well as Americans’ privacy rights. That’s why it’s never been more important to ensure that our social media is secure, transparent, and accountable to the American people.
In 2017, I was one of the Senators who successfully led a nationwide effort to protect sensitive voter registration information—including the names, addresses, dates of birth, voter histories and social security numbers of Americans. And after a data breach involving the personal data of millions of Americans through social media, I urged the CEOs of social media companies to testify before Congress and asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the extent of the harm involved as well as the redress and whether other entities had obtained Americans’ personal data through social media without their consent. I have also introduced comprehensive federal online privacy legislation with Senators Cantwell, Schatz, and Markey to establish digital rules of the road for companies, ensure that consumers have the right to access and control how their personal data is being used, and give the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general the tools they need to hold companies accountable. Finally, I introduced a bipartisan bill with Senator Kennedy to protect the privacy of consumers’ online data by ensuring that companies use plain language to explain to consumers how their data is being used, allowing consumers to opt out of certain data tracking and collection, and requiring companies to notify consumers of privacy violations within 72 hours of a breach.
- Preventing foreign interference in our elections. The heads of our intelligence agencies unanimously agreed that a foreign government interfered in our 2016 elections and have been conducting foreign influence operations since in order to undermine our democracy. I believe we must do more to ensure our elections are secure and free from foreign influence, so the American people can choose their own leaders, government, and future. I worked to pass legislation to establish a center within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to coordinate efforts in combating election interference operations conducted by foreign adversaries, which became law in December 2019.
When we learned that foreign agents were using American social media platforms to conduct foreign influence campaigns during the 2016 election, I introduced the Honest Ads Act with the late Senator McCain of Arizona and Senator Warner of Virginia that would strengthen accountability and transparency by holding political ads sold online to the same standards currently in place for TV and radio. In 2019, after we sadly lost Senator McCain, I reintroduced the Honest Ads Act with Senator Graham of South Carolina and Senator Warner. I also introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Blunt of Missouri that would help protect our elections from foreign influence by requiring federal campaigns and political groups to verify that online credit card donations come from U.S. sources.
Restoring reasonable campaign finance rules and increasing transparency of campaign spending by special interests. In 2010, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the door for corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on federal election activity. Special interests have had too much influence in our political process for too long, and the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision in 2014 only expanded that influence. I believe we must address the problems created by these harmful Supreme Court rulings and that we must restore the rights of individual Americans to have their voices heard. In the meantime, I have introduced legislation to reform the Federal Election Commission, the federal agency in charge of enforcing campaign finance law, and worked to increase the transparency of outside spending that seeks to influence the outcome of our elections.
- Pushing for commonsense reforms to campaign spending laws and disclosure requirements. I support the For the People Act—comprehensive democracy reform legislation—because it contains crucial measures to ensure that Americans’ voices are heard at the ballot box and not drowned out by dark money and corporate interests. As Chair of the Senate Rules Committee, I am leading the effort with Senator Merkley to advance this critical legislation in the Senate. I also believe we should overturn Citizens United by passing our Senate resolution to advance a constitutional amendment that would restore the authority of Congress and the states to establish reasonable limits on campaign spending. I have cosponsored a bill that reforms our campaign finance and lobbying laws by requiring organizations spending money in federal elections to disclose major donors, reform the Federal Elections Commission to ensure greater accountability, and strengthen the prohibition on coordination between SuperPACs and candidates. The bill would also permanently ban lobbying by former Members of Congress and close the reporting loopholes that allow consultants not to register as lobbyists.
- Strengthening our election infrastructure. In 2017, I introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Lankford of Oklahoma, former Senator Harris of California, and Senator Graham of South Carolina that would provide states with the resources to better protect their election systems from cyberattacks. In 2018, I worked to secure $380 million in funding for states to improve their election infrastructure and help protect them from future attacks by foreign adversaries. Ahead of the 2020 elections, I worked to secure an additional $425 million in funding to ensure that states receive the additional resources they need to secure our elections. I have also introduced the Secure America’s Federal Elections (SAFE) Act, comprehensive election security legislation to require the use of paper ballots and post-election audits, and provide states with over $1 billion in grants to modernize election infrastructure.
- Providing training and resources for election officials. In 2019, I introduced the bipartisan Global Electoral Exchange Act with Senator Sullivan of Alaska, legislation that would establish an international information sharing program on election administration and security at the State Department. The program would allow for the U.S. and our allies to exchange ideas related to best practices on audits, disinformation campaigns, voter database protections, and other issues critical to election administration. In 2019, I also introduced the bipartisan Invest in Our Democracy Act with Senator Collins of Maine, legislation to direct the Election Assistance Commission to provide grants in support of continuing education in election administration or cybersecurity for election officials and employees.
- Making clear that Congress plays by the same rules as the rest of the nation. Americans have always believed in the principles of hard work, fair play, and personal responsibility. Those of us who have the privilege of writing the rules have a responsibility to follow them. In these challenging economic times, it is more important than ever for members of Congress to make clear that no one is above the law in this country, least of all lawmakers. I used my first floor speech in the Senate to emphasize the importance of ethics in elective office and the public’s trust in government, and in my very first month in office, I joined with my fellow Senate freshmen to push for meaningful ethics reform. With broad bipartisan support, we succeeded in passing the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, which was signed into law in September 2007. This ethics law makes our government more accountable to the American people by:
- Banning gifts from lobbyists. Lobbyists, as well as the corporations and organizations that employ them, are now prohibited from giving gifts (including free meals and tickets) to members of Congress.
- Restricting corporate-sponsored jet travel. Under past rules, members of Congress were able to travel on corporate jets at significantly reduced rates. This practice allowed undue influence by the lobbyists and corporations who arranged for members of Congress to travel in this privileged manner. The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act requires members of Congress to pay fair market value when flying on these planes.
- Stopping the “revolving door” in Washington. The 2007 ethics law included new restrictions on both former members of Congress and senior Congressional staff to limit their ability to profit from their public service and gain lobbying access to their former colleagues. The law also revokes floor privileges and the use of exercise and parking facilities for former members of Congress.
- Requiring disclosure of political contributions and “bundled” contributions by lobbyists. The American people deserve to know who has contributed to the campaigns of their elected representatives. The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act requires registered lobbyists to regularly disclose their campaign contributions and to disclose all contributions to campaign committees, charities, inaugural committees, and events to honor or educate elected officials.
- Reforming outdated rules to allow the Senate to function more effectively. Too often gamesmanship and gridlock have prevented elected officials from doing their jobs. While we’ve instituted important reforms, I will keep fighting for additional changes that would increase accountability and transparency in how the Senate conducts its business because the American people deserve to know what their elected representatives are doing in Congress. In 2011, I helped lead an effort to make further changes to the Senate’s outdated rules, including eliminating the use of “secret holds” that allowed a single senator to anonymously block a bill or nomination from coming to the Senate floor. The bipartisan agreement also reduced the number of executive nominations subject to the Senate confirmation process and eliminated the delaying tactic of forcing the reading of an amendment that is publicly available and has been submitted for 72 hours. In addition, the 2007 ethics law contained a number of provisions to open the legislative process to greater public scrutiny and understanding - including reforming the practice of “secret holds” in the Senate, requiring that the financial disclosure forms of every member of Congress be posted on a searchable database, and limiting “dead of night” additions to conference reports (when the new matter was not approved by either chamber) unless 60 Senators vote in favor of keeping the matter in the conference report. These changes will allow senators to better serve the American people.
- Updating the rules of the Senate for the 21st century. Workplaces—including the Senate—need to recognize the reality that parents must balance their work and families. In 2018, when Senator Duckworth became the first U.S. Senator to give birth, I worked with her to change the Senate rules so that members can bring their infants onto the Senate floor.
- Strengthening oversight at our federal safety agencies. In this complex economy, consumers need advocates in Washington, people who will fight to make sure that there is a “cop on the beat” to police the safety and integrity of consumer goods and services. Americans should be able to trust that the products they buy or use are safe—that products have been tested and meet strong health and safety standards. As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, I am fighting to make sure that the federal agencies charged with keeping Americans safe and financially secure are being vigilant in doing their job to protect all American consumers. Americans deserve to know that government regulators are working for them—not for the industries they are supposed to supervise.
For example, in 2008 I introduced an amendment to the Consumer Product Safety Commission Reform (CPSC) Act to ban industry-paid travel, after it came to light that commission members and staff had taken dozens of trips paid for by the very industries they regulate. Our amendment was accepted as part of the CPSC Reform Act and was signed into law in August 2008 as the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) . As a member of the House-Senate Conference Committee to produce final CPSC legislation, I fought for the tough reforms we adopted in the Senate.
- Eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse in government spending—both at home and overseas. As we continue to work to move our economy forward, it is critical that Congress exercise careful oversight of government spending. I strongly believe that we need transparency and other safeguards to protect American taxpayers’ money. While the pandemic required major emergency spending supported by both parties, we must continue to address our nation’s long-term fiscal imbalances and debt, in part by enacting tax reform and closing tax loopholes.
- Combating fraud and abuse. I was a cosponsor of the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, signed into law in May 2009, to give law enforcement greater resources to root out and prosecute financial crimes like mortgage fraud and Ponzi schemes. I supported the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—and have stood up for the independence of the Bureau—which plays an important role in combating financial fraud and illegal banking activity. To help deter health care fraud, I cosponsored bipartisan legislation that was signed into law that helped save billions of dollars each year by preventing fraudulent billing practices in Medicare and Medicaid. In 2016, I also called for a nationwide investigation that determined that misclassified drugs may have cost the Medicaid program—and American taxpayers—over a billion dollars from 2012 to 2016. As we have seen an increase in scams related to the coronavirus, I joined with Senator Moran of Kansas to lead 32 of our Senate colleagues in urging the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to take action to help ensure that seniors are educated and informed about these scams and those trying to financially exploit them during the pandemic. In May, I introduced the Protecting Seniors from Emergency Scams Act with Senator Moran to help prevent scammers from taking advantage of seniors during the coronavirus pandemic and future emergencies. Our bill directs the FTC to report to Congress on scams targeting seniors during the coronavirus pandemic and make recommendations on how to prevent future scams during emergencies. The bill passed the Commerce Committee in November 2020.