Klobuchar is the Chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee with Jurisdiction over Federal Elections
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee with jurisdiction over federal elections, spoke on the Senate floor today urging the passage of the For The People Act, legislation Klobuchar and colleagues introduced in the Senate last week that would make voting easier, get dark money out of politics, and strengthen ethics rules. Klobuchar’s floor speech was delivered on the eve of the first hearing on the legislation in the Senate, scheduled by Klobuchar in the Rules Committee for tomorrow.
Madam President, I come to the floor today to join my colleagues, Senator Merkley and so many others, in speaking in support of the critical democracy reforms in the For the People Act, legislation that I am honored to lead with Senator Merkley and Majority Leader Schumer, Representative Sarbanes over in the House, which passed this bill very recently through their entire chamber.
This bill will in short make it easier to vote, not harder to vote as sadly some of our colleagues have proposed over the years, but it will make it easier to vote, end the dominance of big money in politics, and ensure that public officials work for the public interest. And it includes provisions, as Senator Merkley noted, from 15 bills that I lead to strengthen our democracy.
I appreciate my colleagues on both sides of the aisle who have contributed to the ideas in this bill. It represents the combined work of so many people in this chamber who are dedicated to improving our democracy.
Nine bipartisan bills are part of the For the People Act. Bills like the Honest Ads Act, which I originally introduced with Senator McCain of the great state of Arizona, the Presiding Officer’s home state, and now lead with Senator Graham and Senator Warner. What does this bill do? Well, it improves disclosure requirements for online ads. Disclosure requirements that aren’t in law. It’s not right and that’s why this is just one of the many provisions with bipartisan support. These election security reforms that so many of us worked at, including Senator Lankford and Senator Burr, those are in this bill.
These are reforms that have broad support among the American people. According to a Pew Research Center poll, 65 percent of respondents said the option to vote early in this bill or absentee in this bill, should be available to any voter. And a poll from the Campaign Legal Center found that 83 percent of likely voters support public disclosure of contributions to organizations involved in elections. Of course they do! People want to know who is paying for these ads they see on TV. They want to know where the money is from, and then they can follow the money.
Many of the provisions in the bill have already been adopted across the country in red, blue, and purple states. And Republican and Democratic election officials and governors have supported them.
As the Chair of the Senate Rules Committee – the committee with jurisdiction over federal elections and campaign finance law, and the committee to which this bill has been referred – I believe we must get this done. Tomorrow, as noted by Senator Merkley, we will be holding a hearing on the bill. I am pleased that every single Democratic member of that committee is a cosponsor of the bill, and I intend to move quickly to a mark-up to send the bill to the Senate floor for a vote.
The For the People Act is critically important. It’s important because it would improve our democracy by protecting voting rights, getting dark money out of our elections, and putting in place anti-corruption reforms.
It’s important because every one of the things that we want to get done, from rebuilding the economy, to fixing our immigration system, to investing in infrastructure, to tackling the climate crisis, to reforming our criminal justice system, they all depend on a democracy that works for the people.
Last November, in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic, nearly 160 million Americans voted – more people than ever before in the history of America. Think about that. In the middle of a pandemic. And we know we saw the pictures on TV. We saw the people at the very beginning before we knew what safety protocols should be in place, when things were getting messed around, those people in Wisconsin in garbage bags – in garbage bags in the rain, standing in line to vote.
Why did so many people vote in the middle of a pandemic? Both sides of the aisle – Democrats, Republicans, Independents – why did they vote? Well, they were interested in the election, we know that. But it was more than that. In part, they voted because they had more access to voting because of the changes that were made in the states. Vote by mail that was available and easier for so many more people to do than ever before. We think about those people that suddenly had new means to vote, in states where they suddenly didn’t have to get a notary public or two signatures or this or that just to exercise their right to vote. And they voted. And they voted in droves.
And even though the overwhelming majority of Americans have made it clear they want to see policies that continue to make it easier to vote, sadly there are those on the other side of the aisle who have been doubling down to find ways to make it harder to vote. As Senator Merkley noted, over 250 bills introduced in states across the country, including my home state of Minnesota that had the highest voter turnout once again in the country, people trying to make it harder to vote, including in Arizona where they had such a record turn out, including in Georgia. Why? Well as Senator Warnock said so beautifully and succinctly in his maiden Senate floor speech just last week: “Some people don’t want some people to vote.” Well, that’s not how this country was founded. That’s not what our Constitution says. We cannot just sit back and let our democracy be undermined.
As I said from the inaugural stage on that beautiful blue sky day at the very place where you could still see the spray paint at the bottom of the columns and the makeshift windows that we had in place after the January 6th attack, this is the day our democracy picks itself up, brushes off the dust, and does what America always does: goes forward as a nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
For decades there are those that have been trying to chip away at the fundamental right to vote. We can’t just keep taking it. We have to ensure that right to vote.
What is this about? One, making it easier to vote.
That’s exactly what For the People does. It includes provisions that I’ve championed and so many others have like automatic voter registration, ending purges of voting rolls, independent redistricting commissions, and requiring all states to allow same-day voter registration and voting by mail.
These are common sense policies that are already in place in many states. In the 2020 general election, 45 states didn’t require an excuse to vote by mail. This will ensure that in every state you don’t need to make an excuse. 21 states have same-day registration, including states like Idaho, Wyoming, and Iowa. 43 states have early voting. Just last month, Kentucky’s Republican Secretary of State praised a state bill that would make early in-person voting permanent.
And certainly, we need to ban purges of voting rolls. As my friend Stacey Abrams said – if you don’t go to a meeting every year, you don’t lose your right to assemble under the Constitution. If you don’t go to church or synagogue, or mosque or temple, you don’t lose your right to worship. So if you haven’t voted for a few elections, and you decide you want to vote because you care about a candidate or an issue, you should not lose your right to vote. But in too many places that is not the case.
20 states have automatic voter registration laws, including West Virginia, Alaska, and Georgia. This bill simply says they all should.
The second major reform we need is to get the big money out of politics.
The For the People Act helps bring transparency to campaign spending so that voters are informed about who is funding candidates and who is paying for the ads. It also tightens regulations on Super PACs, and restructures the Federal Election Commission to make it more effective and less prone to partisan gridlock.
And the third major reform in the For the People Act is restoring trust in our government.
Democracy isn’t just about what happens on Election Day, it’s also about making sure that our elected officials are accountable once they take office.
The For the People Act ensures that members of Congress and other federal officials are truly working for the people. It expands conflict of interest laws, prohibits members of Congress from serving on the boards of for-profit entities, and codifies ethics rules for the executive branch.
Most importantly, why does the highest court of the land not have any ethics rules, for the Supreme Court, when every other federal court in the nation does? This bill answers that question.
Three simple ideas: making voting easier, getting big money out of politics, and strengthening ethics rules.
2020 marked the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment which granted women the right to vote. And a century after that ratification, we elected our first African American, first Asian American, and first woman Vice President in Vice President Kamala Harris. As we celebrate these firsts, we are reminded that throughout our country’s history, the right to vote has been hard-fought and hard-won.
As Congressman John Lewis, who we sadly lost, once said, “Your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.”
When we reflect on the sacrifices and strides that have been made for the right to vote, one thing is very clear: the fight isn’t over.
The best way we can honor the countless Americans who have risked – and in some cases given their lives – given their lives to protect our freedoms overseas, given their lives to protect our democracy here at home – the best way is to make sure that that democracy continues unfettered and that everyone has the right to vote because we know as Senator Warnock reminded us, there are some people that are trying to make it hard for some people to vote. That’s not how America works. And the For the People Act is all about making sure America works for everyone. Thank you Madam President, I yield the floor.
# # #