GOVERNMENT REFORM; Congressional Record Vol. 165, No. 40
(Senate - March 06, 2019)

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[Pages S1712-S1715]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




                           GOVERNMENT REFORM

  Mr. UDALL. Mr. President, thank you for the recognition today.
  I rise today for the people. I am glad to be joined by Senator 
Merkley. We have worked a long time together on

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government reform issues, campaign finance reform, and rules reform--
some very, very important issues that face the country.
  Today, in this country, there is a deep disconnect between what the 
American people are demanding from their leaders and what the President 
and the Congress have been giving them. Poll after poll shows that the 
American people want affordable healthcare. Yet the Republican 
leadership and this President have tried time and again to take away 
healthcare rights and healthcare protections.
  Poll after poll shows that the American people want good-paying jobs. 
Yet the Republican leadership and this President gave a massive tax-cut 
windfall to the wealthiest individuals and the biggest corporations.
  Poll after poll shows that the American people want clean air and 
clean water. They want Congress to tackle climate change. They want to 
protect our public lands. Yet for years the Republican leadership has 
done the opposite, and the Trump administration is dismantling 
environmental protections and sabotaging our efforts to fight climate 
change.
  Poll after poll shows that the American people support commonsense 
gun safety laws. Yet for decades the Republican leadership has refused 
to take any action whatsoever on even the most basic safety laws, like 
universal background checks.
  Poll after poll shows that the American people want Dreamers to stay 
in our country. They don't want children separated from their parents. 
They want comprehensive immigration reform to fix our broken system. 
Yet the Republican leadership has opposed these priorities for many 
years, and now this President moves forward with his divisive and 
hateful immigration policies.
  It is no wonder that trust in government is so low. According to a 
recent survey, just 19 percent overall trust the government to do what 
is right. Famously, root canals have a higher approval rating than 
Congress.
  We are a representative democracy. Yet the people are not being 
represented. Their will has been stymied.
  The situation has gotten dramatically worse under this President. 
There is no doubt about that. But these problems precede this 
President, and they will live much longer than his time in office 
unless we act.
  To put it bluntly, some of our most basic, democratic institutions 
are broken--our voting rights system, our campaign finance system, and 
our ethics rules.
  The American people know in their gut that this system is rigged. 
That is why the drug companies get what they want, and people pay 
through the nose. That is why the millionaires and billionaires get 
more tax cuts, and the working people get left behind. That is why the 
polluters get off scot-free, and the rest of us get dirty air and 
contaminated water.
  Unrigging this system requires reform--real reform--so that we bring 
power back to the everyday Americans and out of the hands of the 
special moneyed interests that rule Washington.
  Let's talk about how we do that. For years, I have stood with others 
in this Chamber to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn 
Citizens United, for an independent, nonpartisan drawing of House 
districts, and for closing the revolving door in Washington.
  In the past, some Senate Republicans were independent of their 
leadership and supported these ideas. The President had even promised 
to ``drain the swamp.'' As we all know by now, unfortunately, that 
promise was empty.
  But with the change in leadership in the House of Representatives, 
Congress is now making progress to enact the reforms that the American 
people want.
  The House will soon pass H.R. 1, the For the People Act--a major 
reform package to fix our broken system. It will be up to the Senate to 
follow suit.
  Next week, my Senate colleagues and I will introduce our own ``For 
the People Act''--a comprehensive set of reforms to move this effort 
forward. I hope we will have bipartisan support, but I was disappointed 
to hear the Republican leader deride this essential reform bill as 
``the Democrat Politician Protection Act.''
  This is not only a warped political comment, but it is also cynical 
and totally misses the point, especially when you consider that the 
American people overwhelmingly--across party lines--support these kinds 
of reforms. It is the special interests who oppose them because they 
are threatened by them.
  If the Republican leader feels the same way about this bill as the 
special interests do, perhaps the bill is not the problem.
  Every Member of the Senate will have a choice. Do they support 
reform, where our ideas and policies can compete on a level playing 
field, or do they choose to side with the special interests to do their 
bidding in return for their protection and money during election 
season?

  I have known plenty of Americans who oppose this system. John McCain 
was one of them. Senator Alan Simpson is another. Senator Cochran was a 
cosponsor of my constitutional amendment.
  No party has to side with the big money and special interests. It is 
a choice. It is a choice we must make together to return our democracy 
to the people and to rid our system of corruption.
  This bill will do just that. It will make it easier, not harder, to 
vote. It will bring an end to the dominance of big money and politics, 
and it will ensure that politicians actually serve the public 
interests.
  First, on voting rights, for 50 years the Voting Rights Act of 1965 
has stood as a bulwark against voter suppression practices and 
enfranchised millions of voters, but in 2013 the Supreme Court 
eviscerated it in its Shelby County v. Holder decision, unleashing a 
torrent of State laws designed to suppress the vote among minorities.
  The Court's 5-to-4 decision rendered the Voting rights Act's 
preclearance provisions ineffective and cleared the way for States to 
engage in voter suppression. Since Shelby, nearly 1,000 polling places 
have been closed across the country, many in southern Black 
communities. Voter ID laws have been tightened, and early voting has 
been slashed. Voter rolls have been purged, and House districts have 
been redrawn to dilute the minority vote.
  One of the many egregious examples is North Carolina. Less than 2 
months after Shelby, that State enacted far-reaching voter suppression 
requirements. North Carolina's law was struck down by a Federal court 
of appeals, finding that the law targeted African Americans ``with 
almost surgical precision.''
  Just this last midterm, we saw voter suppression tactics surge. For 
instance, in North Dakota, the State legislature passed a law right 
before the November election that took aim squarely at the Native vote. 
The law required voter IDs to list physical addresses--an impossibility 
for many Native American voters living on reservations. A Federal court 
found that 5,000 Native American voters did not have the necessary 
identification.
  We have no choice but to respond and to restore the Voting Rights Act 
so States are stopped from closing off the franchise. That must also 
include the Native American Voting Rights Act to address voter 
suppression tactics in Indian Country and to make sure the Native vote 
is counted, not discounted.
  Bills to restore lost voting rights protections have been introduced 
in both Chambers. I hope the Senate majority will work in a bipartisan 
way to restore this landmark legislation.
  We should make it easier for voters to register, not harder. In a 
healthy democracy, automatic voter registration, online voter 
registration, and same-day voter registration for eligible voters would 
be noncontroversial.
  Voting should be easy. Too often, for too many, it is hard. It is our 
duty to fix that, and this bill will do that.
  Extreme political gerrymandering continues to skew State and 
congressional elections. Results from legislative races don't reflect 
the proportion of each party's voters. Voters should choose their 
representatives, not the other way around.
  Congress must direct nonpartisan, independent line drawing in each 
State to draw congressional districts, and congressional districts must 
fairly reflect States' racial compositions so our representative 
government truly represents the electorate.
  There is no other way to put it. Our campaign finance system is 
broken. The Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens

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United decision opened the floodgates for unlimited contributions and 
dark money, and this Congress's negligence has allowed the flood to 
drown out regular people's voices.
  Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on 
candidates. The super wealthy can and do try to buy elections. Dark 
money groups can receive unlimited amounts of money from big 
corporations and wealthy individuals, spend their unlimited sums to 
influence elections, and never disclose their dollars or what they 
wanted in return for their investment.
  There was $1.4 billion spent on the last Presidential race in 2016. 
This midterm's outside expenditures topped a billion dollars. The 
system is rigged right before our eyes.
  How do we reverse course and return elections to the American people? 
For starters, Congress needs to shine a light on the dark money and 
require realtime disclosure, close loopholes that allow for foreign 
money, and create a small donor, public matching fund system for 
everyday contributions. Most critically, we must overturn Citizens 
United and related decisions. A Supreme Court that equates big money 
with speech puts campaigns for sale to the highest bidder.
  Once again, I will offer an amendment to the Constitution to overturn 
Citizens United, as I have since 2016. Congress has a long way to go to 
push our popularity above a root canal and to restore the public's 
confidence.
  We also need comprehensive ethics reform. Elected officials and 
public servants should not reap huge personal profit from their public 
positions. We need to tighten the revolving door. We need to tighten 
lobbying disclosure laws, and we must require Presidential and Vice 
Presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns.
  Beyond that, Presidents and Vice Presidents must divest of any and 
all assets that create a conflict of interest. Candidate Trump promised 
to disclose his tax returns. He didn't. He then promised to disclose 
them after an alleged audit. He hasn't. That is unacceptable.
  We know the President has business and financial ties with Russia and 
Saudi Arabia, and this may well explain his strange closeness with 
Vladimir Putin and Muhammed bin Salman. Transparency and divestiture 
are the only ways to avoid conflicts of interest and corruption. These 
issues go to the heart of what it means to be an American.
  Our democracy is supposed to exist by the will of the people and by 
the consent of the governed. Congress has an amazing opportunity before 
it. The House of Representatives is starting debate on its 
comprehensive reform package. My colleagues and I will introduce our 
legislation next week.
  To Republicans around the country: Don't fall for the majority 
leader's cynical name-calling. I know you love your democracy as much 
as I do. This is not about protecting Democrats or Republicans; it is 
about protecting Americans from a rigged system. Let us commit to work 
together to pass reforms the American people hunger for.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Oregon.
  Mr. MERKLEY. Mr. President, I am pleased to be here on the floor with 
my colleague from New Mexico, who has been a champion for restoring our 
democracy, working year after year over the last decade toward that 
vision, and presenting tonight superb comments on the history of where 
we have been and where we should go.
  This last weekend, I went to Alabama. I went with Congressman   John 
Lewis to be there to look into the history of discrimination in our 
Nation, the history in which we had separate entries to buildings for 
Whites and for Blacks and separate water fountains. We had front doors 
for White America and back doors for Black America.
  We were standing on the spot where Rosa Parks stood before she 
stepped onto the bus and said: I will not sit at the back of the bus. I 
will be treated like every other American. She asked for equality, and 
she started a big movement to break down discrimination.
  Last weekend, we also gathered together in Selma, AL, at the foot of 
the Edmund Pettus Bridge. This spot is where   John Lewis and a whole 
set of individuals took a stand. They were planning a march. They were 
going to march for voting rights--for voting rights in America, voting 
rights that had been taken away as a strategy of suppressing the voice 
of the people, particularly the voice of African Americans.
  We have struggled in the history of our country toward full equality 
of opportunity--full equality to participate in this beautiful 
democratic Republic we call America. We started with a Constitution 
that was flawed by not recognizing the full equality of every American.
  We fought a war over slavery, and after that war, a strategy was 
devised to continue to strip the right to vote from African Americans 
by taking African-American men, arresting them as felons, and then 
saying that felons can't vote--a determined strategy both to reenslave, 
because the constitutional amendment said that you could put people to 
work if they were a felon, and to strip voting rights from them.
  That is a history we should be putting behind us--a history of voter 
intimidation and a history of voter suppression. Have we not come to 
the point where we can recognize that the real vision in our ``we the 
people'' democracy is that every person gets a full chance to 
participate, that we should be looking for voter empowerment, not voter 
suppression?
  This beautiful document we have worked to perfect and fulfill over 
time. It was President Lincoln who said: ``America will never be 
destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will 
be because we destroyed ourselves.''
  Aren't we at that point now, where the vision of government of, by, 
and for the people has been corrupted by voter suppression, by voter 
intimidation, by gerrymandering, and by dark money flooding our 
campaigns? Aren't we at that point now that our very essence of our 
constitutional vision of government by and for the people is being 
destroyed by these corrupting forces?
  Here is what we have in America right now. We have a circle of power 
of those of great wealth and those of great privilege, and they want to 
run this government and write our laws to benefit those inside that 
circle.
  That circle isn't that large. It is a small percent of our 
population, but they use their great wealth and their great leverage to 
continue to corrupt the vision of our Constitution because the last 
thing they want is a government that serves the people.
  What they are invested in, what they fight for is government by the 
powerful few and for the powerful few. If anyone has any doubt that we 
have reached this point of huge corruption in this country, look simply 
at what happened in this Chamber in 2017 when the majority party said 
that we have two missions: Mission one, take down healthcare for 20 to 
30 million Americans; mission two, raid the national Treasury for $1\1/
2\ trillion and give it to the very richest Americans and largest 
corporations.
  That is what happens in a corrupted government by and for the 
powerful rather than by and for the people. That is what happens in 
dictatorships around the world where the elite raid the National 
Treasury and steal the money for themselves.
  I will tell you what else happens. They don't invest in ``we the 
people.'' They don't invest in the foundations for families to thrive. 
We know what those foundations are: good public education, debt-free 
college, employment programs that include apprenticeships and career 
technical education, a healthcare system that is simple and seamless 
and is there when your loved one is sick or injured, and it doesn't 
send you into bankruptcy, a system where drug companies can't gouge you 
and raise their prices dozens or even a hundredfold because the laws 
were written to let them do it, a system that invests in affordable 
housing so every family can have a decent home in a decent community, 
investment in infrastructure, rural broadband, repaired highways, 
expanded transit systems, all kinds of infrastructure that enable our 
economy to thrive and our people to do well.
  Did we see what this corrupted system now in place of government by 
and for the powerful, did we see an investment in healthcare or housing 
or education or infrastructure or living-wage

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jobs? We did not because this Chamber is now run by and for the 
powerful of the United States of America, not the people.
  So along comes the other Chamber at the end of this hall, and this 
other Chamber says: We want to restore the vision of our Constitution, 
and they put together H. Res. 1. They said: Let's take this on. Let's 
take on the gerrymandering. Let's take on the voter suppression. Let's 
take on the dark money. They put together this bill for the people--for 
the people, not for the powerful.
  They proceeded to say: Let's start with that challenge of 
gerrymandering. Let's make sure the people pick their leaders instead 
of their leaders picking their electors. Then they proceed to take on 
voter suppression and voter intimidation.
  It was President Lyndon Johnson who said ``the vote is the most 
powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice.''
  That powerful instrument is at the heart of our Constitution. It is 
the instrument that the powerful and privileged want to diminish, 
destroy, and take away so they can continue to run this country by and 
for themselves.
  So this bill says: Let's proceed to do voter empowerment. Let's 
extend early voting to all States. Let's ensure that there is an 
opportunity for people to register to vote, sign up to vote on the 
internet, and have same-day registration. Let's encourage vote by mail, 
which gives a full opportunity for everyone to participate without 
having to get to a poll on a day that it is difficult to get there, and 
let's make sure changes designed to suppress voting are not 
automatically approved, that we will restore the Voting Rights Act, 
which said we will protect the voting system, its sacred heart, the 
Constitution, and we will not let people's rights be stripped away.
  If you look back at November 6, and you look at what happened across 
the country, you see the plot--the plot to prevent the poor from 
voting; the plot to prevent minorities from voting; the plot to prevent 
college students from voting. One State went so far as to say you can't 
vote if your ID doesn't have an expiration date because the college IDs 
in that State didn't have an expiration date--strategy after strategy, 
purging people off the voting rolls without their permission right 
before the election.
  So this bill, the For the People Act that the House is working on 
right now and that we will introduce right here in this Chamber says: 
We believe in the Constitution of America; we believe in the power of 
the people, and we will protect the right to vote. The For the People 
Act takes on campaign finance. It proceeds to say: We will have 
disclosure of contributions. There is sunlight on the system that 
disinfects it--a phrase that so many of my colleagues used to say when 
they were opposing the McCain-Feingold limits. They said: We oppose 
caps on donations, but we support disclosure. It is the sunshine that 
disinfects the system. Suddenly, when the bill that provides disclosure 
was up before this body, the individuals who said that said: ``Oh, I 
was wrong, I don't want sunlight in the system,'' and voted against 
disclosure. So the House is saying: Let's do it. Let's create 
transparency.
  There is an honest ads component that says people need to be able to 
know who is funding the ads they are seeing. I know I have seen in my 
campaigns, attack ad, after attack ad, after attack ad funded by front 
groups.
  Wouldn't it be better for America if the folks behind those ads 
actually have to disclose that they are behind those ads?
  We have in this bill a small-dollar match so individuals who seek to 
run for the House or the Senate with small-dollar donations, donations 
up to $200, get a 6-to-1 match, encouraging breaking the grip of the 
vast dark money and the money that comes from the most affluent in 
large chunks, leveling the playing field for participation by regular 
Americans, freeing our elections from the grip of dark money.
  This bill, the For the People Act, says let's improve the ethics. 
Let's reduce or try to eliminate the conflicts of interest that haunt 
this Chamber and haunt the House Chamber down the hall.
    John Lewis stood on that bridge on Bloody Sunday. Congressman   
John Lewis, long before he was a Congressman, in 1965, stood on that 
bridge. He stood, and he was the very first person in line as the 
troops approached to beat up the protesters. They shoved him, they 
pushed him down, they struck him in the head, and then they proceeded 
to beat up and terrify the other protesters on that bridge.
  Those protesters were standing for the vision of our Constitution, 
were standing for voting rights, the most powerful instrument, as 
Lyndon Johnson said.
  They went back to that bridge the following Tuesday, and they marched 
up and were stopped, and they agreed to turn back--``Turn Back 
Tuesday.'' Then they reorganized again and more people joined. They 
came back a third time and they marched over that bridge and they 
marched all the way to Montgomery, AL, to fight for voting rights 
because it is the heart and soul of an individual's ability to 
participate in our democracy.   John Lewis has said this:

       There is still work to be done. Get out there, push and 
     pull, until we redeem the soul of America.

  The For the People Act that the House will pass and that we will 
introduce here in this Chamber is the fight to redeem the soul of 
America. Let's stand together--old-timers and new Members of the 
Senate, those who sit on the left of the aisle and those who sit on the 
right of the aisle, those who come from blue-collar communities and 
those who come from circles of power--to stand behind the vision of our 
Constitution, the ``we the people'' vision, so this Chamber will do the 
work of the people. Let's restore the soul of America together.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Massachusetts.

                          ____________________