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What’s Up in DC: Action Moves to the House on Campaign Reform and Racial Justice

And here’s what to watch for with the Supreme Court and Senate confirmation fights.

What’s Up in DC: Action Moves to the House on Campaign Reform and Racial Justice

The big DC action this week will be in the US Senate, where some version of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act will pass. But what version? Will it include a minimum wage hike? The House version, passed Friday, does. All eyes will be on Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats as they try to figure this one out. My latest on the fight will be up on The Nation’s site Tuesday morning.

But what else is happening this week?

Let’s turn to House majority leader Steny Hoyer, who has proven to be the master of the schedule. Hoyer told members of the chamber’s Democratic Caucus in mid-February the plan was for them to complete consideration of the Equality Act, the Colorado Wilderness Act, and President Biden’s American Rescue Plan around Friday, February 26.

The House approved the Equality Act, a comprehensive proposal to end legal discrimination against LGBTQ Americans, in a 224-206 vote on Thursday.

The House approved the Colorado Wilderness Act, a sweeping plan to permanently protect more than 660,000 acres of wilderness in 36 distinct areas across the state, in a 227-200 vote during the day on Friday.

The House approved the American Rescue Plan, the president’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package, in a 219-212 vote.

So Hoyer is pretty good at predicting what’s going to happen in the House. With that said, what’s on tap this week?

The week of March 1 will see the House take up H.R. 1, the For the People Act. This legislation, which the House passed in 2019, is the centerpiece of Democrats’ agenda to make government more transparent and accountable to the people it serves. From protecting voting rights to reforming campaign finance, from requiring higher ethical standards for public officials to engaging in nonpartisan redistricting reform, H.R. 1 aims to renew Americans’ faith that their government will always work for the people. Additionally that week, the House will consider the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.  This critical civil rights legislation, which the House passed last June, would address racial bias in law enforcement.

HR 1: The For the People Act of 2021

House Democracy Reform Task Force Chair John Sarbanes announced last week that all House Democrats had cosponsored HR 1, the For the People Act of 2021. “House Democrats are united in our steadfast commitment to advance transformational anti-corruption and clean election reforms by swiftly passing H.R. 1,” said Sarbanes. “Our historic reform effort will end decades of dysfunction in Washington, return power to the people and build a more just, equitable and prosperous country for all Americans.” The show of unity should assure easy passage of the measure, but there is still some wrangling over one component of it—a proposal to require states to let independent redistricting commissions draw congressional district lines based on 2020 Census numbers. Several Congressional Black Caucus members have expressed concerns that such a move might make it tougher to draw majority-minority districts in Southern states. CBC chair Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) has suggested that conversations with leadership could lead to amending the language to resolve concerns. Overall, the prognosis for passage is good.

HR 1280: The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act

Like HR 1, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was approved by the House during the last Congress and is likely to be approved again. It’s got 195 cosponsors, all Democrats. The only hurdle is a dispute over a provision that would end legal immunity for police officers accused of misconduct. Centrist Democrats, such as New Jersey’s Josh Gottheimer claim that ending so-called “qualified immunity” imperils passage in the Senate. Karen Bass, the California Democrat who is the measure’s lead sponsor warned, “If we start negotiating before getting the bill out of the House, we won’t have a bill.” The former CBC chair, who was on Joe Biden’s vice presidential shortlist in 2020, pushed back against centrists who say they fear attacks by Republicans,  saying, “I don’t think that you pass legislation or support legislation based on your fear of a future campaign ad.”

Supreme Court Takes Up a Challenge to Restrictions on Voting Rights

The Brennan Center for Justice reminds us to keep an eye on the Judicial Branch this week. On Tuesday, the center notes, “the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a challenge to a pair of Arizona policies that make it harder for people to vote, especially in Black, Latino, and Native American communities. The case likely won’t just affect voters in Arizona—it could have broad implications for the fairness of our democracy across the country because of what the decision might mean for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” Here’s a link to a good explainer on the case, which says, “The lawsuit is a crucial test for the Voting Rights Act’s ability to protect people of color.”

Confirmation Fights in the Senate

President Biden’s cabinet picks are being approved at a steady rate, with Senate votes last week for Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, United States Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. On tap are: secretary of education nominee Miguel Cardona, whose nomination was approved by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on February 11; secretary of Housing and Urban Development nominee Marcia Fudge, whose nomination was approved by the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee on February 4; secretary of commerce nominee Gina Raimondo, whose nomination was approved by the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on February 3; secretary of labor nominee Marty Walsh, whose nomination was approved by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on February 11; and administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency nominee Michael S. Regan, whose nomination was approved by the Environment and Public Works Committee on February 9.

Watch for committee action, including votes, soon on Secretary of Health and Human Services nominee Xavier Becerra (Finance), Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland (Judiciary), Secretary of the Interior nominee Deb Haaland (Energy and Natural Resources Committee), and United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai (Finance).

All are likely to be approved. Becerra could have the toughest fight. Read a good piece on his nomination by Sasha Abramsky here. And here’s my piece on the Haaland nomination.

Still stalled: director of the Office of Management and Budget nominee Neera Tanden (Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Budget Committee). Keep an eye on a new push for Tanden this week by the administration, which has reportedly urged Asian-American groups to make an effort to save her troubled nomination.