Washington — The House on Wednesday passed H.R. 1, a sweeping government and elections reform bill and a key legislative priority for the Democratic majority. The House also passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, though the vote was initially scheduled for Thursday. It was moved up due to a security threat.
Two House sources confirmed to CBS News that there were discussions about moving up votes in the House because of the threat. The U.S. Capitol Police “received new and concerning information and intelligence indicating additional interest in the Capitol for the dates of March 4th – 6th by a militia group,” the House Sergeant at Arms said in a bulletin on Wednesday.
Capitol Police Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman told lawmakers during a hearing Wednesday that “we do have some concerning intelligence” and “we have enhanced our security posture.” The concerns for lawmakers’ safety come after the Capitol was stormed by a mob seeking to overturn the presidential election on January 6, with several rioters seeking to harm or even assassinate lawmakers.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer released an updated schedule showing the House would vote on the George Floyd measure Wednesday night instead of Thursday, enabling the House to wrap up its workweek a day early and to not be in session Thursday.
H.R. 1 passed by a vote of 220-210. No Republicans voted to pass the bill, which is unsurprising, as most Republicans have been vocally opposed to it, saying they believe it amounts to federal overreach and a Democratic power grab.
“This is something that is enormously popular among the American people. The American people want to reduce the role of big, dark, special interest money in politics, which is preventing so many good things from happening. The people want to see an end to voter suppression,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said about H.R. 1 on Tuesday.
By a vote of 220 to 212, the House also voted to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, named after the Minnesota man who died in police custody last year after an officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes, instigating a wave of protests against racial violence and police brutality over the summer. Democratic Representatives Jared Golden of Maine and Ron Kind of Wisconsin voted against the legislation. Republican Representative Lance Gooden of Texas voted for the bill, but later tweeted that he did so by mistake.
The legislation would ban chokeholds and overhaul qualified immunity protections for law enforcement. A policing reform bill was proposed by Republican Senator Tim Scott in the Senate last year, although it was blocked by Democrats who argued that it did not go far enough. Although the two bills have many similarities, they differ in addressing qualified immunity protections for law enforcement officers.
After the House vote, civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump tweeted, “On behalf of George Floyd’s family, we are deeply gratified and grateful for US House leadership. This represents a major step forward to reform the relationship between police officers and communities of color.”
The House had already passed H.R. 1 in 2019 after Democrats took back the majority, and passed the Justice in Policing Act last spring, but neither bill was considered in the Republican-controlled Senate. Democrats now have a narrow 50-seat majority in the Senate, but most legislation requires 60 votes to advance. The bills are unlikely to gain support from ten Republican senators, so their prospects of passing in the Senate are grim.
H.R. 1, known as the “For the People Act,” would overhaul government ethics and campaign finance laws, and seek to strengthen voting rights by creating automatic voter registration and expanding access to early and absentee voting. The vote on the bill comes as Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country seek to restrict voting rights, including measures to limit mail-in voting and impose stricter voter identification requirements.
“We believe that H.R. 1 needs to pass because the Republican state legislators, concerned about their losses, either in their own states or in the country, are again upping their efforts to make it more difficult for people to vote,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters on Tuesday.
The Supreme Court, which has a conservative 6 to 3 majority, is also considering two Arizona laws that restrict access to voting, which Democrats argue disproportionately affect minority voters. If the court upholds these laws, it could allow legislatures to impose even more restrictive voting laws, and a higher standard for litigants seeking to challenge them.
Progressives have argued that the Senate should eliminate the filibuster, which would allow legislation to advance with a simple majority, in order to pass their key priorities. Some Democrats argue that it is important to eliminate the filibuster particularly so that voting rights legislation can be passed, such as the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would restore provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court. Former President Barack Obama called for eliminating the filibuster so that voting rights laws could pass the Senate during his eulogy at Lewis’ funeral last summer.
Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock suggested there could be a limited exception to filibuster rules for bills related to voting and civil rights. Warnock was elected to represent Georgia in a January special election, and the Republican-controlled state legislature has recently advanced bills to make early and mail-in voting more difficult.
“Voting rights is preservative of all other rights, and we have to do everything we can to preserve the voices of the people in our democracy,” Warnock told reporters on Tuesday. “I think that the issues are urgent enough to leave all options on the table.”
However, Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have expressed opposition to eliminating the filibuster. Manchin on Monday said that he would “never” change his mind about ending the filibuster.
“Never! Jesus Christ! What don’t you understand about never?” Manchin said.
Nikole Killion and Brian Dakss contributed to this report.