Bennet Calls for Senate Action One Year After the House Passed Landmark For the People Act

For the People Act Includes Bennet-Led Language on Lobbying and Gerrymandering Reform

VIDEO: Watch Bennet’s speech here

Washington, D.C. – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet delivered a floor speech marking the one-year anniversary of House passage of H.R. 1, the For the People Act, and called on Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to take action on the Senate version of the bill. The For the People Act is a package of comprehensive reforms to renew American democracy, tackle corruption, and restore the American people’s trust in government. The House passed the bill in March 2019, but the Senate has yet to act.

In his speech, Bennet said: “My hope is that at some point when he hears the voices of the American people, Mitch McConnell will relent and allow these bills to come to the floor. He described this bill last year as a ‘power grab.’ A power grab. And I'll accept that if it's understood as a power grab by the American people, which is what it is – an effort to get money out of our politics, and put people back into our politics, so we can start doing the work that the American people sent us here to do.” 

Bennet also addressed how Colorado’s voting reforms have set the bar for the rest of the country: “And I know these reforms can work because they’ve worked in Colorado: a bipartisan commission to end gerrymandering, mail-in voting, automatic and same-day voting registration. The result -- we have the second-highest voter participation rate in America. How can that not be good for our democracy?” 

The For the People Act aims to restore the promise of American democracy by making it easier to vote, curbing the influence of big money in politics, and strengthening ethics and transparency in government. The landmark legislation adopts language from Bennet’s Fair Maps Act of 2018 to ban partisan gerrymandering and draws on Bennet’s CLEAN Politics Act of 2018, to expand the scope of individuals and activities subject to requirements of the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995. 

More broadly, the For the People Act would:

  • Make it easier to vote by expanding early voting, creating automatic and same-day voter registration, and promoting vote-by-mail.
  • Limit the influence of big money in our elections by requiring Super PACs and other outside groups to disclose their top donors, creating a 6-1 matching system for donations under $200, and breaking the gridlock at the Federal Election Commission.
  • Strengthen transparency and ethics in government by banning Members of Congress from serving on the boards of for-profit entities, requiring presidential and vice presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns, and strengthening the enforcement of ethics violations in the Executive Branch, among other reforms. 

Bennet’s remarks as delivered are below: 

Madam President. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about this bill. I want to thank my colleague, Senator Udall, from New Mexico, for his extraordinary work, and my colleague Jeff Merkley from Oregon. 

I don't know if they’ve ever had the experience that I’ve often had -- or whether you have, Madam President -- but there are times when I land in Denver, after spending a week here doing absolutely nothing, where I'm walking through the Denver International Airport, and I want to put a paper bag over my head because I'm so embarrassed about the failure of this institution to live up to even its most -- the barest responsibilities that we have.  

I mean, we can't even pass a basic infrastructure bill around this place while China is building 3,500 miles of fiber-optic cable to connect Latin America with Africa back to China to export the surveillance state from China. That's what they're doing there, while we're doing nothing here. We’ve become the land of flickering lights, where the standard of success is whether we kept the lights on for another two hours or another four hours. 

But, what the American people need to understand is this is the ideological end-state of what the Freedom Caucus came here to Washington to do. It's become the ideological end-state of what Mitch McConnell can do, because in the rubble of our institutions, they can achieve the objectives they want to achieve. They can put right-wing judges on the court without our institutions working. They can come out here and cut taxes for rich people, and claim it's a middle-class tax cut, without our institutions working. 

But what we’re unable to do without those institutions working is invest in our infrastructure, is make sure that we’ve got an education system in this country that’s actually liberating people from their economic circumstances instead of reinforcing their economic circumstances, to ensure that we're doing something on climate, doing something on guns. 

It's been more than 20 years since Columbine happened in Colorado. And my state, a western state, a Second Amendment state, passed background checks after Columbine. My three daughters grew up knowing they lived in a state that actually was trying to respond to what was going on in their schools. Not true of the United States Congress.  

And the reason for much of this inaction is the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United. I won't belabor the point because I know my colleague from Hawaii was kind to let me go ahead of her. But let me just repeat this. Ten donors, after Citizens United, have contributed over the past decade $1.2 billion to our politics. That has created a corruption of inaction in the United States Senate. It's not corruption that you see, because it's a corruption of inaction. It's the bill that's not introduced. It's the committee hearing that's not held. It's the vote that's never taken for fear that if you do that, some billionaire is going to drop $30 million on your race and run a primary against you in your next election. 

You want to know why we could have a Senate in the United States that votes on only 22 amendments in a year? That's the reason. You want to know why we have a senate where 75 percent of the votes are personnel votes and 25 percent are actually on amendments? That's the reason. And we have to overcome it -- not for Democrats or Republicans, but for the American people. Because this is their exercise in self-government. This is the way they make decisions. 

And I know these reforms can work because they’ve worked in Colorado: a bipartisan commission to end gerrymandering, mail-in voting, automatic and same-day voting registration. The result -- we have the second-highest voter participation rate in America. How can that not be good for our democracy? 

My hope is that at some point when he hears the voices of the American people, Mitch McConnell will relent and allow these bills to come to the floor. He described this bill last year as a “power grab.” A power grab. And I'll accept that if it's understood as a power grab by the American people, which is what it is -- an effort to get money out of our politics, and put people back into our politics, so we can start doing the work that the American people sent us here to do. And with that, Madam President, I yield the floor.