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Rep. Mondaire Jones: Voting Rights Bill H.R. 1 Is of “Foundational Importance” to U.S. Democracy

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The House of Representatives has approved sweeping legislation protecting the right to vote with the For the People Act, which has been described as the most sweeping pro-democracy bill in decades. The legislation is aimed at improving voter registration and access to voting, ending partisan and racial gerrymandering, forcing the disclosure of dark money donors, increasing public funding for candidates, and imposing strict ethical and reporting standards on members of Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court. The bill, which comes amid a nationwide attack on voting rights in courthouses and statehouses, is heading to the Senate, where it is expected to die unless all 50 Senate Democrats unite to end the filibuster. Democratic Congressmember Mondaire Jones of New York says H.R. 1 is “of foundational importance” to preserving U.S. democracy against Republican attacks on voting. “The modern-day Republican Party cannot compete on the merits of its policy ideas,” says Jones. “Rather, it is seeking to disenfranchise large swaths of the American electorate, especially Black and Hispanic people in Southern states.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

The House of Representatives has approved the most sweeping voting rights bill in decades. The For the People Act, also known as House Resolution 1, passed Wednesday by a vote of a 220 to 210, with every Republican opposing the bill. The legislation is aimed at improving voter registration and access to voting, ending partisan and racial gerrymandering, forcing the disclosure of dark money donors, increasing public funding for candidates, and imposing strict ethical and reporting standards on congressmembers and members of the U.S. Supreme Court. The bill now heads to the Senate, where it’s expected to be killed by Republicans unless all 50 Senate Democrats unite to end the filibuster.

The House measure comes as voting rights are under attack in courthouses and statehouses across the country. Republican state lawmakers have introduced over 250 bills in 43 states to limit voter access. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court appears poised to uphold controversial voting limits in Arizona in a case that would further gut the Voting Rights Act. During oral arguments Tuesday, attorney Michael Carvin, who represents the Arizona Republican Party, admitted increasing voter turnout, quote, “puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats. Politics is a zero sum game,” he said. Carvin’s comment echoes a famous quote by the late conservative activist Paul Weyrich, co-founder of The Heritage Foundation. In 1980, he said, “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. … [O]ur leverage in the elections goes up as the voting populace goes down,” Weyrich said.

We’re joined now by newly elected Democratic Congressmember Mondaire Jones of New York.

It’s great to have you with us, Congressman Jones. Can you talk about the significance of what you’ve just passed in the House and what you want to see happen in the Senate?

REP. MONDAIRE JONES: I’m so grateful to be here with you and your viewers.

What we passed, in the form of H.R. 1, is of foundational importance. It is literally required to save our democracy from the ongoing, flagrant assault on our democracy by the Republican Party. The modern-day Republican Party cannot compete on the merits of its policy ideas. Rather, it is seeking to disenfranchise large swaths of the American electorate, especially Black and Hispanic people in Southern states. And so, we have to take action as the United States Congress. It’s why House Democrats passed what you accurately described as the most important voting rights bill since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And it is a very large bill, and it contains a lot of great things.

The stuff that I’ve tended to focus on are automatic voter registration to enfranchise an additional 50 million people nationally; independent redistricting commissions as replacements for the practice of partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts that has allowed people like Marjorie Taylor Greene to coast to victory in general election contests simply because they have prevailed in their Republican primaries; and, of course, public campaign financing, so that people from working-class backgrounds, who tend to be more diverse and are certainly more representative of the median American voter, are able to win congressional campaigns. And by the way, when that happens, you won’t have crazy people, completely detached from reality because of their obscene wealth, debating the need for $2,000 survival checks in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you passed it in the House, H.R. 1. It goes now to the Senate, where it’s expected to die because of the filibuster. Can you talk about the use of the filibuster and what you want to see happen?

REP. MONDAIRE JONES: I don’t expect it to die. And when I speak to my colleagues, they don’t expect it to die, either. We are reaching a point where, as the United States Congress, in particular in the House, continues to pass commonsense legislation that has bipartisan support, by the way — when you look at stuff like the Equality Act, overwhelmingly, Democrats and Republicans don’t feel like members of the LGBTQ community should be discriminated against in housing, in employment, in credit, and so on and so forth. You know, we passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. That’s going to be sitting at the door of the United States Senate, and you’ve got all these senators and also the president and vice president of the United States, who were elected on the backs of Black people and Brown people, and you’re not going to do anything?

So I think it’s going to be untenable, increasingly, for people like Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin to continue to adhere to outdated norms. And by the way, the filibuster is a relic of Jim Crow. I wrote yesterday that just as the filibuster was used to block major civil rights legislation a generation ago, its adherents will now be using it, effectively, to block the Equality Act — which I would think would be personal to Kyrsten Sinema, who’s a history maker in the LGBTQ community in her own right — the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and the For the People Act. And so, I happen to think that if we keep the pressure on, if the House — if House Democrats continue to do their job, that folks in the United States Senate will be forced to do the right thing by the American people, to do what they were elected to do. Imagine getting to the Senate and not actually legislating. I mean, what’s the point of even running?

AMY GOODMAN: So, are you for ending the filibuster?

REP. MONDAIRE JONES: I am a leading proponent in the United States Congress for repealing the filibuster.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about what you just mentioned, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which the House, as you said, also just passed, the bill named after, of course, the African American man who was killed last year by a white Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. And by the way, he goes on trial, Chauvin, officer Chauvin, on Monday. The legislation would ban police chokeholds, eliminate qualified immunity for officers. It also seeks to ban racial and religious profiling, certain no-knock raids, and would set up a national database to track police misconduct. Talk about the significance of this.

REP. MONDAIRE JONES: It is difficult to overstate the significance of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has led to legislation like the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. And by the way, this is not — this is just the beginning. OK? This is not going to solve the issue of systemic racism. And I’m happy to talk about that, as well. But as it concerns this piece of legislation, it was the culmination of those protests that we saw last summer, that I participated in, that in some places are still going on. It was described by historians as the most significant civil rights movement since the last civil rights movement. And that is for good reason. For a lot of people, it was clarified for them, particularly white Americans, that systemic racism, that racism in policing, is pervasive.

And, of course, I have made the argument that it is extending to all parts of our society, right? It’s the way you condition your ability to get necessary medical care and how much money you have in your pocket after you’ve deprived Black families, as a United States government, through policy, of generational wealth. You know, it’s a largely property tax-based system of public education that results in the concentration of tens of billions more dollars in white communities than in Black and Brown communities.

But as it concerns this particular bill, it has a lot of support. And it is something that, again, if you want to speak to the constituencies that are getting Democrats elected and you have any desire whatsoever to retain the majority in 2022, give people a reason to vote for you, and also deliver justice for people for whom justice has been long delayed.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, Congressmember Mondaire Jones, you recently wrote a piece in the New York Daily News, “Biden must cancel student debt without Congress.” Can you explain this? And also talk about your own experience being saddled with student debt.

REP. MONDAIRE JONES: We face a student debt crisis nationally to the tune of $1.7 trillion. It is unlike anything we have seen. And it is something that must be addressed by Congress. Wages have been stagnant for decades, literally decades, when you adjust for inflation, even as the cost of a four-year college degree has soared. We saw in the early '90s the average debt for someone graduating a four-year institution of about $9,000. And, of course, now it's closer to $37,000 and some change, as wages have been stagnant during that same period. Of course, we’re just now fighting, once again, to raise the minimum wage, which hasn’t changed from $7.25 since 2009. But even before then, wages had been stagnant.

And so, we have to do this to liberate an entire generation of young people to meaningfully participate in our economy. In my district, in Westchester and Rockland counties, thousands of young people, people my age and below, are living at home with their parents because they can’t afford to be independent and own a home or pay rent. And that is because of crippling student debt meshed with wage stagnation.

The president of the United States can exercise his authority under the Higher Education Act and forgive that debt. But, unfortunately, as of now, he has declined to do so. And so, we have to make sure that we press this issue. It is an issue of gender justice and, of course, economic justice and racial justice and LGBTQ+ justice.

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