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House passes sweeping voting rights, ethics bill

The measure passed the Democratic-controlled House. The Senate filibuster may stand in the way of its passage.

The House on Wednesday passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.

The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing America's voting systems.

The House measure passed 220-210, with one Democrat joining all Republicans in voting against it.

The bill would also strengthen oversight of political lobbying and campaign finance by preventing members of Congress from serving on corporate boards and requiring presidents to release their tax returns.

Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., first introduced the legislation, also known as H.R. 1, in 2019, when it passed the House but it stalled in the Senate, which was controlled by Republicans at the time. He reintroduced the act in January.

"The 2020 election underscored the need for comprehensive, structural democracy reform. Americans across the country were forced to overcome rampant voter suppression, gerrymandering and a torrent of special-interest dark money just to exercise their vote and their voice in our democracy," Sarbanes said in a statement.

Former President Donald Trump promised to release his financial records in full, but he ultimately refused to release his tax returns while he was president and as a candidate. Since his election defeat, Republican state legislators have proposed tighter voting restrictions.

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The White House Office of Management and Budget released a statement Monday in support of the bill, which would also commit to restore the Voting Rights Act, combat voter purging and reform redistricting.

President Joe Biden said in a statement Thursday that he would work with Congress to refine and advance the bill and applauded its passage following the events leading up to the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol and state-level efforts to pass restrictive voting laws.

"The right to vote is sacred and fundamental — it is the right from which all of our other rights as Americans spring," Biden said in touting the bill's provisions. "This landmark legislation is urgently needed to protect that right, to safeguard the integrity of our elections, and to repair and strengthen our democracy."

However, the filibuster may stand in the way of the bill's passage in the Senate.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked Monday whether Biden supports abolishing the filibuster to pass the bill.

"The president is committed to protecting the fundamental right to vote and making it easier for all eligible Americans to vote," she said. "We're not going to get ahead of the process. The president's view on the filibuster is well known. He has not changed that stance."