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Why the vote on the Protecting Our Democracy Act matters

With plenty of kinetic activity on Capitol Hill this week, the House vote on the Protecting Our Democracy Act was largely lost in the shuffle, which is a shame because there’s a lot to like in this bill. Roll Call reported:

Seeking to avoid a repeat of the scandal-plagued Trump presidency, House Democrats approved a bill almost entirely along party lines Thursday that would put new limits on executive branch power and subject presidential candidates to more disclosure.

The vote on the legislation was 220 to 208, with every Democrat in the chamber voting for it, along with Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. Every other GOP member on the floor yesterday opposed the bill.

But it didn’t have to be that way.

To be sure, the bill’s Democratic architects had Donald Trump’s abuses in mind while crafting the legislation. For example, the former president refused to disclose his tax returns, so the Protecting Our Democracy Act would require future presidents to share the materials with the public. Team Trump was indifferent to Hatch Act violations, so the bill would give teeth to federal ethics laws.

Similarly, Trump issued corrupt pardons, so the bill intends to make it easier to hold presidents accountable for issuing corrupt pardons. Trump has been accused of several crimes, so the Protecting Our Democracy Act suspends the statute of limitations for any federal offense committed by a sitting president. Trump was indifferent to the Constitution’s Emoluments Clauses, so the bill is designed to give Congress new mechanisms to ensure the law’s enforcement. Trump fired inspectors general who stood in his way, so this proposal would offer IGs new protections.

Trump benefited from foreign election interference, so this proposal requires political committees to report foreign contacts to domestic law enforcement. Trump denied his success a peaceful transition of power, so the Protecting Our Democracy Act imposes new instructions on the General Services Administration to make the process more efficient. Trump redirected funds away from their congressionally approved purpose, so the bill would make that far more difficult in the future.

There’s some precedent for such an effort. As my MSNBC colleague Zeeshan Aleem explained in September, “After President Richard Nixon’s scandal-fueled resignation, Congress passed sweeping reforms meant to rebuild trust in the political system, and it enacted policies ranging from limiting government surveillance powers to re-envisioning campaign finance rules to ethics reform.”

In the wake of a similarly scandalous and corrupt presidency, Democrats are eager to take a related step — identifying what went wrong and approving reforms to prevent similar abuses. With this in mind, it may not seem especially surprising that far-right House Republicans, desperate to appear loyal to the former president, voted against the legislation.

But let’s not forget that while Trump may have inspired the package of reforms, the Protecting Our Democracy Act would apply to all future presidents, regardless of party. At its core, this is an effort to restrain presidential power and prevent possible abuses.

There’s nothing inherently partisan or ideological about it. Republicans could’ve supported it and said their sole concern was curbing President Joe Biden and future Democratic presidents.

Nevertheless, more than 99 percent of GOP representatives voted against it anyway.

The bill now heads to the evenly divided Senate, where a Republican filibuster awaits. That said, The New York Times reported, “[S]upporters of the bill envision breaking it up and attaching different components to other legislation in the Senate in a bid to regain bipartisan backing for elements that Republicans have supported in the past.”

Watch this space.

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