WASHINGTON — House Democrats on Friday unveiled ethics legislation that would go far beyond the new rules they passed a night earlier, which block indicted lawmakers such as Rep. Chris Collins from serving on House committees and bar all House members from serving on boards of public corporations as Collins has.
While the measure passed late Thursday merely sets the rules for the new House to follow, the bill announced Friday offers a dramatic reform of American politics.
For starters, it includes one last shot at Collins. The measure would make permanent that ban on lawmakers serving on corporate boards.
Beyond that, the measure would create public financing for House campaigns, implement automatic voter registration, bolster campaign finance reporting requirements, end the partisan shaping of congressional districts and require presidential candidates to release 10 years of their tax returns.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said the bill responds to public demand for a cleaner government.
"Restoring the peoples’ faith in government is really our agenda," she said.
Democrats hope to push the legislation through the committee system and in February bring it to the House floor, where it is likely to pass on a partisan vote.
The bill stands little chance in the Republican-controlled Senate. The measure would force President Trump — who has refused to release his tax returns — to do so.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has already announced his opposition to the measure, which Democrats had previewed as far back as November.
Asked about it at a Wall Street Journal event in early December, McConnell said he expected the bill to be a congressional attempt to micromanage elections.
"That's not going anywhere in the Senate," he said.
The Democratic measure aims to be both symbolic and substantive. Democrats dubbed it "H.R. 1" to note that it's their No. 1 priority. And as if that weren't symbolic enough, there's the bill's full name: "The For the People Act."
The 600-page measure would bar federal officials from lobbying their former agencies for two years after they leave government, restore Voting Rights Act provisions that had been limited in court decisions and bolster the Office of Government Ethics.
"It's a good package of comprehensive reform," said Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat.
There's strong support for the measure on the left. About 15 progressive protesters from Organize for Action Western New York and Indivisible showed up at Higgins' Buffalo office on Thursday to push for the measure and thank him for his support.
Jane Marinsky, who chairs the local Organize for Action chapter, acknowledged that the Democratic effort is unlikely to pass in full anytime soon.
"It's aspirational," she said. "We really need a lot of these things, especially now, even if they are out of reach."
One thing the new Democratic House can do, however, is set its own rules. And in doing so Thursday night, Democrats appeared to take aim at Collins, a Clarence Republican charged with felony insider trading, as well as Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican accused of raiding his campaign fund for personal use.
In addition to barring them from House committees, the new House rules allow evidence at criminal trials to be used in House investigations. That increases the chances that Collins could face additional House sanctions if he is convicted at his February 2020 criminal trial.
Collins stands accused of fraud and conspiracy. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan say he unleashed an insider stock trading scheme in June 2017 by passing on private information about failed drug tests at an Australian biotech firm where he served on the board.
Collins' son, Cameron, and Stephen Zarsky, Cameron Collins' prospective father-in-law, are also charged in the case. All three men say they are innocent and vow to fight the charges in court.
The Democratic House rules, including those that affect Collins, passed in a 234-197 vote.
Rep. Tom Reed of Corning was one of three Republicans to support the Democratic rules package. Rep. John Katko of Camillus and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania were the others.
Reed backed the compromise because it included key provisions advocated by the House Problem Solvers Caucus, which he co-chairs. Those measures make it easier for bipartisan legislation to make it to the floor of the House and make it harder for small groups of lawmakers to try to overthrow the speaker.
“This vote isn’t about partisan politics. It is about doing what is right for the American people,” Reed said.
Collins voted against the Democratic rules package. Asked for Collins' thoughts on the Democratic rules on Wednesday, the lawmaker's office did not respond.