House Passes Bipartisan Legislation to Strengthen, Protect Our Democracy
Washington, December 9, 2021
Washington, D.C. - Today, the House passed the Protecting Our Democracy Act on a bipartisan basis – a comprehensive package of reforms that will strengthen America’s democratic institutions against future presidents who could seek to abuse the power of their office for corrupt purposes.
The proposals – many of which have been supported by both Democrats and Republicans in the past – will restore the federal government’s system of checks and balances, strengthen accountability and transparency, and protect America’s elections from foreign interference.
The Protecting Our Democracy Act was first introduced during the 116th Congress and reflects Congress’ determination to restore the guardrails of our democratic systems. This year, the bill also stands as the third pillar of the 117th Congress’ efforts to protect, support, and restore the people’s faith in America’s democratic systems – complementing both H.R. 1, the For the People Act, and H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
The Protecting Our Democracy Act is sponsored by Chairpersons Jerrold Nadler (D-NY; Judiciary Committee), Adam Schiff (D-CA; House Intelligence), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore; Transportation and Infrastructure) Richard Neal (D-MA; Ways & Means Committee), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn; House Appropriations), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY; House Oversight), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA; House Administration), Gregory Meeks (D-NY; House Foreign Affairs), and John Yarmuth (D-KY; Budget Committee). It includes legislation authored by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), Madeline Dean (D-PA), and Katie Porter (D-CA). Additionally, the legislation is supported by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
“When the nation’s founders wrote our Constitution, they stood fast to a key principle: that the Executive must not be a king and must, instead, be accountable to Congress, to the people, and to the rule of law,” said Nadler. “Unfortunately, recent experience has exposed vulnerabilities in our democracy that point to a desperate need for reform. The Protecting Our Democracy Act reasserts this important principle by ensuring that the presidency is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, providing effective enforcement of congressional subpoenas, preventing misuse of the pardon power, and strengthening the independence of the Department of Justice. I thank Chairman Schiff and all the other Members who contributed to this important legislation and for their work in curtailing abuse by any president of any party for generations to come.”
“Today, the House delivered a simple, unequivocal message — our democracy is worth fighting for. We will not allow the abuses that defined the previous administration to become our norms, nor will we will allow a future autocratic president, Democrat or Republican, to exploit weaknesses in our democratic institutions. Most important, we must earn back the people’s trust that our government will serve the public interest, and not the personal interests of any one officeholder,” said Schiff. “There is no time to waste – the Senate must be swift in passing these reforms, so Congress can fulfill its mission of safeguarding our democracy for generations to come. I look forward to working with both the Senate and the Administration to make these reforms law.”
“The genius of our Constitution is our system of checks and balances, envisioned by our Founders and enshrined into our Founding documents to ensure the survival and strength of a democracy of, by and for the people,” said Pelosi. “Nearly two and a half centuries later, in the wake of a rogue past president, Congress has the responsibility and opportunity to restore our Founders’ vision and bolster the democratic institutions and norms that are the foundation of our republic with the Protecting our Democracy Act. Led by Chairman Adam Schiff, House Democrats are proud to be passing this comprehensive and transformative package of democracy reforms, which will create essential guardrails to uphold the rule of law and prevent any president, regardless of party, from abusing the public trust or undermining our democracy.”
“We’ve seen our democracy be put to the test over the last several years, making only more urgent the work of Congress to safeguard the government from both foreign and domestic bad actors,” Neal said. “With our passage of the essential reforms in this legislation, we strengthen our democratic systems, prevent future presidential abuses of power, and help restore Americans’ faith in their government’s accountability, integrity, and transparency.”
“With today’s House passage of the Protecting Our Democracy Act, we are sending a clear message that no President —regardless of political party— is above the law. I’m proud to have helped lead this landmark bill to preserve our democracy, restore accountability to the American people, and protect those who are brave enough to speak truth to power,” said Maloney.
“After witnessing four years of the previous administration’s grift, corruption, and disdain for democratic norms, the reforms in the Protecting our Democracy Act are imperative. Among other measures, this legislation would help prevent foreign actors and money from improperly influencing the outcomes of our elections and ensures those engaging in elections misconduct with foreign agents are held accountable by the law. Taken together, the significant reforms contained in the Protecting our Democracy Act will help strengthen the foundation of our democracy for generations to come,” said Lofgren.
“Never again can we let our democracy be jeopardized by those who seek to abuse power in the pursuit of selfish interests. In passing the Protecting our Democracy Act, we have reaffirmed our commitment to transparency, accountability, and a strong system of checks and balances. The commonsense reforms included in this landmark legislation will restore, strengthen, and protect our democracy to ensure it endures for generations to come. I encourage my colleagues in the Senate to uphold their obligation to protect our Constitution and rule of law, and vote for the Protecting our Democracy Act without delay,” said Yarmuth.
“The American people must be confident that their President will work in the public interest, not in his/her personal financial interest. That’s why today the House passed the Protecting Our Democracy Act, which includes my legislation to require all future candidates for the presidency and vice presidency to release their tax returns,” said Eshoo. “Tax returns contain vital information for the public, including taxes paid; charitable contributions made; money borrowed and from whom; and investments, where they are held and whether tax loopholes have been employed. Only a full release of tax returns can provide the public with clear information about potential conflicts of interest or entanglements with foreign governments or businesses.”
“Donald Trump took a sledgehammer to the foundations of our democracy and left our democratic institutions teetering on the edge,” said Connolly. “It is our duty, as a Congress and as a country, to clean up the rubble and repair the damage before he or someone of his ilk swings the hammer again. With the Protecting Our Democracy Act, that’s exactly what we’ll begin to do. This legislation, which has now passed the House, is vital to preserving our beloved democratic values. I was proud to join my colleagues in introducing it, and I thank each of them for their tireless work in defense of American democracy.”
"The Attorney General works for the people, not the president. Presidents Trump and Nixon did not understand this distinction, and they both brought new levels of criminality and interference to the office. The Protecting Our Democracy Act includes my legislation to require the Attorney General to maintain a log of certain communications between the Department of Justice and the White House and require that information be provided to independent oversight authorities. I thank Chairman Schiff and all my colleagues in the House for leading the effort in the House to prevent abuses of power and strengthen accountability and transparency at the highest levels of our government,” said Jeffries.
“History has shown us that democracy is fragile. It can only be maintained by engaged citizens and elected officials who are willing to protect and preserve our sacred institutions,” said Swalwell. “Today, the House passed the Protecting Our Democracy Act, which I helped introduce. This bill will help ensure that no future president, no matter their party, places our democracy at risk in service of their own selfish, illegal, and authoritarian ambitions.”
“The former President and his administration made numerous attempts at undermining our system of government and our democracy,” Lieu said. “We cannot allow that to happen again. I’m pleased the Protecting Our Democracy Act – a package of historically bipartisan reforms to restore checks and balances, strengthen accountability and transparency, and protect America’s elections from foreign interference – passed the House today. I’m also grateful the package includes my legislation, the IG Protection Act, to strengthen the independence and integrity of the federal government’s inspectors general. I thank Chairman Schiff and all my colleagues who have worked on this critical legislation to prevent future abuses of power and safeguard our Republic.”
"For most of our nation’s history, we have expected our national leaders to observe the highest standards of ethical conduct and transparency, and for the most part, they have complied. However, in recent years we have seen elected officials, including the former president, disregard or undermine standards of decency and good government, to the point where we can no longer rely upon the unwritten norms that have governed political discourse and activity for generations,” said Scanlon. “My constituents share my concern about the need to prevent abuses of executive power and strengthen tools to ensure accountability for when such abuses take place. Just last week at a town hall, several residents raised issues about government corruption and accountability — issues that the Protecting our Democracy Act will address head-on. We cannot afford to wait any longer to enact meaningful legal guardrails. The stakes are too high.”
“The previous administration exposed concerning fault lines that we must rectify – the twice-impeached, failed President Trump abused the powers of his office to protect and enrich himself, family, and friends while targeting his political opponents and soliciting foreign interference to help his election,” said Dean. “The Protecting Our Democracy Act will prevent future Presidential abuses of power, protect our elections, and restore checks and balances – these protections are vital to the future of our Republic."
"Foreign special interests shouldn't get a say in our elections, including at the state and local level," Porter said. "And yet, under current law, foreign donors are free to finance ballot initiatives—a practice that undermines our democracy and drowns out the voices of the American people. I'm proud my proposal to finally close this loophole is included in the Protecting Our Democracy Act, landmark legislation that will strengthen our democratic institutions for generations to come."
The Protecting Our Democracy Act is sponsored by Chairpersons Adam Schiff (D-CA; House Intelligence), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore; Transportation and Infrastructure) Richard Neal (D-MA; Ways & Means Committee), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn; House Appropriations), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY; Judiciary Committee), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY; House Oversight), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA; House Administration), Gregory Meeks (D-NY; House Foreign Affairs), and John Yarmuth (D-KY; Budget Committee). It includes legislation authored by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), Madeline Dean (D-PA), and Katie Porter (D-CA). Additionally, the legislation is supported by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
Specifically, the Protecting Our Democracy Act will:
Prevent Presidential Abuses
Prevent Abuse of the Pardon Power: Requires the Department of Justice to provide materials to Congress concerning any self-serving presidential pardon or commutation in cases involving the President or his/her relatives, contempt of Congress, or obstruction of Congress; clarifies that the President and Vice President are “public officials” and pardons are “official acts” and “things of value” for purposes of the federal bribery statute, and prohibits self-pardons by the President.
Ensure No President is Above the Law: Suspends the statute of limitations for any federal offense committed by a sitting president or vice president, whether it was committed before or during their terms in office, to ensure that presidents and vice presidents can be held accountable for criminal conduct just like every other American and not use their offices as a shield to avoid legal consequences.
Enforce the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution: Codifies the Constitution’s Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses by prohibiting federal officials from accepting foreign emoluments without Congress’s consent and prohibiting the President from accepting domestic emoluments; strengthens the process for civil actions brought by Congress for violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause; enhances financial disclosure requirements related to emoluments; and provides enhanced enforcement mechanisms for Congress and for entities within the Executive Branch.
Restore Our System of Checks and Balances, Strengthen Accountability, and Transparency
Enforce Congressional Subpoenas: Strengthens Congress’ tools to enforce lawfully-issued subpoenas while preserving the accommodations process; codifies a cause of action for Congress to enforce its subpoenas, including those issued to government officials; expedites the judicial process for congressional subpoena enforcement actions; empowers courts to levy fines on government officials who willfully fail to comply with congressional subpoenas; and specifies the manner in which subpoena recipients must comply.
Reassert Congressional Power of the Purse: Strengthens Congress’ power of the purse by enhancing the Impoundment Control Act (ICA), including by adding penalties for failure to comply; increasing transparency and reporting requirements for the Executive Branch; and strengthens congressional budget oversight tools under the ICA and Antideficiency Act (ADA) to prevent federal agencies from misusing federal funds.
Strengthen Congressional Oversight of Presidential Emergency Declarations: Imposes a limit on Presidential declarations of emergencies and any powers triggered by such declarations unless extended by a vote of the Congress; requires the President to provide all Presidential Emergency Action Documents (PEADs) to Congress.
Provide Security from Political Interference in Justice: In order to limit political interference in criminal and civil enforcement matters, requires the Attorney General to maintain a log of certain communications between the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the White House; requires the Attorney General to provide the log to the DOJ Inspector General (DOJ IG) bi-annually, and requires the DOJ IG to report to Congress any inappropriate communications or communications evidencing improper political interference.
Protect Inspector General Independence: Permits the President or the head of an agency to only remove an Inspector General (IG), including IGs of the Intelligence Community (IC), for cause; clarifies that IGs of the IC have sole authority to determine matters of urgent concern, which include foreign interference in our elections; enhances congressional reporting requirements when an IG is removed; requires the President or an agency head to give 30 days’ notice before placing an IG on administrative leave; and requires the President to provide to Congress documentation of cause before removing an IG.
Protect Whistleblowers: Enhances protections for federal whistleblowers, including measures to protect the anonymity of whistleblowers; clarifies the right of government employees, including those in the IC, to provide information directly to Congress; creates a private right of action for whistleblowers who are publicly outed by government officials; and limits the conditions under which a government official or employee may disclose a whistleblower’s identity or other whistleblower information, including limitations on the sharing of IC whistleblower complaints with persons named as subjects in the complaint.
Provide Accountability for Acting Officials: Makes a series of changes with respect to the appointment, tenure, and qualifications of acting officials of executive agencies; limits the tenure of acting heads of agencies to no more than 120 days.
Strengthen Hatch Act Enforcement and Penalties: Strengthens the Office of Special Counsel’s (OSC) ability to investigate violations of the Hatch Act; clarifies that employees of the Executive Office of the President and the Office of the Vice President can be investigated and disciplined for Hatch Act violations; authorizes Merit Service Protection Board (MSPB) to issue fines for Hatch Act violations committed by senior political appointees, and increases the maximum fine for Hatch Act violations by senior political appointees to $50,000.
Promoting Efficient Presidential Transitions: Promotes orderly presidential transitions by requiring that if the Administrator of General Services does not ascertain a winner in a presidential election within 5 days of the election, each eligible presidential candidate and the vice-presidential candidate shall be treated as the winner, until an ascertainment is made, or a winner is certified by Congress.
Presidential and Vice-Presidential Tax Transparency: Requires the president and Vice President, or major party candidates for those offices, to provide ten years of tax returns to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), who is required to make them public. If a covered person does not provide their tax records, the Secretary of the Treasury is required to provide them to the FEC.
Protect Our Elections
Ensure Reporting of Foreign Interference in Elections: Requires that political committees report to the FBI and the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) certain foreign contacts; requires that each political candidate and immediate family member of a candidate notify a designated campaign committee official of certain foreign contacts; requires the FBI to report to the congressional intelligence committees any reporting received pursuant to these provisions.
Prevent Foreign Interference in Elections: Clarifies that the definition of a “thing of value” in the Federal Election Campaign Act prohibition on foreign donations to political campaigns and candidates includes information sought or obtained for political advantage; enhances criminal penalties for violations of such prohibition; requires that political campaigns certify that they understand the prohibition. The bill would also clarify campaign finance law to extend the ban on contributions by foreign nationals to include ballot initiatives and referendums.