Sarbanes, fellow Democrats say first bill of new U.S. House will seek to ‘drain the swamp’ with reforms

WASHINGTON — Rep. John Sarbanes and other House Democrats announced plans Friday for their first bill of the new, Democratic-controlled House of Representatives — a political reform measure they say would “drain the swamp” in a way President Donald Trump has not.

The measure contains ethics reform, campaign finance reform and voting rights protections, and is designed “to make a powerful statement right out of the gate,” said Sarbanes, the Baltimore County Democrat who is the measure’s principal author. It is to be introduced when the new Congress convenes Jan. 3.

Sarbanes chairs a government reform task force whose principal concerns — including minimizing the influence of special interests and ensuring fair elections — are poised to receive more attention in the new Congress. Democratic leaders believe reform issues resonated with voters in the Nov. 6 midterm elections, and they are eager to pursue bills such as Sarbanes’.

"Our best friend in this debate is the public," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat nominated by the party to be the next House speaker.

She appeared at a news conference with Sarbanes and said his legislation would be the "first order of business" in the new Congress.

Also appearing at the event were more than a half-dozen just-elected Democrats.

Members of the new class “have that message of reform pinned to their chest,” Sarbanes said. “This class has told us that this is what the people want to see.”

Sarbanes has chaired the Democracy Reform Task Force — a study and advocacy group — since January 2017. All the members are Democrats.

The legislation is to include national automatic voter registration, meaning that — unless they opt out — people would be registered when they interact with a government institution such as a state department of motor vehicles.

It also would require all political organizations to disclose their donors. A recent Pew Research Center report found that most Americans are concerned about the influence of big money in politics and want to limit campaign spending. The legislation would tighten rules on super PACs and overhaul the Federal Election Commission.

The legislation is to have the title “H.R. 1” to designate its significance.

While it is unlikely to win approval in the Republican-controlled Senate and from Trump, it could be chopped up and some of its pieces accepted by both parties.

Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the current House majority leader, did not respond Friday to a request for comment.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump promised to “drain the swamp” of Washington corruption and insider dealing. Crowds at his rallies sometimes chanted, “Drain the swamp!”

Trump still uses the phrase.

“I’m draining the Swamp, and the Swamp is trying to fight back,” the president tweeted in September after an anonymous administration official wrote a New York Times op-ed about trying to resist elements of the president’s agenda. “Don’t worry, we will win!” Trump tweeted.

“For the last couple of years, he’s talked the game of draining the swamp,” Sarbanes said in an interview. “He’s used this because he knows how important it is to the public. He trades on that sentiment, and it’s very cynical to do that if you have no intention of actually following through.”

jebarker@baltsun.com

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