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Wake Up To Politics - March 19, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, March 19, 2019. 321 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 595 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Editor's note: Wake Up To Politics is going to leave for a short spring break for the rest of the month. The newsletter will return on Monday, April 1. But first: here's my special report from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to St. Louis on Monday...

WUTP Special Report:
Pelosi pushes for voting rights legislation at St. Louis event

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) traveled to the St. Louis area on Monday to stump for two landmark pieces of her caucus's "For the People" agenda: H.R. 1, a sweeping political reform bill that passed the House last week, and H.R. 4, which would restore key provisions of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.

Pelosi, the highest-ranking Democrat in the country, spoke about the two bills at the St. Louis Urban League's Community Empowerment Center in Ferguson, joined by Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO) and other elected officials. Pelosi told attendees that the enactment of H.R. 1 and H.R. 4 was "essential" to the success of House Democrats' other priorities, in order to "give the people confidence that we can get it done, because the voices of the people will be heard." The two proposals constitute "an electoral agenda," she said, "that removes obstacles of participation, that increases the voices of the grassroots, that diminishes the role of dark special interest money."

H.R. 1 includes a number of provisions aimed at enhancing campaign finance reform, boosting government ethics, and expanding the electorate, including the creation of a national voter-registration program and formalizing Election Day as a federal holiday. H.R. 4, meanwhile, would seek to once again require states to obtain federal preclearance before making changes to their voting laws. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 included such a preclearance requirement for former Confederate states, but the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that that South-specific formula was outdated. H.R. 4 would authorize a new, nationalized, and updated formula in response to the court's opinion.

"The court decided that our criteria were obsolete. We didn't think so," Pelosi said, relating that the House had yet to vote on H.R. 4 because Democrats were holding hearings across the country to ensure their "basis is ironclad." The Speaker added: "We don't want to give them any excuse not to uphold the next version."

Pelosi said the legislation would remedy "criminal" voter suppression efforts taking place in Republican-controlled states across the country. "The voice and the vote belongs to the people and people can have whatever they want as long as they vote," she said. "If you don't vote, you don't count, and that's why the other side wants to suppress the vote."

Speaking before Pelosi, Rep. Clay struck a similar tone: "In 2019, why is the United States still the only democracy that actively makes it harder for certain citizens to vote? It's wrong, it's unconstitutional, it's un-American, and this bill can help us stop it."

In response to a question from Wake Up To Politics after her remarks, Pelosi knocked down criticism by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that the Democratic voting rights push was a "power grab" by the party. "The reason I'm hopeful that we'll be able to pass this is the public sentiment," she told WUTP. "While [McConnell] may say, 'I'm not bringing this to the floor,' the public will take note." Borrowing a favorite quote from Abraham Lincoln — "Public sentiment is everything: with it, you can accomplish almost anything; without it, practically nothing" — the longtime Democratic legislator detailed her plan to marshal public opinion in order to pressure McConnell to hold votes on the legislation. "I'm starting a new club called the 'Too Hot To Handle Club,'" she joked. "If they're not going to pass it, tell us why."

Pelosi also hinted that her fellow lawmakers across the aisle would have to answer not only to the public — but to a higher power as well. "I sometimes wonder [what will happen] someday, when our colleagues leave this life, go to heaven, meet our Founders — assuming that they are all there, including our colleagues — and say 'oh my God, you founded this country, and I did everything in my power to make sure people couldn't vote.' That's a disgraceful position to have," she said.

The Speaker harkened back to the Founders at multiple times in her speech. "At the time of our revolution, Thomas Paine said, 'The times have found us,'" Pelosi concluded on Monday, before making the single reference in her remarks to Donald Trump. "Well, the times have found us now to do this, to protect our Constitution, which is under assault by the President of the United States, and to protect the right to vote, which is the sacred right and the source of our democracy."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stumps for voting rights legislation at an event in Ferguson, Missouri on Monday, flanked by St. Louis Urban League President Michael McMillan and Missouri Rep. Lacy Clay.