Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings rarely sees eye to eye with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
But the new Democratic chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee announced Wednesday that he agrees with McConnell’s statement that a sweeping voting rights bill constitutes a “power grab.”
They still disagree, however, on who’s getting the power.
Cummings held a hearing Wednesday on one of Democrats’ top legislative priorities, a bill they say will fight corruption, combat the influence of money in politics and improve access to the polls.
McConnell called the effort a “power grab,” saying Democrats “want taxpayers on the hook for generous new benefits for federal bureaucrats and government employees,” including making Election Day a “new paid holiday for government workers,” The Washington Post reported.
“He’s right about one thing. It is a power grab,” Cummings said Wednesday. “But it is not by Democrats, it is by American citizens who voted for reform in this last election and sent a clear message that they want to exercise their constitutional right to vote without interference.”
Cummings later delivered a fiery speech to the committee, declaring that he’ll “fight until the death” to ensure that Americans’ voting rights are protected.
The chairman expressed outrage over a scathing 2016 federal appeals court decision where the judges struck down voting restrictions enacted by the North Carolina General Assembly, finding that they were discriminatory. The judges wrote that the voting provisions targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
The issue is personal for Cummings.
“One year ago today, on my mother’s dying bed, 92 years old, former sharecropper. Her last words were ‘do not let them take our votes away from us.’ She had fought, she had fought and seen people harmed, beaten, trying to vote,” Cummings said, nearly shouting into the microphone.
His mother, Ruth Elma Cummings, died from complications of a stroke last February, The Baltimore Sun reported.
“Voting is crucial, and I don’t give a damn how you look at it,” Cummings continued. “There are efforts to stop people from voting. That’s not right. This is not Russia. This is the United States of America, and I will fight until the death to make sure every citizen, whether they’re Green Party, whether they’re Freedom Party, whether they’re Democrat, Republican, whoever, has the right to vote, because it is the essence of our democracy.
“I want to be clear that when they look back on this moment 200 years from now, that there are those of us who stood up, and they’ll be able to say they stood up and say they defended the right to vote.”
The Democrats’ bill is H.R. 1, a number that’s typically reserved for priority legislation. One of the bill’s original co-sponsors is Rep. John P. Sarbanes (D-Md). It represents a Democratic wish list of provisions dealing with voting rights, campaign finance and ethics that stand little chance of being enacted with Republicans in control of the White House and Senate.
Echoing McConnell, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the ranking member of the oversight committee, called the Democrats’ bill “a laundry list of tired proposals designed to benefit the majority by tilting the playing field in their favor.”
Despite the bill’s slim chance at being signed into law by President Trump, Maryland Democrats on the Oversight and Reform Committee welcomed the chance to talk about its key provisions on Wednesday.
The bill is “about giving Americans their republic back,” Sarbanes said. “Americans from across the political spectrum want a democracy that works for them, where big money doesn’t dominate” and access to the ballot box is ensured for all citizens.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) warned that the executive branch “is drowning in big money, corruption, self-dealing and lawlessness.” The Trump administration said it was going to drain the swamp, he added, before they “moved into the swamp, they built a hotel on it and they started renting out rooms to foreign princes and kings and governments.”
Raskin called it a “new day in Washington,” touting ethics reforms that Democrats hope to advance now that they hold the majority in the House.