Gaylord News is a Washington reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.
WASHINGTON — Voting rights and hate speech took center stage on Capitol Hill this week.
House Democrats spent the week focusing on a sweeping voting rights and ethics bill ahead of a Friday vote but got caught up with an internal debate over how to respond to comments made by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).
Democrats’ voting rights bill passes House
A bill focusing on voting rights, campaign finance and ethics passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday morning with a party-line vote, 234-193.
The For the People Act of 2019, or H.R. 1, seeks to implement automatic voter registration, make Election Day a federal holiday, require “dark money” political groups to disclose their donors and make presidential candidates disclose their tax returns, among other provisions.
Rep. Kendra Horn (D-Okla.) was the only member of the Oklahoma delegation to vote for the legislation, and she was one of 236 co-sponsors. Horn tweeted her support of the bill Thursday night and explained why she believes the bill is important in a thread.
“Is this bill perfect? No,” Horn tweeted. “But overall this legislation improves how our country performs its most critical work.”
Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) all opposed the bill. They joined House Republicans who have been voicing concerns with the legislation all week.
Mullin tweeted his displeasure with the bill Friday, writing, “Today's vote is a gross overreach of power by Democrats and an incredible show of constitutional overreach. I strongly reject the bill and its principles.”
The For the People Act of 2019 now heads to the Senate where it is not expected to be voted on. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed his opposition to the bill many times, nicknaming it the “Democratic Politician Protection Act.”
Cole amendment on H.R. 1 fails
Cole was the only Oklahoma representative to propose an amendment on H.R. 1. The amendment would “restore a provision currently in law that bars government contractors from disclosing campaign contributions as part of the bidding process.”
The amendment failed by a vote of 199-235.
Cole opposed H.R. 1, saying in a statement that the bill would create welfare programs for political candidates and disrupt the states’ role in elections.
“In fact, I’ve already heard from Paul Ziriax, Secretary of Oklahoma’s State Election Board, describing in detail how the mandates proposed in H.R. 1 would negatively impact Oklahoma’s highly successful and widely recognized election system,” Cole said in a statement. “The proposed mandates would increase the cost of elections for the entire state as well as every county in the state.”
Oklahoma’s House members voted to support a bill condemning anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim discrimination and bigotry that passed with overwhelmingly bipartisan support on Thursday.
Just 23 members voted against it, all of them Republican.
The bill was prompted by recent comments from Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) criticizing pro-Israel lawmakers for supposedly pledging their “allegiance to a foreign country.”
“Today, I took another stand in condemning hatred and racism,” Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) tweeted. “There is no place for anti-Semitism, bigotry, or any other racist language in our great society — including in the halls of Congress. We must continue to take a stand and call out racism when we see it.”
Omar’s remarks have exposed a rift in the Democratic party over its stance on the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Some have criticized the swift condemnation of one of two Muslim women in Congress while others say the House leadership’s response was not strong enough.
Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) tweeted on Tuesday that Omar, who has previously expressed similar anti-Israel rhetoric, once again “caused the drama” with her “vile comments.”
“America is and always will be Israel’s strongest friend!” Hern tweeted.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced a bill this week that would make English the national language of the United States.
“Just as there is no country without borders, there is no unity without a common language,” Inhofe said. “As I work with President Trump to secure our border and build the wall, I wanted to also take steps to move forward to establishing a national language to promote national unity and greater opportunities for immigrant families.”
Inhofe, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, grilled military leaders about the “dismal conditions” of military housing in Oklahoma and across the country on Thursday.
“The chain of command failed to take care of its own, and lost their trust,” Inhofe said. “Now, the chain of command must regain that trust.”
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) this week touted the release of the fourth volume of his Federal Fumbles report on government waste. The report chronicles issues in government policy and procedure that he said must be solved to help reduce the $22 trillion national debt.