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Rep. John Lewis on the Passage of HR 1, the For the People Act

March 8, 2019
Press Release
An Historic Reform Package to Restore Voting Rights Protections, Confront the Culture of Corruption in Washington, and Reduce the Role of Money in Politics

WASHINGTON - Rep. John Lewis (GA) is one of the co-authors of the Voter Empowerment Act, included nearly in its entirety in H.R. 1, the For the People Act adopted by the House of Representatives by a vote of 234-193.  The Voter Empowerment Act addresses many of the election issues in Georgia and across the country

H.R. 1, the For the People Act, is the most comprehensive election administration, voting rights, ethics, and campaign finance legislation adopted by the House in generations.   Rep. Lewis closed the Floor debate on the bill and rebuked a final attempt to undermine this historic legislation with the following statement:

Madam Speaker, I rise in strong support of H.R. 1, and I urge each and every one of our colleagues to support this bill.

Now, Madam Speaker, you have heard me say on occasion that the right to vote is precious – almost sacred.  In a democratic society, it is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have.  In my heart of hearts, I believe we have a moral responsibility to restore access for all citizens, who desire to participate in the democratic process.  Many people marched and protested for the right to vote.  Some gave a little blood, and others gave their very lives.

This weekend, many of our colleagues traveled with us to Alabama – to Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma.  They saw the signs in museums that said, “White only.  Colored only.”  They visited the First Baptist Church in downtown Montgomery where people feared for our lives as a mob waited outside to attack and kill us.  They stood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge -- crossing the Alabama River -- where we were beaten, trampled, and tear-gassed, while attempting to march from Selma to Montgomery to dramatize the need for voting rights.

Madam Speaker, you have heard these stories before, and you know that our work is far from finished.  It makes me sad.  It makes me feel like crying when people are denied the right to vote.  We all know that this is not a Democratic or a Republican issue.   It is an American one.  

For the past few days, I listened to the debate on this bill, and I spent some time having what I call an executive session with myself.  The words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to my mind.  He would often say that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

This vote is an opportunity to be on the right side of history.  It is a chance to cast a vote by the people, of the people, and for the people.   So, I ask you, Madam Speaker -- if not us, then who?  If not now, then when? The time has arrived to tear down the barriers to the ballot box, Madam Speaker.

Today, we are able to do our part in this long fight for the very soul of our nation.  I urge each of my colleagues to support this bill, and I yield back the balance of my time.

 

In the rebuttal to the motion to recommit, he said the following:

Madam Speaker, I believe in the way of peace, in the way of love.  I believe in the philosophy and the discipline of nonviolence.  Can we come together and support a simple piece of legislation to open up the political process and let all of our people come in.

I ask you to remember what I said a few moments ago.  With this vote, you have an opportunity to be a headlight and not a taillight.  Some of our colleagues are complaining we did not have enough time.  This piece of legislation was introduced more than seven years ago, and the other party didn’t do anything. We are prepared to act.  We are prepared to open up the political process and let all of the people come in

It is the right thing to do.  It is the good thing to do to set our country on the path to be a model for the rest of the world, and with that I yield back.

 

His statement during the motion to recommit is being distorted and misreported by right-wing blogs and news reports.  If read in context, its meaning is quite clear.  Rep. Lewis does not support and did not say that he supported voting rights for those who are not eligible to vote.

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