House Democrats Introduce the Protecting Our Democracy Act to Restore, Strengthen, and Protect Our Democracy

Sep 21, 2021
Legislation Will Prevent Presidential Abuses of Power, Restore Checks and Balances, Strengthen Accountability and Transparency, and Protect Elections

Washington, D.C. – Today, House Democrats introduced the Protecting Our Democracy Act — a sweeping package of reforms that will strengthen America’s democratic institutions against future presidents, regardless of political party, who seek to abuse the power of their office for corrupt purposes.

The comprehensive proposals — many of which have been supported by both Democrats and Republicans in the past — will restore the government’s system of checks and balances, strengthen accountability and transparency, and protect America’s elections from foreign interference.

The Protecting Our Democracy Act was first introduced during the 116th Congress, and reflects Congress’ determination to restore the guardrails of our democratic systems. This year, the bill also stands as the third pillar of the 117th Congress’ efforts to protect, support, and restore the people’s faith in America’s democratic systems — complementing both H.R. 1, the For the People Act, and H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

The Protecting Our Democracy Act is sponsored by Chairpersons Adam Schiff (D-CA; House Intelligence), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore; Transportation and Infrastructure) Richard Neal (D-MA; Ways & Means Committee), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn; House Appropriations), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY; Judiciary Committee), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY; House Oversight), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA; House Administration), Gregory Meeks (D-NY; House Foreign Affairs), and John Yarmuth (D-KY; Budget Committee). It includes legislation authored by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), Madeline Dean (D-PA), and Katie Porter (D-CA). Additionally, the legislation is supported by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

“While Donald Trump is no longer president, the fault lines he exposed in the foundation of our democracy remain — ready for a future unethical president to exploit. These weaknesses continue to erode the American people’s trust in our democratic institutions and the norms that are essential to a functioning democracy,” said Schiff. “As Congress pursues its mission to strengthen and protect our democracy for future generations, these reforms will help ensure that we can keep our cherished republic.”

“In their great wisdom, our Founders enshrined in the Constitution a system of checks and balances to ensure the survival and strength of a democracy of, by and for the people,” said Pelosi. “As our nation looks ahead, it is our solemn obligation as Members of Congress to honor our Founders’ vision and take action to restore the rule of law for future generations to come. Led by Chairman Adam Schiff, House Democrats are advancing the Protecting Our Democracy Act: a robust, transformative package of democracy reforms that will restore democratic norms and institutions and put in place essential safeguards to prevent any president, regardless of party, from abusing the public trust or desecrating our democracy.”

“The Congress has a vital duty to serve as a check on the two other branches of our federal government, and this legislation ensures our efforts to carry out that responsibility will not be thwarted,” said Neal. “Taken together, the measures in this bill will help restore Americans’ faith in their government’s transparency, integrity, and accountability.”

“Transparency and accountability are the bedrock of our democratic system. They are the essential guardrails that protect against unchecked executive power, but recent experience has exposed holes in the fabric of our democracy that point to the desperate need for reform. Among other things, the Protecting Our Democracy Act would ensure that the presidency is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, prevent abuse of the pardon power, provide effective enforcement of congressional subpoenas, and strengthen the independence of the Department of Justice. These and the other critical reforms contained in this legislation would ensure that no president—of either party—is above the law,” said Nadler.

“It’s no secret that for four years former President Trump blatantly abused the power of the presidency to benefit himself and his political allies.  The American people witnessed brazen efforts by the former president to intimidate and silence the voices of those who spoke truth to power.  I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Protecting Our Democracy Act, which would improve accountability and transparency in our government and strengthen protections for those who courageously report illegal or unethical behavior,” said Maloney.

“The landmark laws put into place after the Watergate scandal in large part worked well – until a sitting President showed little regard for the safeguards designed to protect our democracy and the rule of law. Now the Congress must enact new reforms in the Protecting Our Democracy Act to restore our system of checks and balances, protect our elections from foreign interference, and ensure that the foundation of our democracy enshrined in our Constitution will be sustained for generations to come,” said Lofgren.

“I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce this vital legislation. No president has or will ever be above the law. The Protecting Our Democracy Act will ensure no American president can ever abuse their power again,” said Meeks.

“We have seen firsthand that our democracy is not self-effectuating – it takes work and a commitment to guard it against those who would undermine it, whether foreign or domestic. With the Protecting Our Democracy Act, we will strengthen the bedrock of our democracy by safeguarding our nation’s separation of powers and reasserting Congress’ constitutional power of the purse. I look forward to standing alongside my colleagues to enact these crucial reforms and protect the health of our democracy for generations to come,” said Yarmuth.

“The American people must be confident that the President works in the public interest, not for their own financial gain. That’s why I’m proud that the Protecting Our Democracy Act includes my legislation which requires all future candidates for the presidency and vice presidency to release their tax returns,” said Eshoo. “Tax returns contain vital information for the public, including what taxes they’ve paid; what charitable contributions they’ve made; what investments they hold, where they are held and whether tax loopholes have been employed. Only a full release of tax returns can provide the public with clear information about potential conflicts of interest or entanglements with foreign governments or businesses.”

“The framers of our Constitution understood that checks and balances are critical to protect our democracy from autocrats and corrupt leaders. The Protecting Our Democracy Act contains critical reforms to many of the issues my subcommittee has examined over the past several years.  It limits a president’s pardon power, requires meaningful enforcement of the emoluments clauses and reins in executive abuses. It also prevents foreign interference in our elections and protects whistleblowers. This bill will strengthen our democracy and enacts the necessary safeguards to ensure it endures for generations to come,” said Cohen.

“Donald Trump took a sledgehammer to the foundations of our democracy and left our democratic institutions teetering on the edge,” said Connolly. “It is our duty, as a Congress and as a country, to clean up the rubble and repair the damage before he or someone of his ilk swings the hammer again. With the Protecting Our Democracy Act, that’s exactly what we’ll begin to do. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing it today, and I thank each of them for their tireless work in defense of American democracy.”

"The Attorney General works for the people, not the president. Presidents Trump and Nixon did not understand this distinction and they both brought new levels of criminality and interference to the office. The Protecting Our Democracy Act includes my legislation to require the Attorney General to maintain a log of certain communications between the Department of Justice and the White House and require that information be provided to independent oversight authorities. I thank Chairman Schiff and all my colleagues in the House for their work to prevent abuses of power and strengthen accountability and transparency at the highest levels of our government,” said Jeffries.

“History has shown us that democracy is fragile. It can only be maintained by engaged citizens and elected officials who are willing to protect and preserve our sacred institutions,” said Swalwell. “That’s why I’m proud to help introduce the Protecting Our Democracy Act which will help ensure that no future president, no matter their party, can place our democracy at risk in service of their own selfish, illegal, and authoritarian ambitions.”

“The framers of our Constitution created a system of government with three co-equal branches, each designed to serve as a check on one another. In recent years, we’ve seen numerous attempts to undermine this balance, which is foundational to our democracy. I’m pleased to support the Protecting Our Democracy Act, which will restore our nation’s system of checks and balances, prevent presidential abuses of power, strengthen accountability and transparency, and protect elections from foreign interference. I’m also glad the package includes my legislation, the IG Protection Act, to strengthen the independence and integrity of the federal government’s inspectors general. I am grateful to Chairs Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, Carolyn Maloney, John Yarmuth, Zoe Lofgren, Gregory Meeks, and Richard Neal for their work on this legislation to prevent future presidents — regardless of political party — from abusing the power of their office for corrupt purposes,” said Lieu.

“It will take us years to repair the damage inflicted by the Trump administration, but the Protecting Our Democracy Act is a great start. I’m proud to cosponsor and want to salute my colleague Adam Schiff for his great leadership and coordination of this effort,” said Raskin.

“Four years of the most corrupt presidential administration in history taught us that, when it comes to preserving our democracy, we cannot continue to rely on the norms most politicians have followed for generations — meaningful legal guardrails are required,” said Scanlon. “As Congress did in the wake of Watergate, we must once again enact new reforms to restore the system of checks and balances between our branches of government. The Protecting Our Democracy Act will not only help prevent future abuses of executive power and strengthen accountability, it will also protect our elections. American democracy is fragile; we must take every step possible to ensure it not only survives, but is able to thrive.”

“The previous administration exposed concerning fault lines that we must rectify – the twice-impeached, failed President Trump abused the powers of his office to protect and enrich himself, family, and friends while targeting his political opponents and soliciting foreign interference to help his election,” said Dean. “The Protecting Our Democracy Act will prevent future Presidential abuses of power, protect our elections, and restore checks and balances – these protections are vital to the future of our Republic."

"Our democracy cannot survive without accountability," said Porter. "Everyone serving in a top government job should be vetted and held accountable to the people. It's unacceptable that previous administration officials were able to skirt our constitutionally-mandated vetting process for months, and in some cases, years. I'm proud that my proposal to close the loopholes that let this happen is included in the Protecting Our Democracy Act."

Specifically, the Protecting Our Democracy Act will:

Prevent Presidential Abuses

Prevent Abuse of the Pardon Power: Requires the Department of Justice to provide materials to Congress concerning any self-serving presidential pardon or commutation in cases involving the President or his/her relatives, contempt of Congress, or obstruction of Congress; clarifies that the President and Vice President are “public officials” and pardons are “official acts” and “things of value” for purposes of the federal bribery statute; and prohibits self-pardons by the President.

Ensure No President is Above the Law: Suspends the statute of limitations for any federal offense committed by a sitting president or vice president, whether it was committed before or during their terms in office, to ensure that presidents and vice presidents can be held accountable for criminal conduct just like every other American and not use their offices as a shield to avoid legal consequences.

Enforce the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution: Codifies the Constitution’s Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses by prohibiting federal officials from accepting of foreign emoluments without Congress’s consent and prohibiting the President from accepting domestic emoluments; strengthens the process for civil actions brought by Congress for violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause; enhances financial disclosure requirements related to emoluments; and provides enhanced enforcement mechanisms for Congress and for entities within the Executive Branch. 

Restore Our System of Checks and Balances, Strengthen Accountability, and Transparency

Enforce Congressional Subpoenas: Strengthens Congress’ tools to enforce lawfully-issued subpoenas while preserving the accommodations process; codifies a cause of action for Congress to enforce its subpoenas, including those issued to government officials; expedites the judicial process for congressional subpoena enforcement actions; empowers courts to levy fines on government officials who willfully fail to comply with congressional subpoenas; and specifies the manner in which subpoena recipients must comply.

Reassert Congressional Power of the Purse: Strengthens Congress’ power of the purse by enhancing the Impoundment Control Act (ICA), including by adding penalties for failure to comply; increasing transparency and reporting requirements for the Executive Branch; and strengthens congressional budget oversight tools under the ICA and Antideficiency Act (ADA) to prevent federal agencies from misusing federal funds.

Strengthen Congressional Oversight of Presidential Emergency Declarations: Imposes a limit on Presidential declarations of emergencies and any powers triggered by such declarations unless extended by a vote of the Congress; requires the President to provide all Presidential Emergency Action Documents (PEADs) to Congress.

Provide Security from Political Interference in Justice: In order to limit political interference in criminal and civil enforcement matters, requires the Attorney General to maintain a log of certain communications between the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the White House; requires the Attorney General to provide the log to the DOJ Inspector General (DOJ IG) bi-annually; and requires the DOJ IG to report to Congress any inappropriate communications or communications evidencing improper political interference. 

Protect Inspector General Independence: Permits the President or the head of an agency to only remove an Inspector General (IG), including IGs of the Intelligence Community (IC), for cause; clarifies that IGs of the IC have sole authority to determine matters of urgent concern, which include foreign interference in our elections; enhances congressional reporting requirements when an IG is removed; requires the President or an agency head to give 30 days’ notice before placing an IG on administrative leave; and requires the President to provide to Congress documentation of cause before removing an IG.

Protect Whistleblowers: Enhances protections for federal whistleblowers, including measures to protect the anonymity of whistleblowers; clarifies the right of government employees, including those in the IC, to provide information directly to Congress; creates a private right of action for whistleblowers who are publicly outed by government officials; and limits the conditions under which a government official or employee may disclose a whistleblower’s identity or other whistleblower information, including limitations on the sharing of IC whistleblower complaints with persons named as subjects in the complaint.

Provide Accountability for Acting Officials: Makes a series of changes with respect to the appointment, tenure, and qualifications of acting officials of executive agencies; limits the tenure of acting heads of agencies to no more than 120 days.

Strengthen Hatch Act Enforcement and Penalties: Strengthens the Office of Special Counsel’s (OSC) ability to investigate violations of the Hatch Act; clarifies that employees of the Executive Office of the President and the Office of the Vice President can be investigated and disciplined for Hatch Act violations; authorizes Merit Service Protection Board (MSPB) to issue fines for Hatch Act violations committed by senior political appointees; and increases the maximum fine for Hatch Act violations by senior political appointees to $50,000.

Promoting Efficient Presidential Transitions: Promotes orderly presidential transitions by requiring that if the Administrator of General Services does not ascertain a winner in a presidential election within 5 days of the election, each eligible presidential candidate and vice-presidential candidate shall be treated as the winner, until an ascertainment is made, or a winner is certified by Congress.

Presidential and Vice-Presidential Tax Transparency: Requires the president and Vice President, or major party candidates for those offices, to provide ten years of tax returns to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), who is required to make them public. If a covered person does not provide their tax records, the Secretary of the Treasury is required to provide them to the FEC.

Protect Our Elections

Ensure Reporting of Foreign Interference in Elections: Requires that political committees report to the FBI and the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) certain foreign contacts; requires that each political candidate and immediate family member of a candidate notify a designated campaign committee official of certain foreign contacts; requires the FBI to report to the congressional intelligence committees any reporting received pursuant to these provisions.

Prevent Foreign Interference in Elections: Clarifies that the definition of a “thing of value” in the Federal Election Campaign Act prohibition on foreign donations to political campaigns and candidates includes information sought or obtained for political advantage; enhances criminal penalties for violations of such prohibition; requires that political campaigns certify that they understand the prohibition.

To read the full bill, click here. To read the section-by-section, click here.