House Democrats faced sustained partisan fire on Tuesday over their ambitious elections overhaul bill, a top priority for the new Democratic leaders who must answer charges that their efforts to counter partisan gerrymandering and ease access to the polls strain the constitutional reach of Congress. The House Judiciary Committee’s inaugural hearing of the 116th Congress was dedicated to the voting and ethics rules overhaul, known as the For the People Act, which Democratic representatives have trumpeted as their signature legislative priority. But its reception underscored the challenges the bill will face in a divided Capitol. The bill would turn the drawing of congressional boundaries over to nonpartisan commissions, promote more transparency in campaign contributions and expand the public financing system for House and presidential candidates. “The broader issue is what kind of country America is and should be,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the committee.
But Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, renewed his criticism of the bill, dismissing it as a “one-sided power grab” meant to empower and protect Democratic politicians.
“This sprawling, comprehensive proposal is basically the far left’s entire Christmas wish list where our nation’s political process is concerned,” Mr. McConnell, a longtime opponent of campaign finance disclosures, said in remarks on the Senate floor, again declaring that the bill “may pass the House, but not the Senate.”
For Democrats, passage of such a sweeping measure is not necessarily the point. The bill, the first of the new House, forms something of a platform for the 2020 campaign. Democrats on the committee seized the opportunity to press for the bill’s efforts to counter state tactics to remove voters from the rolls and require automatic registration for eligible voters. Many of the issues, they believe, will have bipartisan appeal beyond Washington, in a country convinced that the capital is rife with corruption and in the thrall of the rich and connected.