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House Admin Republicans subpoena Biden officials over voting access push

Steil calls 2021 executive order a ‘scheme,’ while Democrats hit back against ‘election deniers’

Bryan Steil, seen here in October 2023, chairs the House Administration Committee and this week issued subpoenas related to an executive order promoting voting access.
Bryan Steil, seen here in October 2023, chairs the House Administration Committee and this week issued subpoenas related to an executive order promoting voting access. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Administration Chair Bryan Steil sent subpoenas to 15 Biden Cabinet officials on Thursday requesting documents related to an executive order aimed at promoting access to voting.

It’s the latest move by Steil and House Administration Republicans, who have spent the bulk of this Congress highlighting perceived threats to election security and advancing a series of conservative proposals that would encourage states to adopt policies like mandatory voter identification.

Steil gave the department heads until June 26 to comply.

The executive order, issued by President Joe Biden in March 2021, sought to remove barriers to the ballot for historically marginalized groups, in part by expanding voter registration efforts. It instructed executive departments and agencies to partner with local officials “to protect and promote the exercise of the right to vote, eliminate discrimination and other barriers to voting, and expand access to voter registration and accurate election information.”

Some of Biden’s GOP critics have sought to challenge the executive order in court, and the House Oversight and Accountability Committee is pursuing its own probe

For his part, Steil called it nothing more than a “voter mobilization” effort intended to tilt the scales in favor of the presumed Democratic presidential nominee. He also suggested it could violate federal law that prohibits agencies from spending money without congressional approval. 

“Congress’s delegation of authority to the Department of Transportation does not include using funds and resources to provide Americans with voter registration materials,” Steil wrote in his letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, for example.

The Biden executive order also directed agencies to submit a strategic plan on the ways in which they can promote voter registration and participation. Steil asked Buttigieg and other secretaries for those plans and other documents related to the executive order as part of his committee’s investigation. 

“Allowing federal employees from the Biden Administration to flood election administration sites threatens election integrity and reduces Americans’ confidence,” Steil said in a statement. “I will continue working to provide transparency and accountability on this Administration’s latest scheme as Congress did not appropriate taxpayer funds for partisan activities.”

The normally tranquil House Administration Committee has been a fount of partisan angst this Congress over its Republican members’ attempts to rewrite the narrative of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and efforts to amend election law. 

Ranking member Joseph D. Morelle has often slammed his Republican colleagues for doing the bidding of former President Donald Trump, who was in Washington on Thursday to meet with House and Senate Republicans. According to Morelle, the committee’s majority members have stoked election denialism and perpetuated misinformation about the prevalence of voter fraud, which even according to analysis from conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation is exceedingly rare.

“This is not surprising as the former president is appearing with Republican colleagues on the Hill today. They are manufacturing concerns only after the former president secured the nomination,” Morelle said in a statement. “Instead of appeasing election deniers premised on conspiracy theories, we should be encouraging access to the ballot for all eligible Americans.”