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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The nonpartisan Freedom House is making a bipartisan plea for U.S. lawmakers to expand voting rights — and reject proposals for new barriers for voting — to protect racial minorities and the strength of American democracy.

Why it matters: A new report from the group, previewed by Axios, marks the first time in almost 15 years it has turned its attention inward, rather than its traditional focus on freedom and democracy elsewhere in the world.

  • Its newest rankings show the United States has slid downward on Freedom House’s democracy ratings, which were completed even before the Jan. 6 Capitol assault.

What they're saying:

  • Sarah Repucci, the report's author, argues the unequal treatment of people of color, especially Black and Native Americans, is “one of the most enduring demerits in Freedom House’s evaluation of freedom in the United States.”
  • The report argues the United States’ decline “shows the extent to which American democracy is under threat and in need of immediate attention.”

The backstory: Republicans in most states have proposed hundreds of restrictions to expanded voting, a backlash to wider voting avenues in 2020 triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Legislation in Congress to protect and expand voting rights also has faced such an uphill battle it has sparked calls to end the legislative filibuster.
  • Freedom House is seeking to use its bipartisan alliances to shift the party dynamics in the debate about ballot access.

The details: The U.S. has declined 11 points over the last decade — from 94 to 83 — in the Freedom of the World rankings.

  • That puts it close to the middle of the "free" spectrum. The highest possible ranking is 100; the lowest 62.
  • In addition to expanding voting rights, the group argues that to preserve its democracy, the U.S. also must mitigate the influence of money in its politics and address intensifying political polarization and domestic extremism.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

3 killed, 2 wounded overnight in Kenosha bar shooting

Three people died and two others were hospitalized with serious injuries after a gunman entered bar in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, the police department said in a statement on Sunday.

The latest: Officers arrested a "person of interest" Sunday afternoon in connection with the 12:42 a.m. shooting and there's "no threat to the community at this time," per a later police statement.

Updated 2 hours ago - Sports

Big European soccer teams announce breakaway league

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (L) after striking the ball during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg match between Liverpool F.C. and Real Madrid at Anfield in Liverpool, England, last Wednesday. Photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

12 of world soccer's biggest and richest clubs announced Sunday they've formed a breakaway European "Super League" — with clubs Manchester United, Liverpool, Barcelona Real Madrid, Juventus and A.C. Milan among those to sign up.

Why it matters: The prime ministers of the U.K. and Italy are among those to express concern at the move — which marks a massive overhaul of the sport's structure and finances, and it effectively ends the decades-old UEFA Champions League's run as the top tournament for European soccer.

5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Senate Democrats settling on 25% corporate tax rate

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The universe of Democratic senators concerned about raising the corporate tax rate to 28% is broader than Sen. Joe Manchin, and the rate will likely land at 25%, parties close to the discussion tell Axios.

Why it matters: While increasing the rate from 21% to 25% would raise about $600 billion over 15 years, it would leave President Biden well short of paying for his proposed $2.25 trillion, eight-year infrastructure package.