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A year after insurrection, Sen. Markey says Congress must pass voting rights bill

In this photo, Markey gestures during a campaign rally attended by President Barack Obama on Wednesday, June 12, 2013, in Boston. (Evan Vucci/AP)
In this photo, Markey gestures during a campaign rally attended by President Barack Obama on Wednesday, June 12, 2013, in Boston. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Sen. Ed Markey says Democrats are determined to pass federal voting rights legislation — despite unanimous opposition from Senate Republicans.

The Massachusetts Democrat said the bill is especially needed now, because Republican-led legislatures in several states have passed laws to make it harder to vote — and easier to overturn the results. Republicans in those states defend the changes as necessary to ensure only legal votes are counted and that the results are accurate.

The changes come a year after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, trying to block Congress from certifying Joe Biden's election. Some of the rioters said they believed Trump's false claims that there was fraud and he actually won the election  — something Democrats call the "Big Lie."

"Donald Trump's big lie has turned into an even bigger threat," Markey told WBUR. "Which is why it is imperative that we pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom To Vote Act."

Markey's comments come on the same day that both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris made their own push for stronger voter rights legislation.

“We must pass voting rights bills that are now before the Senate,” Vice President Harris said on Thursday, standing in National Statuary Hall in the Capitol, where a mob of Trump supporters rampaged a year ago.

Supporters say the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will restore and update protections in the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, while the Freedom to Vote Act would expand voter access and restrict partisan gerrymandering. Critics argue the rules would interfere with states' rights to manage their own elections and make it harder to deter voter fraud.

Both bills face an uphill road in the Senate, where Democrats have only the slimmest of majorities and most Legislation needs 60 votes to avoid a filibuster.

Last October, the voting rights bill failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to move forward. Now, some Senate Democrats want to renew the push for voting rights legislation by Jan. 17 and abolish the filibuster, if necessary.

"Otherwise, the Trumpsters across the country will have been successful in actually changing the laws in our country to make it more difficult to ensure that democracy works for everyone" Markey said.

But Republicans have vowed to fight any effort to reform or eliminate the filibuster.

“No party that would trash the Senate’s legislation traditions can be trusted to seize control over election laws all across America," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor Wednesday. "Nobody who is this desperate to take over our democracy on a one-party basis can be allowed to do it."

Democrats would need all 50 members of their caucus — including two independents and several moderate members — plus a tie-breaking vote by the vice president to abolish or alter the filibuster. Both Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kirsten Sinema of Arizona have resisted the idea so far, but Markey is hopeful they might change their views if Republicans continue to block the voting rights bills.

"Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema both say that they want to pass voting rights legislation," Markey said.

Still, both senators have been willing to buck their party.

Manchin joined with Republicans to derail President Biden's Build Back Better bill, which includes a wide array of progressive initiatives, calling it too expensive. Still, Manchin suggested on Tuesday that it might be possible to agree to separate legislation to address climate change, even though coal is a key industry for his state. The Build Back Better bill originally included clean energy tax credits, as well as incentives for clean vehicles and an initiative to reduce greenhouse gasses from the oil and gas industry.

"Sen. Manchin gave me some hope that we will be able to get the climate part of the Build Back Better bill passed into law — and soon," Markey said.

Related:

Anthony Brooks Twitter Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.

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