Mich. lawmakers push voting rights, decry extremism as Congress marks Jan. 6 anniversary
Washington — Michigan U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow is calling on the Senate to pass legislation to counter the efforts of Republican state lawmakers pushing new restrictions on voting across the country.
In a floor speech on the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the Lansing Democrat condemned her GOP colleagues for "standing by and allowing this continuing attack on our democracy."
"The Jan. 6 insurrectionists tried to overthrow our Capitol, and their sidekicks in suits and ties are trying to overthrow our elections," Stabenow said. "And just as we shored up our security here to protect the People’s House, we need to upgrade our election laws to protect the people’s freedom to vote."
Stabenow, who is part of the Senate Democratic leadership, noted senior GOP senators who initially condemned former President Donald Trump's role in sparking the deadly assault on the Capitol later voted against his impeachment and opposed voting rights legislation.
She said eight GOP senators still won’t acknowledge that Democrat Joe Biden is the duly elected president of the United States.
"Why am I focusing on this? Because our nation has reached a critical crossroad. ... Either we're going to come together as Americans, which I hope and pray we do to defend our democracy and look back on Jan. 6 as a painful low point in our nation's history," she said.
"Or we can turn over power to a mob that is willing to do anything and say anything to dismantle our democracy and destroy this grand experiment called America."
Republicans in the Senate blocked the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act from advancing in early November and previously blocked the Freedom to Vote Act.
However, some GOP senators recently expressed interest in reforming the procedure that Congress uses to certify the presidential election — the process that the Jan. 6 rioters sought to halt as Trump and his allies worked to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election.
Michigan's senators were among over a dozen Democrats who delivered floor speeches Thursday marking the anniversary of the Capitol riot. They also observed a noon-time moment of silence in the Senate.
Stabenow lamented the anniversary events were not a bipartisan "coming together." Few if any Republican senators were on hand Thursday, as many traveled to Georgia for the funeral of former Sen. Johnny Isakson.
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, took to the floor to urge lawmakers to do more to confront the threat of domestic and violent extremism.
He said this is needed now especially as more and more Americans "embrace conspiracy theories and outright lies" and 1 in 3 people say in opinion polls they believe that violence against the government can be justified to achieve political outcomes.
"Once relegated to the fringes of our society, these kinds of views are now creeping further into mainstream and that presents a grave threat to the future of our democracy," said Peters, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security committee.
"Most significantly, our nation's political leaders, no matter their political affiliation, must condemn the violence that occurred on these grounds one year ago, and speak out against the lies and conspiracies about the 2020 election that have compelled further threats and acts of violence."
Following his speech, Peters told The Detroit News that deepening partisan divisions related to Jan. 6 over the past year have not prevented him from working with his GOP colleagues on legislation.
"But I think it's disappointing many of them continue to spread the lie about the election and have not called out some of the violent actions that we saw here," he said.
House lawmakers held a moment of silence on the House floor, as well as a moderated conversation with historians and testimonials from lawmakers about their experiences on Jan. 6.
But most Michigan House members were not in Washington on Thursday, as the House was not in session. U.S. Reps. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, and Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, did participate in the House's remembrances.
Kildee was briefly trapped in the House gallery as the rioters tried to break into the chamber a year ago. On Thursday, he decried his GOP colleagues who he said have failed to debunk myths of election fraud over the last year while threats against elected officials have increased and as states moved to limit voting access.
Kildee's voice cracked as he held up a piece of glass that he said he picked it up from a shattered window after the Jan. 6 riot.
"The truth is as clear as this shard of broken glass that I have carried with me for the last 365 days," he said during a sharing of testimonials by lawmakers. "As a constant reminder of the brutality of that day. We must have truth. We must have accountability."
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke Thursday morning from Statuary Hall — one of the places in the Capitol where rioters gathered one year ago. Biden in his remarks excoriated former Trump’s “big lie” about a stolen election that stoked the violent attack on the Capitol by his supporters.
"For the first time in our history, a president not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol,” Biden said. “But they failed.”
Biden, without mentioning Trump by name, also urged Americans to be clear about what's truth and what is the "web of lies" that the former president has woven about the 2020 election and his allies' revisionist history of the Capitol assault.
“We are in a battle for the soul of America," Biden said. "I did not seek this fight, brought to this Capitol one year from today. But I will not shrink from it either. I will stand in this breach, I will defend this nation. I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of this democracy.”
Peters' committee issued a bipartisan report in June with the Senate Rules panel with 20 recommendations for boosting security at the Capitol following the Jan. 6 attack.
Peters said 16 of the report's 20 recommendations have been at least partially implemented. Those recommendations included legislation to empower the chief of Capitol police to unilaterally ask for emergency help from the National Guard without having to go through a cumbersome approval process with an oversight board. Biden last year did sign such a bill.
Some of the outstanding recommendations are related to sharing and alerting federal intelligence. There's also a shortage of Capitol Police officers after more than 150 quit since Jan. 6, 2021.