Many local politicians urged their fellow lawmakers to support measures to protect and expand voting rights.
Newly-inaugurated Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey said that last year “the heartbeat of our country’s democracy was attacked,” and he said that insurrection has been followed by attempts from Harrisburg Republicans to attack the legitimacy of the 2020 election. Gainey called on lawmakers to protect and expand voting rights.
Gainey said in a release, “Congress must pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the For the People Act in order to protect our democracy, ensure everyone has access to the ballot box, and get dark money out of politics. The time is now.”
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Scranton) also criticized Republicans in a press release for continuing “to undermine our elections and our democratic principles.” He said, “Republican officials across the country have embraced the former President’s Big Lie by introducing and enacting an unprecedented number of voter suppression measures and politicizing nonpartisan election administration functions.”
“If we do not restore and strengthen voter protections nationwide,” Casey warned, “a future authoritarian could succeed where the former President and his insurrectionists failed.”
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would reinstate and strengthen elements of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that have been recently struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. The act passed the House in August 2021 and was introduced to the Senate a few months later. Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had announced his intention to pass filibuster reform in order to approve the bill this month, but Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) has indicated he does not support such a strategy.
The For the People Act would expand voting rights, reform campaign finance laws, and ban partisan gerrymandering.
State Sen. Jessica Bentham (D-South Side) wrote in a tweet that “our democracy is fragile & that we must fight for it,” arguing that “while January 6 is a day burned in our collective memory, our democracy has been under a sustained attack for more than a year.”
But some Pennsylvania Republicans are striking a slightly different tune.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) appears to have declined requests for comment on today’s anniversary from multiple media outlets. In the wake of the insurrection, Toomey did, however, directly blame Trump in a speech later the same day and was one of the few Republicans to vote in favor of Trump’s impeachment for spreading lies and urging on the riot.
U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Butler) said in a statement that he encourages House committee members to “avoid partisan investigations and instead focus on ways to secure the Capitol so this type of violence does not happen again.”
“I stand with my fellow Americans to defend democracy on this day,” he continued, although the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes that “Mr. Kelly objected to the certification of Pennsylvania’s 2020 election results.”
Overall, Democrats and those condemning what happened at the Capitol last winter have dominated the conversation among Pittsburgh-area politicians.
U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Mt. Lebanon), who is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Toomey, retweeted a video of a six-minute speech he gave in Congress the day after the attack.
“Let's be clear about what happened in this chamber today,” Lamb insists in the video. “Invaders came in for the first time since the War of 1812.”
“And for the most part they walked in here free. A lot of them walked out free” he added, “and there wasn’t a person at home who didn’t know why that was, because of the way that they look,” seemingly referring to the overwhelming whiteness of the rioters.
U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Forest Hills) described the day as “clearly an insurrection. This wasn’t a protest; this wasn’t peaceful. This was an insurrection with the express purpose of not allowing the count of the electoral votes to take place.”
“I think the American people absolutely have a right to know exactly what happened,” Mr. Doyle told the Post-Gazette, referring to the U.S. House select committee investigating the attack.
Pennsylvania state Senator Jay Costa (D-Forest Hills) joined calls for accountability in a tweet, urging that “anyone who encouraged, enabled or engaged in that act of sedition must be held accountable.”
Jerry Dickinson, candidate for Congress, said in a statement that Jan. 6, 2021 was one event in “an onslaught of attacks by the extreme right to destabilize our electoral system to overturn free and fair elections” that have exposed “the fragility of our Constitution.”
In a video statement posted on Twitter, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-Braddock) reminded viewers that while the Jan. 6 insurrection targeted the federal government, similar political forces are also present at the state and local level. Like Lamb, Fetterman is also running for U.S. Senate.
Fetterman recalled how on Jan. 5, 2021, a chaotic conflict between lawmakers erupted in the senate chambers as a “Stop the Steal'' rally raged outside. Republicans refused to seat Sen. Jim Brewster, contesting his electoral victory. When Fetterman insisted that Brewster be seated, Republicans had him forcibly removed.
“It’s impossible not to see the parallels here,” Fetterman said.