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Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, other community leaders demand action on voting rights bill

The Congresswoman said the Senate is scheduled to debate the sweeping legislation this week but Republicans remain unified in opposition to the bill.

HOUSTON — A large group of community leaders gathered in downtown Houston on MLK Day to speak out about pending voting rights legislation in Congress.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Mayor Sylvester Turner and several others held a news conference at City Hall to urge the Senate to pass the bill on Tuesday.

The sweeping legislation would help ease GOP-led voting restrictions passed in Texas and at least 18 other states that make it more difficult to cast a ballot. Republicans in Texas said the changes were needed to protect the integrity of elections.

With a filibuster, the 50-50 Senate chamber needs 60 votes to pass the legislation, which appears doomed to fail

“We are here with hope and faith. We are here refusing to give up and to give in and to give out,” Lee said.

Lee and other Democrats are calling on the Senate to suspend the filibuster rule, but two Democrats are siding with the GOP in opposition of a suspension.

"It is anathema to our democracy that the Constitutional rights held by the people can be curtailed by a procedural mechanism such as the filibuster that was created over a century ago," Lee said.

Rep. Ron Reynolds said there's a great deal at stake for future generations.

"When we reflect on Dr. King’s life and legacy, we have to pay it forward. We stand on his shoulders and it’s incumbent to us to pay it forward for the next generation," Reynolds said. "Voting rights are at stake. So many of our civil liberties are at stake.”

After the news conference, the group marched around the City Hall reflection pool.

In Washington, D.C., King's eldest son, Martin Luther King III, also urged the Senate to take action.

“Our democracy stands on the brink of serious trouble without these bills,” he said. 

King told of how his father also faced pushback on civil rights by those who believed the issue could not be solved with legislation.