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Sen. Markey Talks Abortion Access, Barrett Vote And Fracking Before Election

A white man with white hair gesticulates while wearing a suit jacket.
Josh Landes
Senator Ed Markey campaigning in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in October 2019.

Massachusetts U.S. Senator Ed Markey is running for his second full term in next week’s election. The Democrat defeated Congressman Joe Kennedy III in September’s Democratic primary, and now faces Republican Kevin O’Connor in a contest he is expected to dominate. Markey – who endorses expanding the Supreme Court – joined his party in voting against the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett on Tuesday. He spoke with WAMC about that vote, and why he’s pushing to enshrine women’s access to abortion in Massachusetts law.

MARKEY: The most important thing is first to vote on next Tuesday to make sure that we send the strongest possible signal from Massachusetts that we don't want to see an erosion of the rights of women in our country. And secondly, here in Massachusetts, we can pass the Roe Act to make sure that we put on the books the strongest possible protections for a woman's access to abortion. It should be a decision between her and her physician. So that would be my recommendation, that we both very strongly, send a strong message, and then as a state, we should codify all of the protections right at the state level.

WAMC: What was the atmosphere like on the Senate floor on Tuesday when the historic confirmation of Justice Barrett went through?

Well, obviously, Democrats were not happy. The Republicans had violated their pledge to not confirm a Supreme Court justice during an election year. And they were clearly ramrodding Amy Coney Barrett through. So that was something that Democrats were very unhappy about, and justifiably so. And so there was there was a level of tension that is very rarely seen on the Senate floor because it was very clear that the Republicans were going to violate their pledge and to steal this Supreme Court seat, knowing that Amy Coney Barrett, by November 10, one week after the election, could be sitting on the Supreme Court hearing a case that could repeal the Affordable Care Act, repeal Obamacare, repeal the protections against discrimination against individuals with preexisting conditions, which by the way, is three million people in the state of Massachusetts,

Part of your campaign for senate concerns you’re – the fact that you're behind the Green New Deal bill in the Senate, and you've pointed to voting for Joe Biden as a vote for the environment. The Biden campaign has not directly supported the Green New Deal and has said that it will not ban fracking in the United States. How do you square those seeming conflicts between you and Mr. Biden?

Well, I'm a supporter of Joe Biden, and I'm a supporter of the Green New Deal. In fact, what Joe Biden did was invite in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the Sunrise Movement, this army of young people who are the backbone of the movement towards a Green New Deal, to be a part of the drafting of his new climate response plan. And that plan calls for a $2 trillion investment in clean energy technologies. And it also says that 40% of that funding should be spent on minority communities, on frontline communities. That's very consistent with the Green New Deal. And Joe Biden's plan actually says that the Green New Deal is the framework for the plan which he put together. So I'm very optimistic. I'm going to go down and obviously advocate to even more next year because the science says that the problem has been exacerbated over the last 10 years. But I do believe Joe Biden will be the greatest climate protector president that we've ever had.

Do you anticipate talking to Mr. Biden about fracking?

Well, obviously, as we're moving forward, and consistent with the President, Vice President Biden's own comments, he is talking about the end of oil. And that is something that obviously would reduce and ultimately eliminate the need for fracking. So he made that clear in the debate last week. Some people criticized him for making that comment about the end of oil. But I think it's very consistent with us moving towards, for example, an all-electric vehicle future, which, with the generation of the fuel coming from wind and solar and other renewable energy resources, reduce and ultimately eliminate the need for fracking for oil in our future.

Your Republican opponent Kevin O'Connor has drawn attention to your “present” vote on the Green New Deal itself. Can you unpack why you voted “present” as opposed to “yes” on your own legislation?

Well, I introduced the Green New Deal. And, again, Mitch McConnell decided to make a mockery of the legislation by bringing it out onto the floor without, by the way, any hearings, without any science, without any of the victims of forest fires or storm or wind destroying portions of their state. No witnesses at all. So what he intended to do was to just create a political stunt. And what we wanted was a full-blown debate, discussion in the Senate over climate change. And so since he was making a mockery of Senate rules by bringing up my resolution without consulting me, without giving me any hearings, any witnesses, anyone to be able to make the case that the planet is dangerously warming, and that there are no emergency rooms for planets, that we have to engage in bold clean energy installation in our country, I just decided that I could not vote for the for that, for the Green New Deal as it had been morphed into nothing more no less than a political stunt by Mitch McConnell to just make fun of this whole concept of science. When he does bring out bills by the way, on, on pipelines, on drilling in the Arctic wildlife refuge for more oil, oh, there are hearings, there is plenty of time for debate. But when it comes to the Green New Deal, no debate at all. And so I just decided to call it what for what it was: Just a sham.

There's been debate in Massachusetts over Question Two on the state ballot, ranked choice voting. You've come out in support of the measure – why are you behind ranked choice voting?

My belief is that it will give voters have a chance to reflect their true preferences in the event that no one had a majority, and that there then had to be a determination as to who would get the majority. And by looking at what people felt was their second choice, it would then give us a clear reflection of what the sentiment of the voters of Massachusetts had been in them casting a vote for that office on that day, and I just think it will advance the cause of democracy.

Here in Berkshire County, there’s been a lot of controversy over the Great Barrington Declaration, a pro-herd immunity statement from a conservative think tank in Great Barrington. The town itself has been somewhat dismayed by this. Has discussion of the declaration made it to your desk, Senator Markey, and if so, what are your thoughts on the situation?

Well, could you outline it a little more for me, please?

Sure. The American Institute for Economic Research, a libertarian free market think tank in Great Barrington, put forward a statement calling for the end to lockdowns and move to a herd immunity strategy in response to COVID-19. It's received a lot of criticism and back and forth from various other groups of scientists and folks both in the community and abroad.

Well, the idea of herd immunity is that the disease will be contracted by tens of millions of additional Americans, upwards of 70% of the population in terms of then creating a herd immunity. If people died at the same rate as they have with the first, I think, eight or ten million Americans who have contracted the coronavirus, that would mean that upwards of two to three million Americans would die from the coronavirus. And I just think that it's an absurd recommendation to be made that we just really stop all protections, allow for people to contract the disease, knowing that two to three million people will die in order to achieve the goal of herd immunity. So I just think the whole idea is absolutely absurd. It's dangerous. And in fact, my wife is a career public health service doctor, and it just runs contrary to all of the public health recommendations we're hearing from Dr. Fauci all the way down to the local public health officials in every town in the state of Massachusetts.

Lastly, looking into Tuesday, how bullish Are you on the Democratic Party with its quest to retake the House, Senate and White House?

Again, we are, we're looking good right now. But we were looking very good in 2016 with Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket, and that turned out to be an illusion. So all we can do is just abide by the maximum that “only the paranoid survive.” That's how we should be for the final seven days. Working day and night, making sure that everyone votes, making sure that we keep our poll watchers in place, that our advocacy is intensified. Only then on Tuesday night, and perhaps even the days afterwards, when we get the final results of all races, we'll be able to celebrate our victory. But until then, anything else is just premature. In terms of the conclusion that we are going to win, we have to be all gas, no brakes as Democrats for the final seven days.

Picking up just quickly on your 2016 comment- Are you more confident in party leadership heading into this election than the last one?

I don't think that we should assume that the polls are accurate. I think we should assume that we're missing something, that there could be a big change in the final seven days that could affect the outcome of the elections, and that we should act accordingly. So it's not a question of confidence in leadership. It's a question of confidence in polling, and polling was way off in 2016. And just to make sure that we don't fall into the same trap this time, we should just work all the way up until eight o'clock on Tuesday night.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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