In his first opinion piece since he left office five years ago, former President Barack Obama on Thursday strongly encouraged Democratic lawmakers in the Senate to make changes to the filibuster rule so that the upper chamber can pass stalled voting rights legislation.
The legislation, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act, passed the House last summer but has failed to pass in the Senate, where Democrats have a slim one-vote majority.
President Joe Biden has also called for changes to the filibuster rule, which requires 60 votes in the Senate to pass a piece of legislation.
In his op-ed published in USA Today, Obama says he fully supports Biden’s call to modify Senate rules “to make sure pending voting rights legislation gets called for a vote.”
Obama said American democracy is not a given, and isn’t self-executing. It must be nurtured, he said, by citizens.
The 44th president lauded Lewis’ life work and noted that the Senate filibuster has no place in the U.S. Constitution. He added that the filibuster has been used only sparingly throughout history, mostly by southern senators decades ago to block civil rights legislation.
People for the American Way, League of Women Voters, Declaration for American Democracy Coalition, Black Voters Matter, DC Vote, Greenpeace and other groups protest in front of the White House to encourage nationwide voter rights legislation, in Washington, D.C., on November 17, 2021. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
“In recent years, the filibuster became a routine way for the Senate minority to to block important progress on issues supported by the majority of voters,” he wrote. “But we can’t allow it to be used to block efforts to protect our democracy.”
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Obama said in his op-ed that lawmakers in 49 states have introduced more than 400 bills “designed to suppress votes.” He also said Republicans are using aggressive gerrymandering to tilt the playing field in their favor — and states are trying to assert power over core election processes, including the ability to certify election results.
Obama called on the Senate to “do the right thing” at a time when America’s democracy is being tested.
“These partisan attempts at voter nullification are unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times, and they represent a profound threat to the basic democratic principle that all votes should be counted fairly and objectively,” he wrote.
“The good news is that the majority of American voters are resistant to this slow unraveling of basic democratic institutions and electoral mechanisms. But their elected representatives have a sacred obligation to push back as well – and now is the time to do it.”
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