Barack Obama Calls For Senate To Protect Fundamental Voting Rights: ‘Our Democracy Isn’t a Given’

In his first opinion piece since he left office, Obama supported Joe Biden's push to change filibuster rules in order to pass voting rights legislation.

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Image Credit: John Locher/AP/Shutterstock

Former President Barack Obama called for changes to filibuster rules in order to pass fundamental voting rights legislation. In his first opinion piece since leaving the White House, published in USA Today on January 13, Obama emphasized the importance of protecting democracy, which he said is currently under attack by new “suppressive” bills from GOP lawmakers. “Our democracy isn’t a given. It isn’t self-executing,” he wrote. “We, as citizens, have to nurture and tend it. We have to work at it. And in that task, we have to vigilantly preserve and protect our most basic tool of self-government, which is the right to vote.”

Barack Obama
Barack Obama speaks at the Harry Reid Memorial in Las Vegas on January 8, 2022. (John Locher/AP/Shutterstock)

Reiterating points from President Joe Biden’s fiery speech supporting filibuster reform the day before, Obama, 60, argued the changes are necessary to allow a simple majority to pass two new voting rights bills: the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. “But even if Senate Republicans now refuse to stand up for our democracy, Democrats should be able to get the job done with a simple majority vote,” he explained, before adding, “The only thing standing in the way is the filibuster.”

Obama went on to say the current filibuster rule, which requires the Senate to reach a 60-vote threshold to advance legislation, has “no basis in the Constitution.” “Historically, the parliamentary tactic was used sparingly – most notably by Southern senators to block civil rights legislation and prop up Jim Crow,” Obama claimed. “In recent years, the filibuster became a routine way for the Senate minority to block important progress on issues supported by the majority of voters.”

“But we can’t allow it to be used to block efforts to protect our democracy,” he continued. “That’s why I fully support President Joe Biden’s call to modify Senate rules as necessary to make sure pending voting rights legislation gets called for a vote. And every American who cares about the survival of our most cherished institutions should support the president’s call as well.”

Removing the filibuster rule would ideally give the Democrats the majority in a 50-50 split Senate, as the tie-breaking vote would go to Vice-President Kamala Harris. However, in what could be a fatal blow to the Democrats fight for voting rights, one of their own may be breaking rank. On the same day Obama published his op-ed, Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona appeared on the Senate floor to reiterate she will not be changing her position on upholding the filibuster. Although she claimed she supports the voting rights legislation itself, she said she “will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country.”

“There’s no need for me to restate my long-standing support for the 60-vote threshold to pass legislation,” Sinema argued. “There’s no need for me to restate its role protecting our country from wild reversals in federal policy.” Removing the rule, she said, would not guarantee “that we prevent demagogues from being elected.”


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