Jan 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Obama: We must "vigilantly preserve and protect" the right to vote

Photo of Barack Obama looking pensive

Former President Obama speaks at the COP26 summit on Nov. 8, 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo: Ian Forsyth via Getty Images

Former President Obama threw his support behind changing the filibuster on Wednesday in an op-ed that emphasized the need to "vigilantly preserve and protect" the right to vote.

Why it matters: The move comes a day after President Biden publicly backed rule changes to the filibuster this week to ensure the Senate passes Democrats' voting rights legislation.

What he's saying: "For generations, Americans of every political stripe have taken pride in our status as the world’s oldest continuous democracy," Obama wrote in the USA Today op-ed.

  • "But as we learned during the Jim Crow era, our role as democracy’s defender isn’t credible when we violate the rights and freedoms of our own citizens."
  • Recent assaults on voting rights have led to a "slow unraveling of basic democratic institutions and electoral mechanisms," he said.

Zoom in: In the op-ed, Obama highlighted efforts to:

"These partisan attempts at voter nullification are unlike anything we've seen in modern times ... when one of our two major parties seems intent on chipping away at the foundation of our own democracy."
— Former President Obama

Historically, the filibuster "has no basis" in the Constitution, and was used most notably to block civil rights legislation, according to Obama.

  • "[W]e can't allow it to be used to block efforts to protect our democracy," he said, adding that he fully supports Biden's call to modify Senate rules as needed.
  • "Our democracy isn’t a given ... We, as citizens, have to nurture and tend it," he said. "And in that task, we have to vigilantly preserve and protect our most basic tool of self-government, which is the right to vote."
  • "Now is the time for the U.S. Senate to do the right thing."

What to watch: The Senate is expected to vote on rule changes to the filibuster by Jan. 17.

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