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30 Jul, 2020 22:00

Obama turns John Lewis funeral into DNC event, wants automatic voter registration, end to ‘Jim Crow relic’ filibuster

Obama turns John Lewis funeral into DNC event, wants automatic voter registration, end to ‘Jim Crow relic’ filibuster

It did not take long for the funeral of John Lewis to turn political as former President Barack Obama’s eulogy evolved into a campaign speech, where he recommended ending the Senate filibuster and blasted voter ID laws.

Watching Obama speak at Thursday’s funeral, it would be easy to think you were watching a campaign speech as opposed to a eulogy. 

He urged the Senate and Congress to pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, legislation that would make it harder for states to enact measures like voter ID laws, which Democrats have long called restrictive and racially motivated. It would give the federal government more oversight on what voting reforms states may enact.

"Once we pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, we should keep marching," Obama said, then calling for an end to the filibuster in order to get legislation passed. 

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"And if all this takes eliminating the filibuster – another Jim Crow relic – in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that's what we should do,” he said.

The Senate filibuster requires a supermajority of 60 votes for cloture, which allows for a vote to proceed and ends debate on the topic. The 60 votes needed allows an opportunity for senators to use a minority to prolong debate and talk as long as they want on the floor in an attempt to kill whatever legislation is seeking to progress. Filibustering can delay or even prevent some bills from moving forward. It is perhaps most well known to US citizens for its depiction in the Jimmy Stewart film ‘Mr Smith Goes to Washington.’

Obama refers to it as a “Jim Crow relic” – segregationists often used it to hold up civil rights legislation – but he may have other reasons for disliking the rule. In 2013, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) held the Senate floor for 12 hours, holding up Obama’s nominee to head the CIA, John Brennan. While speaking, Paul highlighted Obama’s aggressive foreign policy, spying on American citizens without warrants, as well as the lack of oversight on the administration’s use of drone strikes. 

The tactic has been used by both sides over the years and even if Democrats could gain control of both Congress and the Senate, it’s unclear if a move to eliminate the filibuster could get the support needed to retire it.

Even Obama supported the filibuster once upon a time as a senator. He changed his opinion on the matter once he became president. 

The former president also used his time at the podium to argue for Washington DC and Puerto Rico to get their own statehoods – supported by many Democrats since both would likely vote blue – and to make election day a national holiday. 

And though he did not mention President Donald Trump by name, Obama did appear to compare him to George Wallace – one of the most controversial politicians in American history due to his staunch segregationist views – and criticized the administration for “sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators.”

The last line is an obvious reference to federal agents being deployed to Portland, Oregon, after Black Lives Matter protests turned to rioting and a federal courthouse was set on fire. “Peaceful” is a word many Democrats have parroted about the demonstrations, but there are numerous examples of violence and vandalism that have come out of the protests.

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