Obama Calls on Democrats to End Filibuster

July 30, 2020

Former president Barack Obama on Thursday called on Democrats to end the filibuster.

In the course of eulogizing the late Democratic congressman John Lewis, Obama described the filibuster as "another Jim Crow relic." Eliminating it, he said, may be necessary "to secure the God-given rights of every American."

Ending the filibuster to facilitate voter-expansion initiatives would be the best way for politicians to honor Lewis's legacy, he said.

"Once we pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, we should keep marching," he said.

Obama took the opposite position on the filibuster when he was a senator, saying that ending the filibuster for judicial nominees would be "more about power than fairness" in 2005. He called on his colleagues to "not think about winning every debate, but about protecting free and democratic debate" and said no one party should be able to change the rules and make all the decisions.

"In the long run, [changing these rules] is not a good result for either party. One day, Democrats will be in the majority again, and this rule change will be no fairer to a Republican minority than to a Democratic minority," Sen. Obama said.

In 2013, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) famously ended the filibuster on confirmations for judicial and executive branch appointments while Obama was in the White House. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) then followed Reid's precedent by lowering the threshold for votes required to confirm Supreme Court appointments in 2017, but the filibuster has stayed in place for legislation.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who was Obama's vice president, indicated he would be open to the possibility of ending the legislative filibuster. He said it would be dependent on how resistant Senate Republicans are to Democratic legislative priorities. Some Senate Democrats, however, including Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) indicated they oppose eliminating the filibuster.