Barack Obama came out for ending the Senate filibuster in order to push through major changes in policy and the structure of government, preempting Joe Biden in support of the major legislative process change.
In his eulogy at the funeral for civil rights icon and Georgia Rep. John Lewis, the former president called for voting rights reform, including statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, automatic voter registration, restoring voting rights to felons now out of prison, and making Election Day a national holiday.
“If all of 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,” Obama said.
Elimination of the filibuster and the addition of the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico as states, along with other major changes Obama called for in the eulogy, would likely tip the balance of power in Congress to Democrats for years, if not decades, and result in sweeping changes in law.
The filibuster prevents Senate debate on legislation from ending and moving to a vote without approval from 60 out of 100 senators. While supporters of the filibuster say that it encourages broad consensus, it is seen as a major impediment to far-left activists eyeing major policy changes.
If Democrats win a slim majority in the Senate of less than 60 seats, Republicans are likely to block changes in the law having to do with healthcare, statehood for Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, among other changes.
Obama’s clear support for ending the filibuster in order to pass major legislation comes before that of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and his former vice president.
Biden, who opposed getting rid of the filibuster through the primary campaign, changed course to open up to the idea of ending the legislative practice earlier this month.
“It’s going to depend on how obstreperous they become,” Biden said, referring to Republicans and their willingness to pass his legislative priories. “I think you’re going to just have to take a look at it.”
Ending the filibuster was a divisive issue in the Democratic primary, with left-wing candidates such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts calling for an end to the filibuster, while more centrist candidates such as Biden resisted.
In a January interview, Biden firmly opposed abolishing the filibuster. “There are a number of areas where you can reach consensus that relate to things like cancer and healthcare and a whole range of things. I think we can reach consensus on that and get it passed without changing the filibuster rule,” he said at the time.
It is something of a role reversal for Biden and Obama. As vice president, Biden came out in support of same-sex marriage in a television interview before Obama publicly supported it, pushing the then-president to adopt the position publicly and cementing the Democratic Party’s support in favor of same-sex marriage.
Now, Obama’s public anti-filibuster stance could push Biden and the rest of the Democrats in the Senate to unite against ending the filibuster.