Former President Obama said Monday that Congress needs to pass voting rights legislation before the 2022 midterm elections, or American democracy could be at risk.
“We can’t wait until the next election because if we have the same kinds of shenanigans that brought about Jan. 6, if we have that for a couple more election cycles, we’re going to have real problems in terms of our democracy long-term,” said Obama.
Speaking on a call with grassroots supporters alongside former Attorney General Eric Holder, Obama said debate over the voting rights bill, known as the For the People Act, was worth it for him to engage in political debate, even as a former president.
“Since I left office I’ve tried to make a policy not to weigh in on the day-to-day scrum in Washington,” said Obama.
“But what’s happening this week is more than just a partisan bill coming up or not coming up to a vote,” he added.
The Democratic voting rights proposal passed the House in March and is due this week to come under consideration by the Senate.
The bill does not have enough support to overcome a filibuster, which would require 10 GOP senators to back it. No Republican senators are now supporting the measure, which they have cast as a Democratic power-grab.
Democrats are still pushing the bill through, in an effort to highlight Republican opposition, despite changes made to the bill at the request of Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), the most conservative member of the Democratic caucus.
Obama said those changes were made by “the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, or maybe in Congress — Joe Manchin of West Virginia — to come up with common sense reforms that a majority of Americans agree with, that Democrats and Republicans can agree with.”
While Manchin has not committed to supporting the bill, he released a laundry list of voting rights initiatives he supports, for which he received a generally positive response from the rest of the party.
The bill’s original text focuses on an expansion of access to voting, with provisions to require states to enact a minimum of 15 days of early voting and simplifying registration.
The bill would also overhaul campaign finance and set standards for redrawing electoral maps.
Manchin has voiced support for several of the voting access provisions and the ban on partisan gerrymandering, but is on the record in opposition to the bill, which he said is too broad and lacks Republican support.
Still, he’s opened the door to supporting an amended bill that includes Republican priorities, leaving the possibility of the bill going down in a 50-50 vote.
Left with few other options, Democrats are pushing for that result, which they believe will highlight Republican intransigence and potentially shake up gridlocked Senate politics.
“Despite what you may have heard, we believe there is a path forward for this bill to get passed,” said Holder, who is now chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which organized the call.
Obama took shots at the filibuster, the Senate rule that mandates a 60-vote threshold for a bill to receive a final vote in the upper chamber.
Progressive calls to nix the rule have grown as Republican opposition has slowed President Biden’s legislative agenda, while centrists like Manchin continue to defend the filibuster as a guarantor of political minority rights.
Obama said the filibuster is not in the Constitution, and it “allows a determined minority of senators to block legislation supported by the vast majority of Americans.”