Obama condemns voter suppression in John Lewis eulogy, as Trump attacks mail-in voting
While delivering a eulogy for John Lewis on Thursday, former President Barack Obama condemned "attacks on democracy" and voting rights, without naming President Donald Trump or Republicans who have sought to restrict mail-in voting during the pandemic.
"Even as we sit here, there are those in power who are doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting," Obama said during a ceremony in Atlanta, Georgia. "by closing polling locations, by targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws, and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, even undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to an election that's going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don’t get sick."
Highlighting the work that Lewis did during his time as a civil rights activist and lawmaker, Obama called for automatic voter registration, including for former inmates, who he said "earned their second chance." He said polling places and early voting should be expanded, Election Day should be made a national holiday, and that residents of Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico should receive equal representation in government.
"I know this is a celebration of John’s life. There are some who say we shouldn’t dwell on such things, but that’s why I’m talking bout it," Obama said. "John Lewis devoted his time on this earth fighting the very attacks on democracy, and what’s best in America, that we’re seeing circulate right now."
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Obama called on lawmakers to revitalize the Voting Rights Act, and expressed support for putting an end to the filibuster, which he called a "Jim Crow relic." He said lawmakers should go even further than the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a piece of legislation renamed for Lewis after his death that aims to restore provisions in the 1965 act that were weakened in a 2013 Supreme Court ruling.
"If politicians want to honor John — and I’m so grateful for the legacy and work of all the congressional leaders who are here — but there's a better way than a statement calling him a hero. You want to honor John? Let’s honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for," Obama said.
Obama's remarks during Lewis' eulogy come as some Republican leaders have increasingly voiced their opposition to mail-in voting, as the country prepares for a national election amid the coronavirus pandemic. Trump began the morning with a tweet suggesting that the November presidential election be delayed and repeated his claim that expanded mail-in ballots would lead to voter fraud.
"With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA," Trump said. "Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???"
Democrats denounced the idea, arguing that there is little evidence of fraud and that a number of states have utilized mail-in voting for years, and experts said Trump lacks the legal authority to delay an election on his own.
Obama was one of three former presidents to speak at Lewis' funeral, alongside George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. President Jimmy Carter, who is 95, sent a statement read at the service in lieu of attending. Trump did not attend. The presidents hailed Lewis for his devotion to creating "good trouble," and his commitment to peaceful demonstration.
"We can't treat voting as an errand to run, if we have some time. We have to treat it as the most important action we can take on behalf of democracy. Like John, we have to give it all we have," Obama said.
Lewis died July 17 after a Stage IV pancreatic cancer diagnosis. He was 80.
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"Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble," Lewis said. "Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it."