Former President Barack Obama used his speech at the funeral of John Lewis to issue a stunning rebuke of President Trump and Republicans hours after his successor in the White House floated an Election Day delay.
At the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Thursday, Obama condemned the federal response to violent riots in Portland, Oregon, and said people in power were targeting minorities to prevent voter turnout.
“George Wallace may be gone, but we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators,” the Democrat began.
“We may no longer have to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar in order to cast a ballot, but even as we sit here, there are those in power who are doing their darndest to discourage people from voting, like closing polling locations, and 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,” Obama continued.
Obama also called for a renewal of the Voting Rights Act, taking aim at Supreme Court decisions that he said enabled local officials to suppress minority turnout.
“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. Naming it the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. That is a fine tribute. But John wouldn’t want us to stop there, just trying to get back to where we already were,” Obama said, calling for every U.S. citizen to be automatically registered to vote and to keep protesting.
Both Democrats and Republicans have expressed concerns about voting amid the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans are skeptical of mail-in voting, with some saying it could allow for voter fraud. Obama spoke hours after Trump proposed delaying the November election out of concern that mail-in voting would lead to the “most inaccurate and fraudulent election in history,” echoing his prior skepticism on universal mail-in voting. The day of the election is set by law and requires both houses in Congress to vote in favor of changing it.
Democrats have brushed off those concerns, often stating voters should not risk contracting the coronavirus and be given abilities to vote by mail.
During an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr said there is a “high risk” of potential voter fraud by utilizing universal mail-in voting, though he also said he has no expectation the election will be “rigged.”