That is further than Mr. Biden has gone — though Mr. Biden, who served in the Senate for decades and is an avowed institutionalist, has increasingly opened the door to eliminating the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to pass legislation instead of a simple majority of 51.
Since Mr. Lewis’s death on July 17, many of his supporters have called on Congress to pass legislation updating the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which the Supreme Court severely weakened in 2013. The Democratic-controlled House did so last year, but Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has not allowed the Republican-controlled Senate to take it up.
“Want to honor John?” Mr. Obama said. “Let’s honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for. And by the way, 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.” He called specifically for adding more polling places and early voting options, automatic voter registration and a national election holiday.
He called Mr. Lewis “a man of pure joy and unbreakable perseverance” and vividly laid out the stakes of the 2020 contest, framing it as a part of Mr. Lewis’s legacy.
“Democracy isn’t automatic,” Mr. Obama said. “It has to be nurtured, it has to be tended to, we have to work at it. If we want our children to grow up in a democracy — not just with elections, but a true democracy, a representative democracy, a bighearted, tolerant, vibrant, inclusive America — then we’re going to have to be more like John.”
It was a deeply political speech in a rare public appearance from the former president during the ongoing pandemic. But as the election nears, advisers to Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden know well that the former president represents one of the most powerful voices in the Democratic Party to mobilize voters, and Mr. Obama seems ready to engage more fully than he has since he left office.