President Joe Biden suggested he’d back changes to the Senate filibuster, urging a return to previous practices that required objecting lawmakers to hold the floor.
“I don’t think that you have to eliminate the filibuster,” Biden said in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, an excerpt of which aired on Tuesday evening. “You have to do it what it used to be when I first got to the Senate back in the old days. … You had to stand up and command the floor, you had to keep talking.”
“You’ve got to work for the filibuster,” he added.
Biden’s remarks on filibuster reform are his strongest to date; White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier Tuesday that the president’s preference was “not to make changes” to filibuster rules, but that he was also “open to hearing ideas.”
Biden, a longtime creature of the Senate, is facing a growing call among Democrats and progressives to push for ending the legislative filibuster, which requires 60 votes to move forward on most legislation in the Senate. It’s an issue that has alarmed those in his party, who hold the majority in a 50-50 Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote, and are worried about potential gridlock.
But in his interview, Biden did not explicitly say whether he wanted to eliminate the 60-vote threshold. And it’s not clear how much of a change reinstating the talking filibuster would bring. Under the current Senate rules, a senator can still seize the floor and delay, depending on the procedure.
In a floor speech on Monday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) supported potential filibuster reform, saying that as it stood, the filibuster was “making a mockery of American democracy.”
“I’ve long been open to changing the Senate rules to restore the standing filibuster,” he said. “If a senator insists on blocking the will of the Senate, he should at least pay the minimal price of being present, no more phoning it in.”
However, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned Democrats on the Senate floor on Tuesday about nixing the decades-old filibuster. Republicans would use other Senate rules, he said, to bring the chamber to a complete standstill, “like a 100-car pile up, nothing moving.”
“Let me say this very clearly for all 99 of my colleagues: Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin, can even begin, to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like,” McConnell said.
Biden’s backing of the talking filibuster — which would require a senator to speak on the Senate floor to hold up legislation — echoed comments made by Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a moderate Democrat. But Manchin has also been adamant that he does not want to eliminate the 60-vote threshold, under any circumstances.
“I want to make it very clear to everybody: There’s no way that I would vote to prevent the minority from having input into the process in the Senate. That means protecting the filibuster,” Manchin told POLITICO last week. “It must be a process to get to that 60-vote threshold.”
As of now, Democrats need to persuade at least 10 Republicans to end debate and vote for a bill, while making sure no one breaks ranks, in order to pass legislation.
Given the bitterly partisan battle over Biden’s Covid relief package, Democrats view the likelihood of bipartisan support for some of Biden’s key promises, such as raising the minimum wage to $15 or voting rights reform, as virtually nonexistent.
Even the president, who frequently extols the need for bipartisanship in Washington, acknowledged the difficulties that could arise from the filibuster.
“It’s getting to the point where, you know, democracy is having a hard time functioning,” he said.
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.
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