Voting rights may push Biden to finally support abolishing the filibuster
But we still have Manchin and Sinema to contend with.
Right now, Democrats are a political powerhouse in the federal government — or they should be. After all, Joe Biden is president and the party holds majorities in both the House and Senate. So Democrats should be able to pass anything they want, right? Wrong. There’s one major tool Republicans can still use to their advantage: the filibuster. But Biden may finally be changing his tune about the filibuster, saying he’s open to doing away with it in certain situations.
During an interview with ABC News’s David Muir, Biden said, “If the only thing standing between getting voting rights legislation passed is the filibuster, I support making the exception for voting rights for the filibuster.”
On the surface, this comment may not seem like much, so let’s back up a bit. For the most part, filibusters only exist in the Senate. Both chambers used to have them; but in 1842, the House adopted a rule that let a simple majority limit the time for debate, effectively abolishing them. While it’s unfair to blame filibusters for Democrats’ lackluster performance over the years — especially when you have people like Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who are more than happy to sabotage the Liberal agenda from the inside — it’s certainly a contributing factor.
Indivisible Civics, a progressive organization, noted that while both parties have used filibusters, “it has been weaponized by a greater extent than ever before by Republicans in order to kill landmark pieces of legislation, from civil rights to gun violence prevention and beyond.”
That’s particularly concerning, considering the fact that Republicans continuously attacked voting rights — especially for communities of color, like Native Americans in Montana — leading up to the 2020 election. And now, Republican-led state legislators are working hard to push a ton of new restrictions ahead of the 2022 midterms.
In the past, Biden wasn’t all that supportive of abolishing the filibuster. When asked by CNN’s Don Lemon during a town hall in July, the president replied that while he’s been “saying for a long, long time, the abuse of the filibuster is pretty overwhelming,” he also went on to add, “There’s no reason to protect it other than you’re going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done.”
At that point, Biden was in support of bringing back the talking filibuster where, as it sounds, you have to send somebody up to talk and physically maintain the floor. Right now, that’s not a necessary step. A senator can filibuster by simply refusing to yield the floor, unless at least 60 colleagues vote to end the debate and carry on to vote. They don’t need to talk the whole time — all they need to do is announce their intent to filibuster.
In recent years, many Democratic lawmakers have expressed desires to do away with the filibuster entirely — and they’re only getting more vocal about it. Per CNN, on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sent a letter to colleagues stating that the Senate will consider voting rights legislation once Congress returns in January, perhaps “as early as the first week back.”
Schumer went on to add, “If Senate Republicans continue to abuse the filibuster and prevent the body from considering this bill, the Senate will then consider changes to any rules which prevent us from debating and reaching final conclusions on important legislation.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time Biden has touched on filibusters since July. During a CNN town hall in October, Biden said, “I also think we’re going to have to move to the point where we fundamentally alter the filibuster. The idea for example my Republican friends say that we’re going to default on the national debt because they’re going to filibuster that and we need 10 Republicans to support us, is the most bizarre thing I ever heard.”
In that case, though, Biden never clarified what “fundamentally alter” means. And while his latest interview may show that Biden supports abolishing the filibuster in some situations, nobody should get too ahead of themselves. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki clarified on Thursday that Biden’s answer wasn’t aired in its entirety. Ultimately, Biden doesn’t think they will have to resort to that.
“He said, I would just reiterate, that he doesn’t think we’ll have to go that far,” Psaki told reporters. “I think the key thing we know at this point in time, which you know, is that there aren’t enough votes to change the Senate rules at this point in time.”