Biden: Democrats should end filibuster ‘if there’s complete lockdown and chaos’

Jon Ward·Senior Political CorrespondentThu, 25 March 2021, 7:13 pm

President Joe Biden suggested he may be open to reforming the legislative filibuster beyond what he has already stated, or eliminating it entirely, and placed specific emphasis on the need for voting rights legislation that Democrats are pushing in the Senate.

“If there’s complete lockdown and chaos as a result of the filibuster, we’ll have to go beyond what I’m talking about,” Biden said Thursday during his first White House press conference with reporters as president.

Biden had already, earlier this month, endorsed a change to the filibuster that would require the minority party to physically occupy the Senate floor in order to block legislation they oppose. This is known as a “talking filibuster,” as it would require senators who oppose legislation supported by the majority to stop debate by giving marathon speeches on the Senate floor.

President Joe Biden talks to reporters during the first news conference of his presidency in the East Room of the White House on March 25, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden talks to reporters during the first news conference of his presidency in the East Room of the White House on March 25, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In the 1970s, Senate rules were changed to allow senators to block legislation by simply informing their colleagues that they intended to filibuster it. In practice, this made it so that a 60-vote “super majority” is necessary to end debate and pass most legislation. This reform essentially marked the end of the talking filibuster.

“It’s being abused in a gigantic way,” Biden said of current filibuster rules on Thursday. “It used to be you had to stand there and talk and talk … I strongly support moving in that direction.”

Congressional Democrats have discussed making certain issues, such as those related to voting rights, no longer subject to the 60-vote threshold. And some Senate Democrats have pushed for abolishing the filibuster altogether. However, Democrats do not currently have the 51 votes necessary to end the filibuster due to opposition from moderates in their caucus.

But one of those Democratic moderates – West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin – said recently he would be open to restoring the talking filibuster.

Biden, who was asked about the filibuster several times, placed great stress on the need to pass the voting rights legislation already passed in the House, which had its first Senate committee hearing on Wednesday. And he suggested he may push for the Senate to carve out voting rights as something that can be passed without the filibuster.

Biden said, regarding the filibuster, that he would have “an open mind about dealing with certain things that are just elemental to the functioning of our democracy, like the right to vote.”

The president also said he would do “everything in my power” to help pass the voting legislation and would also expend significant energy on “educating the American public” about efforts by Republicans in state legislatures to restrict access to voting by cutting down on early voting and voting by mail, among other things. Congressional Democrats’ “For the People Act” would mandate at least 15 days of early voting and allow any voter to vote by mail who wanted to.

The efforts by Republicans to cut down on voting access “make Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle,” Biden said. “The Republican voters I know find this despicable.”

Biden mentioned a proposal in Georgia, which is part of a large package in the state legislature that passed through the state House on Thursday, to make it illegal to give water to people standing in line to vote. That bill had included a ban on early voting on Sundays, but that provision was removed after a public outcry because of the way African-American churches often organize “souls to the polls” voter drives after Sunday services.

Manchin released a statement Thursday detailing the parts of the voting rights legislation that he supports. He included the early voting provisions, but left out universal vote by mail. And he said that a voting bill should be bipartisan.

“Pushing through legislation of this magnitude on a partisan basis may garner short-term benefits, but will inevitably only exacerbate the distrust that millions of Americans harbor against the U.S. government,” he said.

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