content-header__row content-header__hed” data-testid=”ContentHeaderHed”>Joe Biden May Finally Be Ready to Nuke Mitch McConnell In a new interview, Biden admitted that the filibuster is kneecapping democracy and said he’d support a reform. That could make it harder for Republicans to obstruct his agenda—including crucial efforts to protect voting rights.
March 17, 2021
Joe Biden signs his sweeping COVID relief package into law March 11.MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images
Joe Biden has been facing mounting pressure within his party to support abolishing or amending the Senate filibuster, the tool Republicans are certain to use to frustrate major parts of his agenda and, in all likelihood, steamroll Democratic efforts to protect Americans’ voting rights. But as recently as last week, the president had seemed stubbornly opposed to the idea, suggesting that taking on the Senate rule would mean giving up on the ideals of bipartisanship and unity he’d campaigned on. “The president’s preference is not to get rid of the filibuster,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters recently. “His preference is not to make changes to the filibuster rules.”
But in a promising shift, Biden indicated in an interview Tuesday that while he remains set against eliminating the filibuster entirely, he will support efforts to reform it, making the procedure what he says it was originally “supposed to be.” “I don’t think that you have to eliminate the filibuster. You have to do it what it used to be when I first got to the Senate back in the old days,” Biden told George Stephanopoulos in an ABC News interview. “You had to stand up and command the floor. You had to keep talking.”
Biden, who spent decades in the upper chamber, reveres the body’s traditions and, both as senator and vice president to Barack Obama, was known for his knack for bipartisan dealmaking. In ascending to the presidency after four years of polarization under Donald Trump, Biden expressed confidence that cooperation between Democrats and Republicans would be possible and that he could work within the existing system to deliver for the American people. He’s by no means abandoning those aspirations. But, he acknowledged to Stephanopoulos, the filibuster has helped bring the Senate to the point where “democracy is having a hard time functioning.”
That should be a welcome line for the growing number of Democrats who have called for the filibuster to be eliminated or reformed, particularly with Mitch McConnell and the GOP threatening to exploit the tool to thwart efforts to fight back against their disenfranchisement crusade in states across the country. (McConnell on Tuesday blasted efforts to reform the filibuster, saying it was the only thing preventing a “scorched-earth Senate.”) “He’s being vague about it, but that’s alright…As a student and creature of the Senate, he certainly knows how to choose his words carefully on this subject,” said Senator Dick Durbin of the interview. “But I think he’s acknowledging the obvious: the filibuster has really shackled the Senate.” Biden isn’t going as far as some progressives would like, but reforming the filibuster to make it more difficult to use is something that could still make a difference in terms of the power McConnell’s minority party can wield.
A reform might also stand a better chance of being enacted. To succeed here, Democrats will need to present a unified front. And one of its members, conservative West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, has already made plain that he views abolishing the filibuster as a non-starter. But even Manchin has expressed openness to moving back to a “talking filibuster” that would be more “painful” to use. If Biden throws the weight of the White House behind this more moderate proposal, it’s possible he really could make the Senate function more as it did in the early 1970s when he was first elected to the chamber and the filibuster was used far less frequently than it is now.
Of course, a lot will depend on the exact kinds of reforms he’d support—something he didn’t fully disclose in his ABC News interview. Reporters’ first chance to press him on the issue will come during Biden’s first formal press conference as president, to be held next week.
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