Biden backs ending the filibuster after years of support

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Biden backs ending the filibuster after years of support

President Biden is merely the latest prominent Democrat to support changing Senate rules and eliminating the filibuster — despite backing the procedure many times since 2005, including as recently as this past July. 

During a speech in Atlanta Tuesday touting two sweeping election reform bills, Biden claimed, “the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills, debate them, vote, let the majority prevail.”

“And if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this,” the president said to applause.

Biden also claimed the filibuster had been “weaponized and abused” and accused Republicans of using it to “pull [the Senate] further apart.” 

The president’s comments stand almost in direct contrast with remarks he made only months ago, when he claimed getting rid of the filibuster would “throw the entire Congress into chaos.” 

President Joe Biden announced January 11, 2022 that he is in support of ending the filibuster, making him the most prominent Democrat to do so.
President Joe Biden announced January 11, 2022 that he is in support of ending the filibuster, making him the most prominent Democrat to do so.
Megan Varner/Getty Images

At the time, Biden advocated for returning to the so-called “talking filibuster,” when senators had to be present in the chamber and speak for as long as they could. 

“I want to make sure we bring along not just all the Democrats, we bring along Republicans who I know know better,” he said during a July CNN town hall. 

“What I don’t want to do is get wrapped up around whether this is all about the filibuster,” he continued. “You will throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done.” 

Joe Biden
Biden’s announcement of ending the filibuster comes as he is attempting to push through two bills that have caused his administration several headaches.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Biden’s support for the filibuster goes at least as far back as 2003, when the then-senator from Delaware voted against cloture 18 times as Republicans sought to end Democratic holds on 10 federal judge nominations made by then-President George W. Bush.

Two years later, Biden defended the filibuster on the Senate floor, saying it was “about compromise and moderation.” 

At the time, some Republicans had floated eliminating the procedure, which Biden called “an example of the arrogance of power.” 

President Joe Biden delivers a speech on voting rights on the campuses of Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia on January 11, 2022.
President Joe Biden delivers a speech on voting rights on the campuses of Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia on January 11, 2022.
EPA/ERIK S. LESSER

“It is a fundamental power grab by the majority party, propelled by its extreme right and designed to change the reading of the Constitution, particularly as it relates to individual rights and property rights,” he said back then. “It is nothing more or nothing less.”

“The nuclear option [of ending the filibuster] extinguishes the power of independents and moderates in the Senate. That’s it, they’re done,” Biden continued. “Moderates are important if you need to get 60 votes to satisfy cloture; they are much less so if you only need 50 votes.” 

A year later, Senate Democrats filibustered Samuel Alito’s Supreme Court nomination, and Biden again voted against allowing an up or down vote. Alito was eventually confirmed.

Biden once defended the Senate filibuster saying it was "about compromise and moderation."
Biden once defended the Senate filibuster saying it was “about compromise and moderation.”
Megan Varner/Getty Images

In 2019, then-presidential candidate Biden said in Iowa that his beliefs in favor of the filibuster had not changed.

“Ending the filibuster is a very dangerous thing to do, because it has been used by progressives our whole time to make sure that we did not get rolled over,” he said at the time. 

Last March, Biden revealed he was for filibuster reform only if it reverted back to senators holding the floor, saying “that’s what it was supposed to be.” 

Vice President Kamala Harris introduces US President Joe Biden to give a speech on voting rights on the campuses of Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College.
Vice President Kamala Harris introduces US President Joe Biden to give a speech on voting rights on the campuses of Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College.
EPA/ERIK S. LESSER

However, the president’s firm stance started to waver months later as Democrats failed to push through election reform while battling internally over Biden’s Build Back Better agenda and a bipartisan infrastructure bill. 

In December, Biden said he would support “whatever it takes” to get the election reform legislation through.

“The only thing standing between getting voting rights legislation passed and not getting passed is the filibuster. I support making an exception on voting rights for the filibuster,” the president told ABC “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir.

“That means whatever it takes,” he added. “Change the Senate rules to accommodate major pieces of legislation without requiring 60 votes.”

In order to press forward with the bills, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has vowed to force a vote on changing the Senate rules by Jan. 17 – despite at least two moderate Democrats repeatedly voicing opposition to scrapping the filibuster completely. 

On Tuesday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said that while some “good rule changes” are needed in the Senate, “getting rid of the filibuster doesn’t make it work better.” 

Several top Democrats — including Schumer himself and former President Barack Obama — have also flip-flopped on previous comments supporting the procedure. 

In 2005, Schumer said similar rule changes by Republicans would bring about “doomsday for democracy.” That same year, then-Sen.Obama also spoke out against the GOP efforts to remove the filibuster.

However, it only took 15 years before Obama argued in 2020 that if eliminating the filibuster — which he called “another Jim Crow relic” — was necessary to pass election reforms, “then that’s what we should do.”

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