President Biden threw cold water on Democrats’ push to eliminate the legislative filibuster, saying he did not want to get “wrapped up” in arguments about a move that would “throw the entire Congress into chaos.”
The commander-in-chief made the comments in a CNN town hall Wednesday night after being asked by a first-year law student about abolishing the Senate rule to pass federal legislation countering GOP-led election security bills that have popped up in state houses nationwide.
Biden began by explaining that he supported returning to the days when senators would have to be present in the Senate chamber to filibuster, though nothing beyond that.
“If you were to filibuster, you had to stand on the floor and hold the floor,” he explained “So you had to take — there were significantly fewer filibusters in those days. In the middle of the civil rights movement.”
Asked if he thinks protecting the filibuster is more important than protecting voting rights, Mr. Biden responded, “No, it’s not,” before explaining his position further.
Beginning by stating that he wanted Democrats to be able to pass the legislation, he then added that, “[W]hat I also want to do, I want to make sure we bring along not just all the Democrats, we bring along Republicans who I know know better.”
“What I don’t want to do is get wrapped up around whether this is all about the filibuster,” the president said of the Senate blocking S. 1,” he continued, “You will throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done.”
The president was elected on a platform of “unity” and bipartisanship and entered the White House as a three-decade veteran of the Senate, where he and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) developed a personal friendship.
While he was quick to invite GOP members to the White House and engage in negotiations on COVID-19 relief, he ultimately has moved forward with a largely progressive agenda.
Making the infrastructure legislation a bipartisan effort has thus been a major focus for House and Senate Democratic leadership.
“What I want to do is I’m trying to bring the country together, and I don’t want the debate to only be about whether or not we have a filibuster or exceptions to the filibuster or going back to the way the filibuster had to be used before,” Biden said Wednesday evening.
Asked again about his defensive position on the Senate rule, Biden explained that, “There’s no reason to protect it other than you’re going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done. Nothing at all will get done. And there’s a lot at stake. The most important one is the right to vote, that’s the single most important one.”
The House passed the For the People Act in early March, but it failed 51-49 in the Senate because of the legislative filibuster, the Senate rule requiring 60 members to end debate on most topics and move forward to a vote.
Republicans blocked the bill because they argued it represented a breathtaking federal infringement on states’ authority to conduct their own elections without fraud.
The package was pushed by Democrats earlier this year in an effort to undo some states’ attempts to tighten voting laws following the 2020 election.
In this Congress, Democrats need 10 Republicans to move any major legislation forward, though they can bypass the filibuster through budget reconciliation on certain bills.
Budget reconciliation would allow Democrats to pass spending for critical projects, but the process cannot be used to change or create laws, as would be necessary for their elections proposal.