Senate will have to ‘fundamentally alter’ the filibuster

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Senate will have to 'fundamentally alter' the filibuster

President Biden said Thursday that Senate Democrats will have to “fundamentally alter” the chamber’s 60-vote legislative filibuster, and suggested he would support doing away with it completely to pass sweeping election reform legislation “and maybe more.”

The president attempted to play coy about the issue during a CNN town hall in Baltimore, telling moderator Anderson Cooper that “if, in fact, I get myself into, at this moment, the debate on the filibuster, I lose at least three votes right now to get what I have to get done,” a reference to the multitrillion-dollar social spending bill Democrats are currently negotiating in Congress.

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Angus King (I-Me.) have previously opposed any modification to the filibuster — though King appeared to soften that stance Wednesday.

Biden then called for the reintroduction of the so-called “talking filibuster,” in which senators would be obligated to hold the floor and speak for as long as possible in order to prevent debate on a bill.

“It used to be you had to stand on the floor and exhaust everything you had and when you gave up the floor and someone else sought the floor, they had to talk until they finished,” the president explained. “You’re only allowed to do it a second time. After that, it’s over. You vote. Someone moves for the vote. I propose we bring that back now, immediately.”

Biden addressed the filibuster one day after Senate Republicans blocked debate on a sweeping Democratic-proposed election reform bill for the third time this year. The measure, known as the Freedom to Vote Act, has been advocated by progressives as a way to counter state laws enhancing voter ID measures and restricting the availability of absentee and mail-in ballots. Republicans have condemned it as an unconstitutional federal takeover of the election system and a bid by Democrats to take permanent control of the system of government.

President Joe Biden sips a glass of water while discussing his infrastructure investment proposals with moderator Anderson Cooper during a CNN town hall in Baltimore, Maryland.
President Joe Biden sips a glass of water while discussing his infrastructure investment proposals with moderator Anderson Cooper during a CNN town hall in Baltimore, Maryland.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Following the vote, King, who caucuses with the Democrats, said he was “open to protecting our democratic system of government through structural reforms that ensure that we protect ballot access for all of our citizens.

“Our elections are the backbone of America’s democracy – and that democracy is more important than any Senate rule,” King added.

Biden also referenced the recent debate over raising the debt ceiling, in which Republicans refused to support a long-term extension and dared Democrats to increase the federal borrowing limit on their own though the parliamentary process of reconciliation. Eleven GOPers ultimately voted against filibustering a short-term debt ceiling extension, though the measure itself only passed the Senate along party lines.

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine
Sen. Angus King vowed to protect “ballot access for all of our citizens,” after Republicans blocked debate on the Democrats’ Freedom to Vote Act.
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool

“I think you’re going to see an awful lot of Democrats being ready to say, ‘Not me, I’m not doing that again. We’re gonna end the filibuster,’” Biden suggested. “But it still is difficult to end the filibuster beyond that, that’s another issue.”

“But are you saying once you get this current agenda passed on spending and social programs, that you would be open to fundamentally altering the filibuster or doing away with it?” Cooper asked.

“Well, that remains to be seen exactly what that means in terms of fundamentally altering it, whether or not we just end the filibuster straight up,” Biden answered. “There’s certain things that are just sacred rights.”

“When it comes to voting rights, just so I’m clear, though, you would entertain the notion of doing away with the filibuster just on that one issue?” Cooper tried again. “Is that correct?”

“And maybe more,” the president answered, after a brief pause.

Changing the filibuster rule would require the support of all 50 Senate Democrats, and both Manchin and Sinema have so far said they would not support such action.

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