Biden warms to nixing filibuster for voting rights legislation

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His change of heart was revealed at a town hall one day after Senate Republicans blocked a bill to expand voting rights.

President Joe Biden said he's warming to the idea of eliminating the filibuster for targeted issues such as voting rights and the debt ceiling, a major shift for the longtime senator turned chief executive of the United States, who was once a staunch defender of the procedure that Senate Republicans are using to block legislation in the closely divided chamber.

Biden made the comments at a CNN town hall Wednesday night after host Anderson Cooper asked what Biden thought about Democrats who wanted to see the filibuster eliminated specifically for voting rights, which are currently under attack by GOP-controlled legislatures across the country.

Senate Republicans had just one day earlier used the filibuster to block a voting rights bill that would have put an end to many of the voter suppression laws passed by Republican majorities in state legislatures. The bill, named the Freedom to Vote act, aimed to make it easier to register to vote and easier to vote early, expand access to voting by mail, and make Election Day a national holiday, among other provisions.

"I think they make a very good point," Biden told Cooper of Democrats who want to eliminate the filibuster for voting rights. But he said he can't have a debate on the filibuster currently as he's trying to shepherd his infrastructure bill through Congress.

As it stands now, most legislation in the Senate needs to garner 60 votes just to make it to a debate on the floor. Because the Senate is evenly divided 50-50, Democrats need to convince 10 Republicans to back even debating a bill or else it dies.

But Biden said he supported bringing back what's known as the talking filibuster, in which senators must hold the Senate floor if they want to keep a bill from coming up for debate. It's a change that would make it much harder for senators to obstruct legislation.

Here's what Biden said about the talking filibuster at the town hall:

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. You're only allowed to do it a second time. After that, it's over. You vote. Somebody moved for the vote.

 

I propose we bring that back now, immediately.

Biden also said a lot of Democrats are open to eliminating the filibuster for the debt ceiling after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell brought the United States' economy to the brink earlier this month by refusing to raise the country's borrowing limit to pay for things he and other GOP lawmakers voted for.

Biden said at the town hall:

The idea that, for example, my Republican friends say that we're going to default on the national debt because they're going to filibuster that, and then we need 10 Republicans to support us, is the most bizarre thing I ever heard. I think you're going to see — if that gets pulled again, I think you are going to see an awful lot of Democrats being ready to say, not me. I'm not doing that again. We're going to end the filibuster.

Biden's comments are notable, as the debt ceiling will once again become an issue in December, when the United States will reach its borrowing limit and have to raise the ceiling again.

While Biden's comments mark a notable shift in his position, he would need Democratic senators, including Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, to agree to changing the procedure. And both of those lawmakers have been intransigent in their support of the filibuster.

Still, filibuster rules have been changed a number of times, even in the past few years.

During former President Barack Obama's tenure, when McConnell and the GOP filibustered dozens of Obama's federal judicial nominees, Democrats eliminated the filibuster for some federal judge positions.

Then, once Republicans took control, they eliminated the filibuster for both executive branch and Supreme Court nominees.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.