Politico

Biden dodges on eliminating the Senate filibuster


President Joe Biden declined to say Thursday that he would support ending the 60-vote threshold required for Senate passage of most bills, even as the arcane maneuver continues to imperil Democrats’ legislative agenda.

Biden’s remarks came during his first news conference as president, in response to a question about how many votes should be required to break a filibuster: 60, or a simple majority of 51. He had not previously addressed that central issue, even while suggesting senators should be forced to talk at greater length to sustain their objections to legislation.

“If we could end it with 51, we would have no problem,” Biden said, allowing that “it’s going to be hard to get a parliamentary ruling that allows 50 votes to end the filibuster, the existence of a filibuster.”

“But it’s not my expertise in what the parliamentary rules and how to get there are,” Biden continued. He spent nearly four decades as a Delaware Democratic senator before becoming vice president and now commander-in-chief.

Biden went on to say that while “our preoccupation with the filibuster is totally legitimate,” his administration can still amass significant accomplishments “while we’re talking about what we’re going to do about the filibuster.”

The Senate, now divided 50-50, could change its filibuster rules with a simple majority vote — as occurred when Biden served as vice president in 2013 and again in 2017, both times for the confirmation of presidential nominees.

Throughout his news conference Thursday, Biden repeatedly dodged questions related to the filibuster rule, which has emerged as a point of contention even among Senate Democrats as they seek to steer major legislative priorities past Republican opposition.

Biden did, however, deliver his most direct endorsement yet of a return to a version of the so-called talking filibuster, which would require a senator or group of senators to hold the floor in order to delay a piece of legislation.

“I strongly support moving in that direction,” Biden said, complaining that the filibuster is “being abused in gigantic way.”

Nonetheless, a talking filibuster requirement that did not incorporate a lowering of the 60-vote threshold to pass most legislation would not speak to Senate Democrats’ most important challenge of late: winning 10 Republican votes.

Biden also suggested that he would have an “open mind” about exceptions to the filibuster for “certain things that are just elemental to the functioning of our democracy, like the right to vote.”

And although Biden said he agreed with former President Barack Obama’s description of the filibuster as a relic of the Jim Crow era, he did not call for its outright abolishment.

“Successful electoral politics is the art of the possible,” Biden said, adding of the filibuster: “It’s been abused from the time it came into being, by an extreme way in the last 20 years. Let’s deal with the abuse first.”

Some Democratic lawmakers, notably House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), have advocated a filibuster carve-out for expansive voting rights legislation currently before Congress. But it is unlikely that particular reform would pass muster with Senate Democrats as they weigh any rules changes.

“We have amended the filibuster in the past,” Biden said. “But here’s the deal: As you’ve observed, I’m a fairly practical guy. I want to get things done. I want to get them done consistent with what we promised the American people.”

In addition to the talking filibuster-style change he discussed, Biden warned that “if we have to — if there’s complete lockdown and chaos as a consequence of the filibuster — then we’ll have to go beyond what I’m talking about.”

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