Politics & Policy

Biden Open to Filibuster Reform: ‘Democracy Is Having a Hard Time Functioning’

President Joe Biden speaks as Vice President Kamala Harris listens during a visit to the State Department in Washington, D.C., February 4, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

President Joe Biden appeared open to reforming the Senate legislative filibuster in an interview with ABC News Tuesday night, just hours after White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the president preferred “not to make changes.”

Speaking to George Stephanopoulos, Biden suggested that the filibuster — which requires 60 votes rather than a simple majority to pass most legislation — should return to its “talking” format, in which senators would be forced to continuously speak on the Senate floor in order to block a bill.

“Aren’t you going to have to choose between preserving the filibuster, and advancing your agenda?” Stephanopoulos asked Biden.

“Yes, but here’s the choice: I don’t think that you have to eliminate the filibuster, you have to do it what it used to be when I first got to the Senate back in the old days,” Biden replied. “You had to stand up and command the floor, you had to keep talking.”

When Stephanopulos clarified that Biden is “for bringing back the talking filibuster,” the president responded affirmatively, saying “that’s what it was supposed to be.”

“It’s getting to the point where, you know, democracy is having a hard time functioning,” he explained.

Biden’s comments echo sentiments expressed by moderate Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who said earlier this month on Meet the Press that the process could be made “a little bit more painful” by forcing senators to talk.

“I’m willing to look at any way we can, but I’m not willing to take away the involvement of the minority,” Manchin explained — though he later clarified that he still supported the 60-vote requirement for most legislation.

Manchin’s comments also appeared to prompt the White House to state the president’s “preference is not to make changes to the filibuster rules.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that “Biden believes, with the current structure, he can work with Democrats and Republicans to get business done.”

Psaki reiterated the position on Tuesday on Morning Joe. “His preference is to not make changes to the filibuster, and he wants to leave the door open to bipartisan work,” she said. “People may say that’s naive. He feels he’s only 40 days into his administration, and he wants the door to be open so Democrats and Republicans can work together on legislation moving forward.”

A few hours later, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) warned that he intended to use “every” Senate rule available if the filibuster is changed.

“Let me say this very clearly for all 99 of my colleagues: nobody serving in this chamber can even begin to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like,” he stated.

The White House’s reticence comes as the progressive wing of the Democratic party has increasingly pushed for a filibuster exception for legislation designed to expand voting rights.

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