Joe Biden just took a big step toward supporting the elimination of the filibuster, the biggest roadblock to Democrats’ hopes to getting anything done on voting rights, immigration reform, gun control, and a raft of other liberal priorities.
In his first press conference as president, Biden warned that the filibuster was “being abused in a gigantic way” by Senate Republicans and reiterated his support for some minor reforms to the filibuster rule that requires 60 votes to pass almost any legislation. But he went a step further, suggesting that if Republicans don’t allow bipartisan work on crucial issues, he’d “go beyond” his current support.
“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,” Biden warned Senate Republicans in his Thursday presser.
The comments are a strong signal from Biden that if Republicans won’t work across the aisle, he’d push to end the filibuster, which he’d defended throughout his career—including during his presidential bid.
And they mark the latest evolution in what’s been a dramatic shift on more moderate Democrats’ views of the filibuster, which centrists in both parties have long defended as a key defense for the minority.
Biden’s comments were a shot across the bow of Senate Republicans—and a signal to Senate Democrats that he’ll back them if they decide to vote to end the filibuster.
Liberal advocates have pointed out that the filibuster historically has been a major tool to block civil rights reforms. And a half-dozen Democratic senators who’d previously voiced support for the filibuster have since signaled they’ve reconsidered their position.
That shift has happened as advocates have framed the issue around voting rights. Republicans are passing a bevy of new voting restrictions in many states that are designed to hurt Democrats and undercut minority voters. Democrats have countered with a massive voting rights law that would require states to allow mail and early in-person voting, among many other changes.
But the only way that bill could pass is if they blow up the filibuster.
Former President Barack Obama said last summer that the filibuster is a "Jim Crow relic." Asked if he agreed with his former boss, Biden replied "Yes."
Biden isn’t the one who will decide whether the Senate ends the filibuster—Democrats will need every one of their 50 members to vote to change the rules, and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has been adamantly and unequivocally opposed to ending it, as has Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. But Manchin has signaled that he’d be open to reforming the rule to a “talking filibuster.”
That potential half-measure would be changing the requirement so that minority senators would need to actually deliver ongoing floor speeches to maintain a filibuster, rather than the current system where any 41 senators can block legislation by simply threatening to vote against giving a bill attention.
Biden reiterated his support for that change.
“I believe we should go back to a position of the filibuster that existed just when I came to the United States Senate,” he said. "I strongly support moving in that direction.”