President Joe Biden left the door open to support drastic filibuster reform during his first press conference Thursday, calling the Senate procedure requiring 60 votes to pass most laws a relic of the Jim Crow era. .
“If there is a total lockdown and chaos as a result of obstructionism, then we will have to go beyond what I’m talking about,” Biden said after reiterating his position that the Senate should return to a rule that would require senators to continually speak on the floor to delay an invoice.
The focus on obstructionism comes as Biden has asked Congress to pass new gun control measures after the mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado, and when the Senate has started hearings on HR 1, a US bill. democracy reform and expansive voting rights. Republican state legislatures have pushed for bills that would restrict voting access after the 2020 election, pressuring Biden and Democrats to act to expand and protect voting rights.
The restrictions on voting rights proposed by state Republicans are “sick,” Biden told reporters at the White House. “I am convinced that we can stop this, because it is the most pernicious, this makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle,” he added. Biden added that he would do everything in his power with allies in Congress to prevent those measures from becoming law.
Biden spoke about the historical use of the filibuster, adding that it is being “grossly abused.” He later agreed when asked about former President Barack Obama’s assessment that filibuster was a relic of the Jim Crow era, but stopped short of calling for the abolition of the procedure.
Senate filibuster trap 22 is that it takes 60 votes to pass any legislation, but only 51 votes to end filibuster itself. This is because Senate rules can be rewritten by simple majority. That means Democrats could, in theory, remove obstructionism if all 50 Democratic senators vote to do so and Vice President Kamala Harris casts the tiebreaker vote in favor.
“Successful electoral politics is the art of the possible,” Biden said, when asked directly if he supported ending the rule. “Let’s find out how we can do this and move in the direction of significantly changing the abuse of even the obstructionist rule.”
Biden’s position is a change from a few weeks earlier, when the White House was reluctant to make procedural changes to push for the latest round of coronavirus relief. Progressive groups and some Democratic senators have recently expressed frustration with obstructionism and have called for rules to be changed to pass key parts of their agenda.
Democrats still face obstacles in reforming or abolishing filibuster from moderate Democratic senators, including Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who favor bipartisan legislation rather than lowering the threshold to 51 votes.
Ending or significantly changing obstructionism would mean ending centuries of precedent, although it would hardly be the first time. Both parties have reduced filibuster in recent years. Obstructionism no longer applies to votes confirming cabinet secretaries, judges, or even Supreme Court justices. Both parties have also used an obstruction-proof loophole called budget reconciliation to pass massive bills (COVID relief by Democrats, tax cuts by Republicans) through the Senate. But the filibuster of the legislation has proven to be the last line in the sand.
One midway measure Democrats are considering is forcing filibusters to actively participate. In the popular imagination, the term obstructionism brings to mind images of politicians standing for hours, blocking legislation by refusing to stop talking. In the Senate, the reality is much less dramatic. There is a vote to advance legislation and if it does not reach 60 votes, a bill stays where it is (in practice, this kills the bill). Going to an active filibuster would force Republicans to have to be physically present to stop the legislation.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell aggressively used filibuster to crack down on progressive legislation under both Obama and former President Donald Trump when Democrats controlled the House of Representatives. Earlier this year, McConnell warned Democrats that if they ended obstructionism, Republicans would do everything they could to retaliate. “If this majority were scorched earth, this body would stop like we’ve never seen it before,” he said. “It would be a nightmare. I guarantee it.”