President Biden Says He Supports Changing Senate Obstruction Rules

WASHINGTON – President Biden said he supports reinstating the requirement that senators must be present and speak in the room to block bills, as Democrats explore ways to pave the way for their political agenda by revising the rule. legislative obstructionist.

Tuesday’s comments marked a change for Biden, who represented Delaware in the United States Senate for 36 years and had previously said that he would rather preserve obstructionism than get rid of it, as some Democrats have advocated.

“I don’t think you have to remove obstructionism, it has to be done the way it used to be when I got to the Senate in the old days,” Biden said in an interview with ABC News. “You had to stand up and dominate the court, you had to keep talking.”

When asked if that meant he supported the return of the talking filibuster, an idea endorsed by a growing number of Democratic senators, Biden replied, “I am. That’s what it was supposed to be. “

Biden’s comments came on the same day that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell threatened to arrest the Senate if Democrats make any changes to filibuster.

“This chaos would not open a fast lane to liberal change. It would not open a fast lane for the Biden presidency to rush into the history books, ”McConnell (R., Ky.) Said in a speech Tuesday. “The Senate would be more like a hundred car crash. Nothing moves. “

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday of possible changes to legislative obstructionism: “This chaos would not open a fast lane to liberal change.”


Samuel Corum / Bloomberg News

Democrats are at least two votes short of the 51 needed to end legislative obstructionism, a step that would pave the way for them to pass comprehensive legislation on voting rights, immigration, gun regulations and other measures that is unlikely to attract bipartisan support.

As an alternative, Senate Democrats are exploring a return to traditional talking filibusters, like the one famously portrayed by Jimmy Stewart in the 1939 film “Mr. Smith goes to Washington. “The idea was recently raised by West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a centrist Democrat who, like Biden, has said he opposes abolishing filibuster altogether, but is open to review.

Today’s senators can obstruct a bill without speaking at all. They don’t even have to appear on camera. Now momentum is building to change the rules, at least to make filibustering more difficult.

“Senators don’t have to stop for a minute to close the Senate,” Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the second Senate Democrat, said in a Senate speech Monday. “All they have to do is threaten him, call him on the phone, take a plane, come home from Washington, and come back on Monday to see how he’s doing. ‘Mister. Smith calls him on the phone. That wouldn’t have been a great movie, right?

Democrats blame a 1975 rule change that allowed absent senators to count against the 60 votes needed to end debate on a bill and proceed to final approval. They say it made filibusters less expensive for the minority.

Sen. Joe Manchin and other Senate Democrats are exploring a return to traditional “talking filibusters.”


J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press

“What is the pain?” asked Mr. Manchin on Fox News Channel last week.

Manchin’s support for reestablishing the talking filibuster is not new. In 2011, he was one of 46 Democrats who voted in favor of a proposal by Senator Jeff Merkley (D., Oregon) that would have required senators to speak and comment to block the legislation. No Republican voted in favor and the measure failed.

Had it passed, it would have allowed the Senate to enter an extended debate period if a simple majority of senators voted to end debate on a bill. Senators who wanted to block the legislation would have to make sure that at least one of them was on the floor presenting arguments or the majority could move to final approval with 51 votes.

Merkley said he is not married to his 2011 approach. “There are many nuances of different ways it could be done,” he said. “And I’m not ready to say it one way.”

In a Senate split 50-50 between the two parties, the fate of filibuster is key to much of President Biden’s agenda, including his promise to raise the minimum wage and sign a major voting rights bill. Its $ 1.9 trillion Covid-19 aid package was approved with only Democratic votes in the Senate through an expedited process known as reconciliation, which is limited to budget-related bills.

Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona may have the most influence with a Senate that is evenly divided between the two parties. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains how they might determine the fate of the Biden administration’s agenda. Photo: Reuters

White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated early Tuesday that it was Biden’s preference not to make changes to filibuster. But she said he remained open to hearing ideas about the discussions taking place in Congress.

After Democrats won control of the Senate in January, Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D., Arizona) publicly reaffirmed their opposition to abolishing filibuster, but neither senator ruled out altering it. Earlier this month, Democratic Senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada joined Manchin’s endorsement of the speaking filibusters, as did Senator Raphael Warnock (D., Georgia).

“This is not a theoretical debate for us at this time, given what is happening in Georgia regarding voting rights,” Warnock said, pointing to state GOP bills that would add requirements or restrictions to voting for mail and reduce early voting hours. . “I’m willing to consider the talking filibuster, as well as other options,” he said.

Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who is part of the Democrats, said the filibusters were “worth discussing”, along with another idea cited by Manchin that would require the attendance of 41 senators to keep the debate going, rather than the 60 needed to continue. end the debate under the current rules. King is a longtime advocate of filibuster and his preference remains unchanged. But he said his vote is up to McConnell. “If he takes the position that ‘we are going to obstruct everything’, it can make me reconsider my position.”

McConnell told reporters last week that he wants to maintain the filibuster status quo. In his speech Tuesday, he added that the Democrats who are lobbying Senators Manchin and Sinema “are not just arguing for a procedural adjustment. They advocate a radically less stable and less consensus-driven system of government. ”He warned that Republicans could refuse to run, denying Democrats a quorum to conduct any Senate business.

When asked by reporters Tuesday if he could support changes to filibuster, McConnell said: “It is not broken and does not need to be fixed.”

But some Republicans say they are willing to argue the bills to the death, if that’s what it takes to preserve the 60-vote threshold.

“This is what I would encourage Senator Manchin to do: Stand your ground,” said Senator Lindsey Graham (R., SC). “If you have to give in on something, if we have to talk, I’m fine.”

Sen. Jerry Moran (R., Kansas) said talking about filibusters is common sense. “If you care passionately enough, energetically enough about a problem, you have to be willing to use filibuster the way it was originally intended,” Moran said.

“I’m absolutely open to that and it sounds familiar to me,” said Sen. Todd Young (R., Indiana). Still, Young is reluctant for change to happen when Democrats are in power. “I think it rewards very bad and cynical behavior,” he said.

Engulfing the Senate shouldn’t be easy, said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.).

“We’re going to have the cots again,” Blumenthal said, referring to when senators used to nap on makeshift beds in the Senate during hours-long filibusters. “Let’s go back to the all-night debates if that’s what they want to do, to block a popular and much-needed measure. Let them play on the ground and make the American people see them for what they are. “

Write to Lindsay Wise at [email protected] and Siobhan Hughes at [email protected]

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