Biden Gonna Take Filibuster Behind Gym, Beat Holy Hell Out Of It!
In an interview with ABC News Tuesday, President Joe Biden said for the first time that he supports reforming the legislative filibuster to require that any attempt to block legislation use the old-fashioned "talking filibuster," in which Jimmy Stewart talks on the Senate floor until he collapses. Should Mr. Stewart (1908-1997) not be available, a member of the minority party would need to do it. Up until now, Biden has only said that he's opposed to eliminating the filibuster altogether, but that he's "open" to hearing ideas for reform. So this is a pretty encouraging step for folks who've been calling on making changes to the current system in the Senate, where members of the minority party simply have to look dirty at a bill to require it pass by 60 votes instead of a simple majority.
George Stephanopoulos asked Biden, "Aren't you going to have to choose between preserving the filibuster, and advancing your agenda?" And Biden said well maybe we can keep the filibuster but not allow it to be Mitch McConnell's veto anymore.
"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 said. "You had to stand up and command the floor, you had to keep talking."
Biden added, "It's getting to the point where, you know, democracy is having a hard time functioning." Why, yes, we had noticed!
This really was a new take on the filibuster from Biden; as ABC News points out, at yesterday's press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden would prefer not to make any changes to the filibuster, but that he was "open to hearing" ideas on the topic. Then he went and said he'd prefer changes, apparently putting an end to his "Bartleby the Scrivener" cosplay.
As Yr Wonkette has discussed previously, Joe Manchin, the Senate Democrat who's been the loudest defender of the filibuster, has also said he'd be open to modifying the filibuster rules to make it a "little bit more painful" for Republicans to obstruct legislation. The problem with requiring a talking filibuster, however, is that there's little question Republicans would happily use it to clog up the Senate for months, since they have no actual interest in passing any legislation at all. (And unlike Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the US Senate's filibuster rules allow for lots of group participation, so no, it doesn't really come down to a single senator talking until they fall over exhausted. That's how segregationist Southern Democrats managed to block the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for 60 days before it finally moved forward and passed. (Ah but see there, after 60 days it "finally moved forward and passed.")
As Slate noted, however, Manchin has also said he'd even be open to something a little more stringent, like
requiring that [Republicans ] keep 41 votes on the floor in order to maintain their blockade. No matter what, that would be a massive time suck for opposition lawmakers, which would make filibustering more logistically difficult. But once you've made the rule change, it also opens up the potential for old-timey hardball tactics like running the Senate 24/7 until the opposing side just drops.
Definitely a higher bar, but Republicans can get very single-minded when it comes to preventing Democrats from passing anything (see also The Entire Obama Administration). And if Republicans think thwarting Biden might help them take back the Senate in 2022, they might manage to keep 41 members in the chamber until then.
Mitch McConnell has already threatened that if any changes are made to the filibuster, the result would be scorched-earth opposition from Republicans, plus a slew of legislation Democrats would really hate if Republicans ever have the presidency and Senate again. In other words, it would be exactly like how things have been since the day Barack Obama was sworn in, so we'd better watch our step.
[ABC News / National Geographic]
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