Biden endorses Filibuster rule changes

Written By: Carl Hulse © 2021 The New York Times Company The New York Times
Washington Published: Mar 17, 2021, 03:27 PM(IST)

A file photo of US President Joe Biden. Photograph:( Reuters )

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Currently, senators need only to register their objections to force supporters to produce 60 votes to break the filibuster, which has become a near-daily part of Senate life.

The fight over the Senate filibuster escalated sharply Tuesday, as President Joe Biden for the first time threw his weight behind changing the rules even as Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, threatened harsh reprisals if Democrats moved to weaken the procedural tactic.

In an interview with ABC News, Biden gave his most direct endorsement yet of overhauling the filibuster, saying that he favoured a return to what is called the talking filibuster: the requirement that opponents of legislation occupy the floor and make their case against it.

“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,” the president said.

“You had to stand up and command the floor, and you had to keep talking.” The comments were a significant departure for Biden, a 36-year veteran of the Senate who has been frequently described by aides as reluctant to alter Senate procedure.

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

Currently, Senators need only to register their objections to force supporters to produce 60 votes to break the filibuster, which has become a near-daily part of Senate life. Requiring opponents to hold the floor would put more of the burden on them and theoretically make it harder for them to sustain their opposition.

Biden’s comments came as McConnell issued his stark warning and as the president’s allies on Capitol Hill began building a public case for the elimination of the tactic.

After Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, called for changes to reduce the filibuster's power, McConnell, R-Ky., bluntly promised a “scorched earth” response and pledged to grind the Senate to a standstill.

He was referring to the prospect that Democrats might resort to a move known as the “nuclear option,” using their majority status to force a change in the Senate rules. That would effectively destroy the filibuster, allowing the majority party to muscle through any measure on its own.

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