This filibuster flip-flop is all but meaningless, of course, since presidents don’t have any role in setting Senate rules. It’s also counterproductive in the short term, as Joe Biden himself admitted in last night’s CNN town-hall event. The best way for Biden to tank his own agenda would be to push Chuck Schumer into the nuclear option, which might result in either (a) an embarrassing failure, (b) defections to Mitch McConnell and the loss of Senate control, or (c) both.
But Biden wanted some cheap applause, and so …
BIDEN: Here’s the deal. If, in fact, I get myself into at this moment the debate on the filibuster, I lose at least three votes right now to get what I have to get done on the economic side of the equation, on the foreign policy side of the equation. So, what I have said — you’re shaking your head no, but let me tell you something, Jack. It’s the truth, number one.
Number two, number two, what I have proposed, in the meantime, is, it used to be, the filibuster, the way it worked — and we have 10 times as many — more than that — times the filibuster has been used since 1978. It used to be, you had to stand on the floor and exhaust everything you had. And you went — and when you gave up the floor, and someone else sought the floor, they had to talk until they finished. You’re only allowed to do it a second time. After that, it’s over. You vote. Somebody moved for the vote. I propose we bring that back now, immediately.
Eh, the old “talking filibuster” argument doesn’t work for Biden in either direction. In the first place, that’s not the “reform” that progressives want. They want the filibuster eliminated entirely in order to steamroll Republicans. In the second place, the talking filibuster has its own problems, not the least of which is that it allows the minority to jam the entire Senate legislative calendar. The current version allows the Senate to put aside the debate in which the filibuster takes place in order to handle other, less confrontational business.
Does Biden really want to give the GOP a way to stall out his entire legislative agenda by focusing on one particularly controversial issue? Or better yet, stall his nominees to the courts — which presently can’t be filibustered — by filibustering legislation in proxy? Of course not. This is just gasbaggery by Biden.
Even though Biden admitted that he can’t do anything about the filibuster and doesn’t want anything done while his agenda is on the line, he nevertheless threw in with the progressives on the nuclear option anyway:
BIDEN: But I also think we’re going to have to move to the point where we fundamentally alter the filibuster. The idea that, for example, my Republican friends say that we’re going to default on the national debt because they’re going to filibuster that, and then we need 10 Republicans to support us, is the most bizarre thing I ever heard. I think you’re going to see — if that gets pulled again, I think you are going to see an awful lot of Democrats being ready to say, not me. I’m not doing that again. We’re going to end the filibuster. But it still is difficult to end the filibuster beyond that. That’s another issue.
COOPER: But are you saying, once you get this current agenda passed on spending and social programs, that you would be open to fundamentally altering the filibuster or doing away with it?
BIDEN: I am open to fundamentally altering it.
COOPER: Or doing away with it?
BIDEN: Well, that remains to be seen exactly what that means, in terms of fundamentally altering it, and whether or not we just end the filibuster straight up.
There are certain things that are just sacred rights. One is a sacred obligation that we never are going to renege on a debt. We’re the only nation in the world we have never, ever reneged on a single debt.
COOPER: But when it comes to voting rights, you…
BIDEN: Voting rights is equally as consequential.
COOPER: When it comes to voting rights, just so I’m clear, though, you would entertain the notion of doing away with the filibuster on that one issue? Is that correct?
BIDEN: And maybe more.
COOPER: And maybe other issues?
At this point Biden finally dropped it, belatedly seeing where Anderson Cooper was pushing him. If you make enough carve-outs in the filibuster, what doesn’t get carved out? Biden’s not arguing to “fundamentally alter” the filibuster at that point but to eliminate it altogether.
Hopefully, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema — plus Biden’s unnamed third vote (Jon Tester?) — paid attention to this sequence. You can bet that Mitch McConnell did.