Biden: You bet I support filibuster "reform"

Up until now, President Biden has remained largely silent about the ongoing Democratic push to end the legislative filibuster. It’s a controversial proposition, so it’s understandable for Uncle Joe to let the Senate slug it out on their own. But in an interview with George Stephanopoulos scheduled to air today, Biden was finally prodded into weighing in. He didn’t go so far as to say that he supported ending the filibuster entirely, but he did say he was in favor of “reforming” it. So what does that mean? Biden thinks that if someone wants to filibuster a bill they should do it the old-fashioned way like they did when he first arrived in the swamp. (ABC News)

President Joe Biden on Tuesday said he supports changing the Senate’s filibuster rule back to requiring senators talk on the floor to hold up a bill, the first time he has endorsed reforming the procedure the White House has for weeks insisted the president is opposed to eliminating.

The comments, made in an exclusive interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, could galvanize reform advocates who argue that the legislative filibuster is stymying Biden’s agenda in the narrowly divided Senate.

“Aren’t you going to have to choose between preserving the filibuster, and advancing your agenda?” Stephanopoulos asked Biden in their interview outside Philadelphia.

Biden told Stephanopoulos that back in his day, “You had to stand up and command the floor, you had to keep talking.” The two agreed that this could be referred to as “the talking filibuster.”

Honestly, I can’t really argue with Biden here. The filibuster has slowly evolved into something that barely resembles how it once worked. Today all you really need to do is indicate during a whip count that you plan on voting against a given bill and if that leaves the majority short of sixty votes, it’s described as having been filibustered. If you’re going to invoke that particular Senate rule (blocking cloture on a bill) perhaps you really need to put some work into the effort.

It’s not as if it has to be done in the dramatic fashion depicted on the West Wing in the Stackhouse Filibuster episode, with one person standing there all through the night, struggling to keep up their monologue. Multiple senators can tag-team the effort and keep it going as long as they are able. For a real-world example, the record for a one-person filibuster was Strom Thurmond’s 24-hour marathon effort to stop the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Unfortunately for Joe Biden, that answer isn’t going to satisfy many in his party. Both Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin have made it clear that they’re not interested in any sort of “reform.” They want to do away with the legislative filibuster entirely, leaving them free to force through a progressive wishlist of agenda items with no GOP support and Kamala Harris breaking a series of ties if need be. The downside to this plan for Democrats is that they would be handing even more power to some of their more moderate members like Joe Manchin. At present, he can only be the critical swing vote on bills involving spending or revenue, since they only require a simple majority to pass via reconciliation.

But with the filibuster entirely gone, every bill that Schumer brings to the floor will need Manchin’s seal of approval before it can move forward. On top of that, you have Mitch McConnell vowing “a scorched earth” campaign like nothing seen in recent memory if the Democrats kill it off. That’s something we’ve discussed here in the past. Once the filibuster is gone, it’s never coming back because the party in power never votes to restrain their own power. And you can just imagine the conservative wishlist that could be rammed down the Democrats’ throats next time they are in the minority. (If you think that’s never going to happen, that what everyone says when control switches between the two parties. Believe me, the idea of a “permanent majority” is little more than a unicorn.)

When I read this report, I couldn’t help but wonder why Joe Biden bothered weighing in on the question to begin with. He had the easiest excuse imaginable if he wanted to keep his nose out of the fight. All he had to say was that he hasn’t been in the Senate for more than a decade and he leaves it up to the senators to set their own rules. It’s a separation of powers approach, and nobody could have really faulted him for it. But now he’s left looking as if he’s crossing swords with Schumer and Durbin. It was a curious choice, to say the least.