Biden Flips on Filibuster Carve Out for Election Bill

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President Joe Biden has indicated support for changing or abolishing the filibuster in order to pass election legislation, a substantial shift from his long-touted position in favor of the Senate’s peculiar rule.

The flip came after Republicans on Wednesday filibustered Democrats’ “Freedom to Vote” Act, an election bill crafted under the guidance of moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.).

“I think we’re going to have to move to the point where we fundamentally alter the filibuster,” Biden said after the vote.

“It remains to be seen exactly what that means in terms of fundamentally altering it, whether or not we just end the filibuster straight up,” Biden added.

The failed bill would have created new requirements for groups to disclose information about their donors, named Election Day a national holiday, and created federal standards for voting by mail, early voting, and voter ID.

Democrats have insisted that these measures are necessary as Republican state legislatures across the country strengthen their voting laws in the wake of inconsistencies in the results of the 2020 election. According to critics of the new state laws, they represent a resurgence of the Jim Crow policies of the Reconstruction era; The laws, opponents claim, are meant to disproportionately target minorities, despite the Supreme Court’s rejection of the claim in 2021 (pdf).

In the past, Biden has been open to some reforms of the filibuster. He has been particularly outspoken in his support for a return to the so-called “talking filibuster.”

Under the “talking filibuster” standard, at least one minority party senator must stand on the floor and keep talking. Current rules allow a senator to declare their intention to launch a filibuster against a bill or motion, and then what’s known as a cloture vote is taken, which requires a 60-vote supermajority for further action on the matter.

Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) 13 hour-long speech on the Senate floor to oppose John Brennan’s appointment as CIA director in 2013 is one of the most famous talking filibusters in recent memory. Another example came in 2013 with Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) filibuster of the Affordable Care Act, during which the senator read “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss.

In recent years, the rules of the filibuster have been relaxed, effectively putting an end to the talking filibuster.

By Joseph Lord

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