WASHINGTON – The Senate filibuster battle escalated sharply Tuesday when President Biden first put his emphasis on changing the rules, despite Republican leader Senator Mitch McConnell threatening tough reprisals if Democrats weaken procedural tactics .
In one (n Interview with ABC NewsMr Biden gave his most direct approval to date of the filibuster overhaul, saying he was in favor of a return to what is known as the talking filibuster: the requirement that opponents of the legislation take the floor and speak out against it.
“I don’t think you have to eliminate the filibuster. You have to do it like it used to be when I was first in the Senate,” said the President. “You had to get up and command the floor, and you had to move on talk. “The comments were a significant departure for Mr. Biden, a 36-year-old Senate veteran who was often described by aides as reluctant to change the Senate process.
“It comes to a point where democracy is having a hard time working,” he added.
Currently, Senators only need to register their objections to the legislation to force supporters to cast 60 votes to break the filibuster that has become an almost daily part of Senate life. Demands from opponents to take the floor would burden them more and make it theoretically more difficult for them to maintain their opposition.
Mr Biden’s comments came as Mr McConnell issued his stern warning and when the President’s allies on Capitol Hill began setting up a public process to remove the tactic.
After Illinois Senator Richard J. Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, called for changes to reduce his power, Kentucky Mr. McConnell bluntly promised a “scorched earth” response and promised to stall and derail the Senate Mr Biden’s agenda if the Democrats took that step.
“Everything the Democratic Senate did to Presidents Bush and Trump, everything the Republican Senate did to President Obama would be a no-brainer compared to the disaster Democrats would create for their own priorities if they broke the Senate “said McConnell said.
He was referring to the prospect that Democrats could resort to a move known as a “nuclear option” by using their majority status to force a change in Senate rules that would allow lawmakers to block action against a bill that it was because, proponents can muster 60 votes to move forward. This would effectively destroy the filibuster and allow the majority party – currently the Democrats – to build muscle itself through any measure.
Progressives have advocated such a change to allow Mr Biden to align his agenda with Republican obstruction, and a growing number of Democrats are openly considering it. The idea gained strength after Mr Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion stimulus package passed, which the Democrats pushed through the Senate through a special budget process without a single Republican vote, and delivered laws that were previously well received by the public and the Democrats a foretaste of the possibilities of a post-filibuster world.
To put a brake on the Democrats and get the attention of the White House, Mr McConnell insisted that Republicans would tie the Senate in knots in retaliation if they took the plunge. He made his statement after Mr. Durbin, a respected veteran of the institution, said Monday it was time to allow the minority party to routinely block the legislation by requiring a three-fifths majority to move most of the bills forward. It was the most explicit call to date by a democratic leader for action.
Mr. Durbin noted that it was Mr. McConnell who institutionalized the use of the filibuster, which historically had rarely been used before the Kentuckian was in command. Mr Durbin said the procedural weapon was a particularly painful point for him as it had been preventing Democrats from enacting the so-called Dream Law, a popular non-partisan law he wrote that provides a path to legal status for undocumented people, for two decades would immigrants brought to the United States as children. Although it is supported by a majority, it was never able to reach the 60-vote threshold.
“I took it to the Senate on five different occasions and the filibuster stopped it on five different occasions,” Durbin said Tuesday.
In his speech on Monday, Mr Durbin argued that the burden should be shifted to those who oppose a particular bill in order to maintain a filibuster, rather than those in favor of producing 60 votes to move it forward, a view similar to that expressed by Mr Biden. Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia and one of the party’s leading opponents of the filibuster end, also said he’d come up with the idea of calling for speaking filibusters.
Democrats say they are not yet ready to attempt to revise the filibuster rules and that they are also lacking votes in their own party to do so at the moment. Currently, activists are urging them to provide impetus by following the same strategy they used in 2013 before using the nuclear option to effectively get rid of filibusters against candidates from the executive and judicial branches.
That year, Nevada’s Harry Reid, then the Senate Majority Leader, put up a line-up of three highly regarded candidates for vacancy in a prestigious court of appeals to show that Republicans would block candidates for the Obama administration, no matter how qualified they were. The Democrats then repeatedly put the candidates to the vote and did not stall the Republican filibusters. That process eventually convinced enough senators in their ranks that they had no choice but to lower the 60-vote threshold for candidates to prevent the Obama administration from denying its right to appoint judges.
Proponents of filibuster change say Democrats could now do the same with progressive legislation that is widely supported. These include a voting measure now gaining ground in the Senate, an immigration bill, a gun safety bill, a gay and transgender rights bill, a union-friendly organizing measure, and possibly a large-scale public works measure. The House has pushed through many measures against unanimous or near solid Republican opposition in recent weeks. The dream law is due to be voted on Thursday.
“We need to create a record that can be passed immediately if the filibuster fails,” said Adam Jentleson, a former top aide to Mr. Reid during the 2013 showdown who wrote a new book attacking the filibuster and argued that it has destroyed the Senate and hampered public order, which has broad national support.
Senators seem increasingly responsive to appeals to end the filibuster as it exists now, as they look to the possibility of months of Republican opposition to their agenda.
“I think people just did it,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat who chairs the rules committee, of the blocking tactic she had advocated in the past. “I don’t think we should let an outdated Senate rule undermine the foundation of our democracy and prevent us from making progress.”
Ms. Klobuchar intends to hold a hearing next week on the comprehensive voting law already passed by Parliament, and she acknowledged that this would likely be “an important test for the filibuster”.
In his comments, Mr McConnell threatened that Republicans would turn the rules against Democrats and try to make it virtually impossible to do anything in the Senate if they continued with the change. He pointed to the fact that the chamber operates by arcane rules that are often circumvented by so-called unanimous consent, to which no senator objects. If the Democrats rushed forward to core the filibuster, the Republicans would withhold approval on even the most mundane matters, effectively bringing the Senate to a standstill.
“Let me make this very clear to all 99 of my colleagues,” said McConnell. “No one serving in this Chamber can imagine what a completely scorched Senate would look like – no one. Neither of us served for a minute in a Senate that was totally exempt from comity, and this is an institution that needs unanimous approval to turn the lights on before noon. “
Mr McConnell, who found he had defied President Donald J. Trump’s aggressive demands to get rid of the filibuster and thwart the Republicans’ agenda, said the elimination would be a transformative change of government and go well beyond what voters could imagine in the election, Mr. Biden and the equally divided Senate intended.
“Does anyone really believe that the American people voted for a whole new system of government by electing Joe Biden to the White House and a 50:50 Senate?” he asked. “There was no mandate to completely transform the American people on November 3rd.”
Ms. Klobuchar disagreed with this assessment, saying that the Americans had voted for a new approach and that it might be necessary to drop the filibuster in order to achieve this.
“You voted for someone who is more moderate for the president but for someone who will do great things,” she said. “You voted for change.”