One of the more esoteric but important debates in this primary is about the filibuster. Elizabeth Warren wants to eliminate it; Bernie Sanders wants to drive around it by using the budget process to pass his major priorities; Joe Biden and most of the rest of the field doesn’t want to mess around with it.
Tonight’s exchange on gun control exposed the differences without really explaining them. Asked how he could pass gun control bills when he failed in 2013, Biden suggested that the “movement” that had grown since then would change the political math. Warren directly challenged the filibuster, but misstated one of the 2013 votes; she said that “background checks” and an “assault weapons ban” got 54 votes, but only background checks did. The new assault weapons ban got just 40 Democratic votes at a time when 55 Democrats (or aligned independents, like Sanders) served in the Senate. And Sanders suggested that he would use “budget reconciliation” to pass his gun proposals.
As it stands, the budget reconciliation process happens once in every fiscal year, and the Senate parliamentarian always rules that non-budgetary matters have to be kept out of it. It’s one of the most telling divisions between the three leading candidates, but it’s not clear that this sunk in with people at home.