WILMINGTON — President Biden said Tuesday he wants the Senate to overhaul the filibuster, embracing for the first time a major change to the chamber's rules that could make it easier for him to enact a far-reaching agenda that is blocked by Republicans.
“So you’re for that reform? You’re for bringing back the talking filibuster?” Stephanopoulos said.
“I am. That’s what it was supposed to be,” Biden replied. “It’s almost getting to the point where democracy is having a hard time functioning.”
The filibuster allows a senator to block a bill by refusing to yield the floor unless at least 60 colleagues vote to end the debate and proceed to a vote. In recent years, the objecting senator has not had to actually speak for hours — instead, simply announcing an intent to filibuster is enough to block the bill.
Biden, echoing some other Democrats, was arguing that the filibuster should return to its original form, making it harder to torpedo bills. Some Democrats, arguing that the filibuster is an outdated procedure that cripples progress in ways the Founding Fathers never intended, want to abolish it, but Biden did not go that far.
The Senate’s current 50-50 split, and a sense among Democrats that former president Donald Trump and other Republicans have disdained the rules when it suited them, has recharged a debate over the filibuster.
On another matter, Biden also told ABC that New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) should resign if an investigation by the state attorney general confirms the allegations of sexual harassment leveled by several women.
“If the investigation confirms the claims of the women, should he resign?” Stephanopoulos asked Biden. “Yes,” the president answered. “I think he’ll probably end up being prosecuted, too.”
The president’s comments represent his harshest to date on Cuomo, who has been a political ally.
At this point, not enough Senate Democrats support overhauling the filibuster to make it happen, but that could change if Biden, a 36-year-veteran of the chamber, presses the issue.
Biden has long said that he wanted to preserve the filibuster. But during the presidential campaign, Biden signaled that he was open to making some changes to it, particularly if Republicans resisted his agenda.
Biden’s new position is an implicit acknowledgment that his agenda is unlikely to attract significant support from Senate Republicans, and that he will need to make structural changes to the rules of the upper chamber to pass the legacy-making legislation he has said he wants to enact.
Democrats contend that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) uses the filibuster in ways it was never intended, to kill virtually any Democratic bill or initiative not to his liking. McConnell, in a floor speech Tuesday, responded that the filibuster is critical to preserving the Senate’s deliberative role.
“The framers designed the Senate to require deliberation, to force cooperation, and to ensure that federal laws in our big, diverse country earn broad enough buy-in to receive the lasting consent of the governed,” McConnell said.
Removing the procedure, he added, would alter the chamber irrevocably. “Let me say this very clearly for all 99 of my colleagues: Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like,” McConnell said.
The shift in Biden’s stance comes just days after he signed into law his first legislative victory, a $1.9 trillion stimulus package. But that initiative passed along party lines under special budget rules that only required a simple majority for passage, and Biden attracted no GOP support in the upper chamber.
And other parts of Biden’s agenda await action. He’s hoping to expand protections that labor unions have long sought, make a massive investment in the country’s infrastructure, and enact gun laws. The path for these measures is narrow if 60 votes are required.
Biden appeared to endorse a plan that has been floated by academics and others that would require senators to delay proceedings on the floor by giving lengthy speeches.
Known as the “speaking filibuster” — and memorialized by the classic film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” — the procedure would require significant passion on behalf of the senators to sustain.
Amy Wang contributed to this report.
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