On Wednesday, Senate Republicans filibustered one of the Democrats’ cherished legislative goals: the “For the People” voting rights act, which would nationalize elections, among other things. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has also said that Republicans would not help Democrats raise the debt limit when it expires in December.
Those two realities may finally drive Joe Biden to support some modifications to the filibuster rules — perhaps allowing the Senate to carve out exceptions for the debt ceiling and voting rights.
Biden has steadfastly maintained that the filibuster is necessary for guaranteeing minority rights. But as Republicans are now blocking every move to advance his agenda, Biden is beginning to heed the calls for filibuster reform from the radicals in his party.
At his CNN Townhall on Thursday, Biden appeared to be willing to modify filibuster rules.
Republicans have called on Democrats to address the debt ceiling using the same involved reconciliation procedure that they used for the March pandemic-relief bill and are now using for a sweeping social-spending bill. Democrats have rejected that approach, highlighting that Republicans have joint responsibility for the debt and that the debt ceiling has traditionally been dealt with on a bipartisan basis.
Biden recognized the challenge in addressing the filibuster rule.
“It’s still as difficult to end the filibuster beyond that, that’s another issue.”
The Democrats would have to use the reconciliation process to carve out exceptions to the Senate filibuster. Even then, there’s no guarantee it would work.
Related: The Democrats’ Reconciliation Bill Is Unprecedented in Every Way
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin has said on several occasions that he would, under no circumstances, vote to end the filibuster or agree to any carve-out provision for passing anything.
Except maybe voting rights legislation.
Manchin claims that his voting rights bill would garner GOP support. He’s wrong. The bill the Senate voted down on Wednesday was substantially Manchin’s invention. It was mostly his language, his ideas that were presented. And Republicans firmly and unanimously rejected it.
Manchin wants a bipartisan voting rights bill, but he’s not going to get it with any help from Republicans. So it’s possible he might agree to a single carve-out to the filibuster rule for voting rights. Other Democratic centrists like Montana’s John Tester and Maine’s independent Senator Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats, have said agreeing to a carve-out for voting rights and the debt limit bill would “save” the filibuster.
But once there’s a filibuster carve-out for anything, the filibuster as a tactic for the minority to keep the majority in check will be gone.
Democrats will rue the day they carved out exceptions to the filibuster. Once the Republicans get back into power and a Republican president sits in the White House — an eventuality that is likely to happen a lot sooner than some Democrats would like to believe — the Democrats will get their own taste of what a hyperpartisan Senate can be like.
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