In President Joe Biden’s first press conference (64 days into his term), the president complained that the Senate minority had “abused” the filibuster “in a gigantic way,” and he threatened to destroy the filibuster if it got in the way of his radical agenda. Biden agreed with former President Barack Obama that the filibuster is a “relic of the Jim Crow era,” but he held back from demanding an outright repeal, instead threatening to support a full repeal if Republicans try to block his agenda.
“We’re going to get a lot done, and if we have to, if there’s complete lockdown and chaos as a consequence of the filibuster, then we’ll have to go beyond what I’m talking about,” Biden said.
He reminisced about the old requirement that senators had to stand and speak in order to prevent a vote on legislation — the “talking filibuster” — and called for a return to this practice. He also noted that the number of filibusters shot up after 1971.
“From between 1917 and 1971, the filibuster existed, there were a total of 58 motions to break a filibuster. That whole time. Last year, alone, there were five times that many. So it’s being abused in a gigantic way,” Biden argued. (Ironically, Biden was attacking his own party here. Since Democrats were in the minority in 2020, they used the filibuster to block Republican legislation.)
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Biden continued, “And for example, it used to be you had to stand there and talk and talk and talk and talk until you collapsed. And guess what? People got tired of talking and tired of collapsing. Filibusters broke down and we were able to break the filibuster, get a quorum, and vote. So, I strongly support moving in that direction.”
While Biden voiced support for the talking filibuster, he also suggested that the Senate should dismiss the filibuster for important legislation like voting reform — likely a nod to H.R. 1, the Democrats’ disastrous voting bill that would make the voting irregularities of 2020 look like child’s play.
“In addition to having an open mind about dealing with things that are just elemental to the functioning of our democracy, like the right to vote, like the basic right to vote, we’ve amended the filibuster in the past,” the president said.
At this point, Biden dropped all pretense of bipartisanship in the name of ramming through his agenda.
“I want to get things done. I want to get them done consistent with what we promised the American people, and in order to do that, in a 50-50 Senate, we’ve got to get to the place where I’ve got 50 votes so the Vice President of the United States can break the tie, or I get 51 votes without her,” the president said.
In other words, damn the traditions of the Senate and damn bipartisanship, I’ve got to fundamentally transform the country yesterday!
After the president had a senior moment and lost track of his thoughts mid-sentence, he delivered the threat: “If there’s complete lockdown and chaos as a consequence of the filibuster, then we’ll have to go beyond what I’m talking about.”
.@Yamiche: Why not back a filibuster rule when it comes to civil and voting rights?
BIDEN: "I believe in the [talking] filibuster … If we have to, if there's complete lockdown and chaos as a consequence of the filibuster, then we'll have to go beyond [that]. " pic.twitter.com/bywUDTHdLq
— Pod Save America (@PodSaveAmerica) March 25, 2021
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins asked Biden if he agreed with Obama that the filibuster is “a relic of the Jim Crow era.” The president flatly replied, “Yes.”
“Then why not abolish it, if it’s a relic of the Jim Crow era?” Collins replied.
“Successful electoral politics is the art of the possible. Let’s figure out how we can get this done and move in the direction of significantly changing the abuse of even the filibuster rule first,” Biden replied. “It’s been abused from the time it came into being by an extreme way in the last 20 years. Let’s deal with the abuse first.”
.@kaitlancollins: "Do you agree that the filibuster is a relic of the Jim Crow era?"
BIDEN: "Yes."@kaitlancollins: "Why not abolish it if it's a relic of the Jim Crow era?"
BIDEN: "Successful electoral politics is the art of the possible." pic.twitter.com/MVCFoAHGZL
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) March 25, 2021
Biden spent decades in the U.S. Senate, and during that time he vociferously defended the filibuster. He also defended the Hyde Amendment — which prevents pro-life taxpayers from funding abortion, something many of them consider to be murder. Yet in the 2020 primary, Biden flipped on Hyde, and he appears to be mid-flip on the filibuster.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) skewered Biden for threatening to nuke the filibuster.
“Senator Biden was a relentless defender of the filibuster — but now that President Biden looks in the mirror and sees FDR, he’s keeping the door open for a complete 180 to blow up the institution he spent four decades defending,” Sasse said in a statement after Biden’s press conference.
“He was right when he summed it up this way numerous times: ‘The Senate ought not act rashly by changing its rules to satisfy a strong-willed majority.'”
The legacy media should take notice. Any president who threatens to destroy the filibuster in squeeze his radical legislation through a fifty-fifty Senate without a single Republican vote cannot be considered a “moderate.”
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.