For the First Time as President, Biden Calls for Filibuster Reform

WASHINGTON — In a new interview with ABC News, President Biden endorsed the idea of making modest reforms to the filibuster as the bulk of his administration’s domestic-policy agenda heads to the U.S. Senate in the coming months.

Biden, in his first extended sit-down interview since taking office, told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he supported restoring the so-called talking filibuster, a tactic made famous in Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington when Jimmy Stewart’s character rages against political corruption on the House floor during a marathon filibuster. Today, senators of either party can simply send an email to their colleagues declaring their intent to thwart a bill. The reform Biden supports would again require senators to physically hold the floor and speak out in opposition in order to block a piece of legislation.

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The ease with which senators can filibuster has coincided with a spike in its use. An analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice said there were essentially the same number of cloture motions — the procedural tactic used to end a filibuster — in the last decade (959) as there were in the 60 years before that (960).

The effect of this gridlock and obstruction in the Senate isn’t lost on Biden. As he told Stephanopoulos, “Democracy’s having a hard time functioning.” And he agreed with Stephanopoulos that legislation working its way through Congress to reform the U.S. immigration system, combat climate change, and expand voting rights faced long odds of passage in the Senate in the face of Republican obstruction.

While Biden reaffirmed that he didn’t want to abolish the filibuster, he said it should be harder for senators to throw up a roadblock. That’s how it was during his four decades in the Senate, Biden said. “You had to stand up and command the floor, and you had to keep talking.” He continued, “You gotta work for the filibuster.”

“So you’re for that reform?” Stephanopoulos asked. “You’re for bringing back the talking filibuster?”

“I am,” Biden said. “That’s what it was supposed to be.”

Biden is only the latest prominent Democrat to support filibuster reform. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), a centrist and influential vote in the Senate, recently said he was open to the idea of reinstating the talking filibuster for many of the same reasons that Biden cited, arguing that “the filibuster should be painful.” And Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a senior member on the powerful Judiciary Committee, has said she would end the filibuster, especially for voting-rights legislation.

Reforming or abolishing the filibuster would require the support of all 50 Democratic senators, and if they do proceed with that plan, recent poll indicates that a majority of Americans would support such a move. A new poll by The Hill and HarrisX found that 57 percent of respondents supported amending or abolishing the filibuster, with more in that camp in favor of reforming it. And a Data for Progress survey of likely voters in Arizona — the state’s senior senator, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, is another swing vote next to Joe Manchin — found far greater support for passing major legislation than preserving Senate rules like the filibuster.

In short, momentum is building within the Democratic Party for some form of filibuster reform. The next big question is if and when the party decides to act.

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