Biden reinforces the Senate filibuster's enemies, but a fight can wait

WASHINGTON – President Biden’s approval on Thursday for a substantial overhaul of filibuster was the clearest recognition yet that the S...

WASHINGTON – President Biden’s approval on Thursday for a substantial overhaul of filibuster was the clearest recognition yet that the Senate’s signature procedural weapon has turned the polarized chamber into a legislative wasteland and Democrats are planning to try and do something about it.

But in giving his approval to an effort to “fundamentally change” the filibuster, in the president’s words, he also acknowledged that Democrats must first strike a sprawling budget deal that carries the bulk of his legislative agenda. – a measure which itself can advance only because of special rules which protect it from obstruction.

Chairman’s comments showed for the first time that he and other leading Democrats consider obstructionism too explosive as they feverishly work to secure a budget deal with two Democratic Senators, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who have been the main opponents of the rule change. Democrats fear that moving forward on both fronts simultaneously alienates them and potentially leads to no progress on both fronts.

In the meantime, Mr Biden said he would encourage Senate Democrats to force Republicans blocking their initiatives to appear on the House floor and defend their position – and also enforce a rule centuries old but rarely enforced. which limits senators to speaking only twice a day on a given topic before they can be cut off. In current practice, senators do not even have to show up to filibuster; it is up to the promoters of the legislation to deliver the 60 votes necessary to break the deadlock.

“It used to be that you had to stand on the floor and use up whatever you had,” Biden said at a town hall event on CNN.

Mr Biden’s comments energized anti-obstruction forces this week when Republicans used the tactic for the third time this year to block voting rights legislation that Democrats say is crucial to preserving the access to voting, in particular for members of minority communities.

Although Mr Biden technically had no role to play in changing the rules of the Senate, his blessing was considered essential given his 36 years in the House and his oft-expressed reluctance to disrupt the traditions of an institution. that he worships.

“To have a president with over 30 years of history in the Senate and to start arguing against filibuster is really historic,” said Adam Jentleson, a former senior Democratic Senate official and author of “Kill Switch,” a book on the history and abuse of filibuster. “Once you’re in, you’re in. As the president presiding over a democracy in crisis, you can’t say that the obstruction should be dropped and declare the assault on the franchise an existential threat, then you sit down and Let the chips drop where they can. “

While some lawmakers and activists have suggested an exception to filibuster for constitutionally grounded issues such as voting rights or raising the federal debt ceiling, Biden has raised the possibility of expanding the scope of the changes. made obstructing other matters.

The filibuster has proven to be an increasingly insurmountable hurdle for a wave of proposals on issues such as immigration, gun control, police conduct and even the assault investigation. of January 6 against the Capitol.

Once used relatively infrequently, it has become a daily feature of the Senate, forcing lawmakers to issue a qualified three-fifths majority – 60 votes – in order to advance virtually any major legislation. In a highly partisan 50-50 Senate, this has become a tall order, threatening much of the Democratic agenda outside of measures that can be incorporated into the budget bill, which is shielded from filibuster. under a complex set of rules that severely limit what can be included.

Republicans say the frequent use of filibuster is justified because Democrats pursue a far-left agenda well beyond the reach of the narrow majorities they currently hold.

In recent days, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader and a great practitioner of filibuster, has delivered powerful proof to Democrats that they cannot accomplish anything of importance in today’s Senate with the systematic obstruction in place.

Even though he argued it was imperative that Congress raise the federal debt ceiling to avoid a catastrophic government default, McConnell insisted Democrats use the budget-proof process. obstruction to do it unilaterally, effectively conceding that as long as Republicans have the power to block the movement, they will. His demand is essentially tantamount to an ultimatum for the Democrats: stop us before we filibuster again.

The debt ceiling fight was resolved with a temporary extension until December, but the showdown changed the math of the fight against obstruction. Democrats say even their most reluctant members could be persuaded to drop the obstruction if they were forced to choose between a global economic calamity or the preservation of an obscure Senate rule.

Mr McConnell appeared to recognize this possibility and backed off for now, but Democrats say Republican reluctance has highlighted the need for change.

On Thursday, Mr. Biden called the Republican blockade of increasing the debt ceiling bizarre and said if Republicans repeated the tactic, “I think you’ll see a lot of Democrats being prepared to say, ‘Not me. I don’t do that anymore. We will end the filibuster.

To further buttress this tactic, Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer of New York plans next week to impose a confrontation over a separate voting rights measure – a measure named in honor of civil rights hero John Lewis. This would restore parts of the voting rights law that have been undermined by unfavorable Supreme Court rulings.

The voting rights law has long received deep bipartisan support, but new legislation will almost certainly be obstructed with little to no Republican support.

As a confrontation over filibuster approaches, Democrats no longer talk about removing a rule of procedure and instead define their mission as trying to restore the Senate as a functioning body.

“The reflexive obstruction of Senate Republicans is not – is not – the way the Senate is supposed to work,” Mr. Schumer said.

As Mr Biden suggested on Thursday, Democrats are exploring alternatives such as forcing obstructing senators to keep their speech, which would place greater accountability on those who block legislation.

“It’s not all or nothing,” said Independent Senator Angus King from Maine, who said this week he had the idea of ​​changing the rules if that was the right thing to do. go ahead with a measure of voting rights.

He and many Democrats also appear to be grappling with one of the main justifications for not changing the filibuster – that once the opposing party returns to power, it will force the passage of reprehensible legislation that does not can no longer be blocked using tactics. Given the stakes, some Democrats say they may just have to accept this possibility.

“Majorities come and go,” King said. “There is no doubt that if a material change is made, it will be used by the other party when and if it is in power.”

But, he said of voting rights, “If we don’t do anything about what’s going on in the country, then everything else kind of falls away.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Biden reinforces the Senate filibuster's enemies, but a fight can wait
Biden reinforces the Senate filibuster's enemies, but a fight can wait
Newsrust - US Top News
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