Filibuster meaning: What Biden’s new stance could mean for how US democracy works

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For the first time since becoming president with a 50-50 Democratic majority in the Senate, President Joe Biden is expressing his willingness to support changing the centuries-old Senate rule that Republicans have been using to stall their legislative program.

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Mr Biden was speaking at a CNN town hall in Baltimore, Maryland, when moderator Anderson Cooper asked him why he opposed a change in Senate rules governing filibuster – a parliamentary exercise that, in theory, was based on legislation. Allows unlimited debate.

Because the votes of 60 senators are required to end the debate and allow a vote on a given bill, Republicans have in recent years blocked nearly all legislation supported by Democrats from voting up or down on the Senate floor. Weapons have been made for practice. .


The president, who represented Delaware in the upper chamber for more than three decades, initially told Cooper that he would support a return to the rules as they existed before 1970, which required all Senate business to stop, while A filibustering senator held the floor and spoke. As long as he – or his allies – can stand. He also suggested that senators create an exception to prevent specific types of legislation from being blocked, such as a bill to increase the federal debt limit.

What Will It Mean To Return To ‘Talking Filibuster’?

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Under pre-1970 rules, a filibustering senator could prevent a bill from passing by prolonged debate. This means that as long as senators or their allies can stand and speak, they can exaggerate the functions of the law by talking, and talking, and talking.

It’s a tactic that was immortalized in Frank Capra’s 1939 film Mr. Smith goes to Washington When the title character, played by Jimmy Stewart, speaks for 25 hours to defend himself against false allegations of corruption.

But when Mr. Stewart’s fictional Senator Jefferson Smith used the filibuster for good, perhaps its most infamous use was in service. Legally The system of racial segregation that permeated the American South for much of the 20th century, when Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina blocked the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, from 8.54 p.m. on August 28, 1957 to 9.12 p.m. the next day. Occupied the floor of the Senate by noon.

Mr Thurmond, who ultimately failed to block the bill, joined his Southern allies in an effort to block passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Together, they occupied the floor for 60 days, until then-President Lyndon Johnson (a sponsor of the 1957 Act) gave enough support to end the debate and pass the bill.

If the Senate were to revert to old “talking filibuster” rules, a Republican senator looking to block a Joe Biden-backed law (such as the Freedom to Vote Act that Republicans blocked earlier this week) would now pass the Senate. Can’t stop. By objecting to a bill, debating or voting on it. If they want to stop the Senate from considering it, they have to continue to speak against the bill.

But the 60-vote limit to end the debate means that GOP leader Mitch McConnell and his 49 allies can continue to work as long as they can save 10 of their allies from defection.

Some experts, including former Senator Al Franken and scholar Norm Ornstein, have pushed Democrats to change the rules to set a 40-vote limit. continue Argue instead with 60 votes to eliminate it. It would put an obligation on the minority to actively work to prevent the Senate from voting.

What about ‘carved’ for filibusters?

But this may not be mitigated in the modern era by the return of senators to the old ways.

Mr Biden mentioned this on Thursday when he said he thinks “we have to get to the point where we basically replace the filibuster”.

“The idea that, for example, my Republican friends say we’re going to default on the national debt because they’re going to reduce it and we need 10 Republicans to support us is the most bizarre thing. That’s what I’ve ever heard,” he said.

Earlier this month, Senate Republicans used tactics to block legislation that suspended the country’s statutory debt limits, risking a national debt default that experts say could spiral into global economic devastation. .

Although the GOP eventually allowed a temporary escalation to be signed into law, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to block any attempt to fix the problem that required Democrats to have a separate — and equally — Mysterious – no need to use the parliamentary maneuver called “conciliation”. “To pass it.

Mr Biden said he thinks his colleagues in the Senate will reach a breaking point with filibuster if Mr McConnell follows through on his threat.

“I think you’re going to see … if they — get pulled again, I think you’ll see a lot of Democrats ready to say, ‘I don’t. I won’t do that again. I am. We are going to eliminate Filibuster.”

In such a case, the process would be simpler, and would follow the so-called “nuclear option” previously used to reduce the number of senators needed to end debate on judicial and executive branch nominees to 51.

First, a senator — most likely Democratic leader Chuck Schumer — would raise a parliamentary point that the threshold for ending debate on the debt ceiling bill is by a majority vote. Vice President Kamala Harris or the then-presiding senator would not be able to uphold the order under existing rules.

Mr. Schumer will then appeal the ruling, which will bring a vote. If 51 senators vote No Upholding the verdict, the threshold for ending the debate on the Debt Limit Bill would be a majority instead of the current 60 votes.

Biden’s agenda – and what will it mean for democracy?

If Democrats go “nuclear” for debt limit bills, they can easily add other carvings for a variety of laws.

In theory, this would let them pass voting rights and the so-called “Protection of Democracy” law with just 51 votes, as long as they have at least 50 seats under the Democratic vice president.

This is why many House progressives frustrated by the continuation of McConnell’s “legislative graveyard” under the Democratic majority have prompted Schumer to call on Mr.

Credit: / Joe Biden

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