Biden Says He’s Open to Reforming Filibuster to Win Voting Rights

Rights advocates are applauding President Joe Biden’s “long overdue” remarks at a Thursday CNN town hall signaling that he would support significant reforms to the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation and potentially other key pieces of his agenda.

The president told Anderson Cooper he’d be open to returning to the talking filibuster, which requires senators to speak on the floor of the Senate, to replace the current rules which allow the minority party to block legislation that fails to garner 60 votes rather than enabling the passage of bills with a simple majority. Biden also said the talking filibuster should end after two senators have delivered their speeches.

“We’re going to have to move to the point where we fundamentally alter the filibuster,” said the president of the procedural rule which this week stood in the way of the passage of the Freedom to Vote Act and which advocates say could stop the Democratic Party from passing legislation to protect women’s healthcare, among other agenda items.

When Cooper asked the president to clarify whether he would support reforming the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation amid the GOP’s widespread voter suppression efforts, Biden replied, “And maybe more” — suggesting he may support the procedural change to ensure his party can raise the federal debt ceiling and pass far-reaching climate legislation, an immigrants’ rights package, and other bills.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said the president’s statement represented “good news” for voting rights and other pro-democracy initiatives.

“As long as this racist relic of the Senate stays in place it will prevent legislation that advances racial justice, both now and in the future,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the organization. “It’s a simple choice between a free America or one chained by the past. Our democracy hangs in the balance.”

Stand Up America, which has long called for filibuster reform, called the president’s comments “a huge step in the right direction,” but emphasized, “It’s not enough.”

“Now we need action,” said Sean Eldridge, founder and president of the group. “Every week that goes by we’re seeing more rampant Republican voter suppression in the states, more partisan gerrymandering, and more attempts to sabotage and subvert the will of the American people. President Biden must meet this moment and offer his full-throated support for ending the Jim Crow filibuster. We’ll keep up the pressure until he does and the Senate acts to protect our freedom to vote.”

The president’s remarks came a day after the Republicans voted against bringing to the Senate floor the Freedom to Vote Act, a compromise voting rights package which would prohibit partisan gerrymandering, enact a national automatic voter registration system, and make Election Day a national holiday.

“Time [is] seriously running out to save democracy and reverse extreme gerrymandering and voter suppression,” said Ari Berman, author of Give Us the Ballot, who said the president’s remarks were “long overdue.”

Failing to reform or abolish the filibuster, said Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout on Friday, would be akin to giving up on “absolutely essential voting rights protections” to preserve Senate tradition.

“Are we going with, ‘The filibuster is more important than democracy?’ Is that the plan?” Teachout asked.

At the CNN town hall, Biden said pro-democracy advocates “make a very good point” regarding ending the filibuster.

If the Republicans again use the filibuster to block key Democratic legislation, said the president, “I think you’re going to see an awful lot of Democrats being ready to say, ‘Not me, I’m not doing that again, we’re going to end the filibuster.'”