Defending Filibuster, Biden Insists Republicans “Know Better” on Voting Rights

President Joe Biden said late Wednesday that he remains opposed to eliminating the legislative filibuster even as the Senate GOP uses the archaic procedural tool to obstruct his agenda, including a popular bill that would shield voting rights from state-level Republicans hellbent on eroding them.

During a CNN town hall in Cincinnati, Biden reiterated his support for bringing back the so-called talking filibuster, which required senators to hold the floor and speak continuously in order to block legislation.

But abolishing the filibuster outright — a move supported by a growing coalition of Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate — would “throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done,” the president claimed, even as he agreed that the filibuster is a Jim Crow relic.

Biden went on to insist, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, that some congressional Republicans “know better” and can be won over to the cause of protecting the right to vote — which the GOP is working aggressively to curtail in dozens of states nationwide.

“They know better than this,” the president said. “What I don’t want to do is get wrapped up right now in the argument whether or not this is all about the filibuster.”

While some observers were encouraged by Biden’s support for filibuster reform, others criticized the president for clinging to his hope for a Republican epiphany that did not materialize during his first six months in office.

“This answer from Biden on the filibuster just doesn’t make sense,” said Sawyer Hackett, executive director of People First Future. “Republicans aren’t going to wake up and ‘know better’ than suppressing the vote. The filibuster encourages them to obstruct and our reluctance to end it emboldens them to do worse.”

Adam Jentleson, executive director of the Battle Born Collective and a former Senate aide, argued that “sometime soon, it will become clear that there is no voting rights compromise that can get 60 votes” — the number necessary to break a legislative filibuster.

“At that point, there is no more wiggle room, no more vague talk about bringing Republicans along,” Jentleson said. “The choice will be, reform the filibuster or let voting rights die on your watch.”

Biden’s remarks came just a month after Senate Republicans wielded the legislative filibuster to block debate on the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that would expand ballot access and undercut voter suppression efforts by Republicans at the state level. Since January, at least 14 Republican-led states have enacted more than 20 laws aimed at restricting voting rights.

Following the Senate GOP’s obstruction of the For the People Act, Biden delivered a speech in Philadelphia in which he described passage of the bill as “a national imperative” and slammed Republican voter suppression efforts as a “21st century Jim Crow assault.”

But the president didn’t mention the filibuster, which can be eliminated with a simple-majority vote in the Senate. Such a vote would require the support of the entire Democratic caucus plus Vice President Kamala Harris, who would act as a tie-breaker.

In an open letter published online Wednesday, more than 30 former chiefs of staff to Democratic senators called for complete repeal — or, at the very least, reform — of the legislative filibuster, which they said “has put a chokehold” on the upper chamber.

Contrary to Biden’s claim that abolishing the filibuster would throw the Senate into chaos — a claim that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has also made — the former Senate aides argued that “ending the filibuster will not make the Senate more partisan.”

“The filibuster has been weaponized by an increasingly partisan Senate,” the former aides wrote. “Removing this weapon would be a step toward — not away from — comity.”

Eli Zupnick, a spokesperson for the advocacy group Fix Our Senate, said in a statement Wednesday that “few understand and respect the Senate and its members more than the former chiefs of staff who signed onto this letter.”

“Their strong call for reform,” Zupnick continued, “is the latest in a growing chorus of respected voices making the case that the filibuster is being abused and has become a clear roadblock to progress of any kind.”