How Biden's resistance to filibuster reform began to crack

On Tuesday evening, the president approved some form of speaking filibuster, saying senators should “speak up” and “keep talking.” He was careful not to believe that Democrats need to get rid of the arcane legislative tool, nor did he say that changing the filibuster shouldn’t exceed the 60-vote threshold for passing legislation. A White House official reiterated Wednesday that Biden is closely monitoring reform proposals on the hill but still wants to find a way to work with Republicans.

The comments, however deliberate they may be, have been interpreted by proponents as a sign of a newfound openness to reforming the rules. They came under pressure from top White House allies, including House majority whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), To consider the political futures of newly elected Democrats in vulnerable seats, especially when GOP-dominated states put election restrictions in place.

At the center of their argument is a suggestion: if the filibuster is used to hinder electoral and civil rights legislation, the minority in the Senate will remain protected to the detriment of minority voters.

“This whole thing the filibuster can’t change is almost like being told that Brown vs. Board of Education was wrongly decided. You say? “Said Clyburn in an interview.

“We have 50 Democrats, Warnock and Ossoff are two. Since when have Sinema and Manchin been more important than Ossoff and Warnock? “Said Clyburn, referring to the newly elected Georgia Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, and moderated Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona and Joe Manchin from West Virginia. “They got us all to 50. That whole idea that we have to do what Manchin says – Warnock is up for re-election in two years.”

While Biden and other senior White House officials have carefully reiterated that any change to the filibuster is left to the Senators, senior White House advisers have reached out behind the scenes with Senate Democratic leaders to find out how best to address the issue can tackle. Those talks focused in part on Manchin’s proven ability to skew the work, delaying, for example, hours last month’s vote on the Senate’s Covid bailout package while calling for changes.

Debates in the White House include whether the government could reform or eliminate the filibuster on just certain issues, including a major voting law.

Aides argue behind closed doors that the fact that Covid’s aid package was passed without a Republican vote, despite more than 70 percent approval in various polls, only reinforces the case that some form of filibuster reform may be inevitable, so two people with knowledge of conversations in the White House.

External groups have concentrated their lobbying work for the time being led by Biden aides, including Chief of Staff Ron Klain. Several sources in contact with the White House say Biden should give space on the matter. It takes time for him to come to the realization that “fixing the filibuster will save the institution,” which he admires, one of the sources said.

“You can see the mind change and swirl,” added the source.

The development for Biden on the Filibuster was gradual. At the beginning of his presidential campaign, he was not inclined to change on this issue. “It was a tough no,” said a person familiar with the president’s thinking at the time.

As the campaign went on and Biden spoke to more groups about the issue, “you got the feeling that things were changing,” the person said.

Around Biden, the party figures began to publicly advocate the filibuster reform. Former President Barack Obama called the filibuster a relic of the Jim Crow era last July. Former majority leader Harry Reid called for its abolition. Civil rights activists and key Democrats have openly and increasingly encouraged them to be scrapped. And Clyburn has remained one of the loudest and most consistent forces behind the rule change.

Within Biden’s inner circle, however, opinions differed on the subject. His close adviser Bruce Reed, who is currently the top White House advisor, wrote a 1994 Clinton administration memo calling for reforms to be considered, including the abolition of the filibuster.

“We should consider adding a drive to remove dilation rules like the filibuster, which is now a major barrier to getting things done,” the memo said. “Republican senators used the filibuster more frequently in the first two years of this administration than at any time in American history. Formerly reserved for the most important matters of constitutional concern, it is now used to effectively call for a majority of 60 votes for any piece of legislation. “

But Biden’s longtime Senate chief of staff, Ted Kaufman, who led his transition efforts, was an outspoken voice in favor of maintaining the filibuster. Kaufman’s commitment to the Filibuster was so pronounced that he and then Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) Wrote the contribution to a book published in 2012 entitled “Defending the Filibuster: The Soul of the Senate”.

Richard Arenberg, the book’s co-author, told POLITICO that Kaufman shared a copy with Biden, who read it, and sent Arenberg a note advising him to read it for everyone in the Senate.

Fast forward almost 10 years and the filibuster is now being presented by a growing number of democratic lawmakers as an obstacle to the implementation of core policies against systemic racism and voter suppression that are vital to maintaining the democratic base.

When a provision to raise the wage floor to $ 15 an hour by Senate budget rules was undone late last month, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Again told White House officials that the only way they could would ultimately go, the abolition is the filibuster. Sanders said it would help if the administration showed support for changing the rules. The White House replied that at this point they weren’t ready to go, adding that they may or may not reach that point, according to a source familiar with the discussion.

Senior Democrats see caution in this position.

“If you have a confrontation over the filibuster, this shouldn’t be your first position,” said David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to Obama. “It should be your last.”

Proponents say they are more than happy with the White House’s stance and are delighted with the pace at which the debate has developed. Before Biden passed a vague reform of the rules, Manchin, an open reform skeptic, did the same, although he too did not move from maintaining the 60-vote threshold for the legislation.

“You have seen tremendous developments in the past few weeks,” said Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), A key proponent of filibuster reform on the hill. Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, Tina Smith from Minnesota and Catherine Cortez Masto from Nevada have all called for reforms to the filibuster. And “the President of the United States [is] Change his position and see the obstacle that is currently underway, ”Merkley said.

Merkley cautioned, however, that the political ramifications could be great if Biden and Democrats enter mid-2022 without enacting franchise reforms, criminal justice legislation, or an increase in the minimum wage.

If the filibuster is left intact and blocks the passage of far-reaching voting protections, the Senator said, “Democrats will be crushed as the suppression of swing-seat voters takes effect across America.”

Theoderich Meyer contributed to the reporting.

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