White House: Biden to outline filibuster changes in ‘weeks’

The filibuster stands in the way as Biden aims to pass sweeping voting laws and secure the nation’s credit.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, in Washington

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

The White House said Friday that President Joe Biden would speak in the coming weeks about moving to “fundamentally alter” the filibuster or even eliminate the legislative roadblock that empowers the Senate minority as he aims to pass sweeping voting laws and secure the nation’s credit.

Press secretary Jen Psaki said Americans should “stay tuned” about what changes Biden would embrace, as he appears to be warming to changing the Senate rule. Biden has previously stated he was supportive of requiring that lawmakers physically hold the Senate floor to sustain a filibuster, but on Thursday suggested he could support eliminating it entirely for some issues.

In a CNN town hall, Biden said that if Republicans refuse to provide the votes necessary to raise the debt limit — as they threatened last month before backing down on the eve of a potential government default — “I think you’ll 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.’”

He predicted that eliminating the 60-vote threshold to end debate on most legislation would be “difficult” beyond the debt limit, which he called a “sacred right.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“Voting rights is equally as consequential,” Biden added, suggesting he would be open to filibuster changes to pass the long-stalled Democratic legislation as well as “maybe more” on unspecified issues.

Psaki on Friday declined to elaborate on Biden’s remarks, only to say that Biden believes “we are at an inflection point on a range of issues” and that “not getting voting rights done is not an option.”

“I think the president will have more to say about this in the coming weeks,” she added.

Biden on Thursday suggested that he had not moved sooner to support changes to the filibuster to avoid angering Senate moderates like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, whose votes he needs to pass his multitrillion-dollar domestic spending initiatives.

Biden said the negotiating process on the twin infrastructure and social benefits bills were keeping him from other legislation.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“What it’s done is prevented me from getting deeply up to my ears — which I’m going to do once this is done — in dealing with police brutality, dealing with the whole notion of: What are we going to do about voting rights,” Biden said. “It’s the greatest assault on voting rights in the history of the United States — for real — since the Civil War.”

On Wednesday, Senate Republicans blocked Democrats aiming to take up the sweeping elections legislation that they have claimed would serve as a powerful counterweight to new voting restrictions taking effect in conservative-controlled states.

But there were signs that Democrats are making headway in their effort to create consensus around changing Senate procedural rules.

Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, recently eased his longstanding opposition to changing the filibuster rules, which create a 60-vote threshold for most legislation to pass.

“I’ve concluded that democracy itself is more important than any Senate rule,” said King, who acknowledged that weakening the filibuster would likely prove to be a “double-edged sword” under a future Republican majority.

Get the WHYY app!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal