President Joe Biden opened the door to Senate filibuster reform in a CNN town hall Thursday night, but with a caveat: not until what’s left of his Build Back Better agenda is passed by the Senate. Biden was candid, to a degree, on those negotiations and the obstacles within the Democratic Party for getting it done. You know, fellow Democrats. He did advocate for an immediate filibuster change, though, to restore the talking filibuster.
Asked by moderator Anderson Cooper whether he was considering pushing for filibuster reform to pass voting rights, Biden said “And maybe more,” probably referring to the postponed fight over the debt ceiling the Senate will be facing in a matter of weeks. But right now, Biden said, if he weighed in now on eliminating the filibuster, “I lose at least three votes right now to get what I have to get done on the economic side of the equation, the foreign policy side of the equation.”
“I am open to fundamentally altering it,” he said. “We’re going to have to move to the point where we fundamentally alter the filibuster,” adding that it “remains to be seen exactly what that means in terms of ‘fundamentally’—on whether or not we just end the filibuster straight up.” He made it clear he was talking about both voting rights, “just sacred rights,” and the debt ceiling. “One is a sacred obligation that we never are going to renege on a debt,” he said. But not right now.
However, Biden said, “what I have proposed, in the meantime, is, it used to be, the filibuster, the way it worked […] you had to stand on the floor and exhaust everything you had. […] [W]hen you gave up the floor, and someone else sought the floor, they had to talk until they finished. You’re only allowed to do it a second time. After that, it’s over. You vote. Somebody moved for the vote.” He said, “I propose we bring that back now, immediately.”
That’s in the immediate term, something that Sen. Joe Manchin—a stalwart foe thus far of eliminating the filibuster—endorsed earlier this year when he said “If you want to make it a little bit more painful, make them stand there and talk, I’m willing to look at any way we can.” Have the two of them talked about that? Possibly.
When it comes to his economic and family agenda, Biden was candid about the problems Manchin and Democrats Kyrsten Sinema have presented. “Joe’s not a bad guy. He’s a friend,” he said of Manchin, but said he has been a problem when it comes to expanding Medicare to cover dental, vision, and hearing benefits. “I think it’s a good idea. But here’s the thing. Mr. Manchin is opposed to that.” So there, senior and disabled Americans—that’s who wants to keep you from having nice things. “[Manchin] says he doesn’t want to further burden Medicare so that—because it will run out of its ability to maintain itself in the next number of years. There’s ways to fix that, but he’s not interested in that part, either.”
Ouch. Oh, and it’s not just Manchin opposing those benefits. “And I think Senator Sinema is, as well,” Biden said. As for Sinema, Cooper asked in essence: “what’s the deal with her”? He actually said “What is your read on her” acknowledging that “you need her to remain positive in your direction,” Which brought a laugh from the audience, a head shake and smile from Biden, and a simple “no,” as in “I’m not going there” before he responded.
“First of all, she’s smart as the devil, number one,” he said. “Number two, she’s very supportive of the environmental agenda in my legislation, very supportive. She’s supportive of all—almost all of the things I mentioned relating to everything from family care to all—to all those issues.” Well, almost all. Except for the big problem. “She says she will not raise a single penny in taxes on the corporate side and/or on wealthy people, period. And so that’s where it sort of breaks down.” After the town hall, a White House clarified: “The President was referring to the challenge of having the votes to move forward on raising the corporate rate, not to the ability to raise revenue through a range of other tax fairness proposals which Senator Sinema supports.”
But Biden was clear in his message: Manchin and Sinema are both presenting challenges to his plans, and he was willing to call them both out. For example, highlighting the fact that Sinema is supporting his climate change proposals, he made clear that Manchin is a problem. “Joe Manchin’s argument is, ‘Look, we still have coal in my state, you’re going to eliminate it eventually, we know it’s going away, we know it’s going to be gone, but don’t rush it so fast that my people don’t have anything to do,’” Biden said. “I think that’s not what we should be doing. But the fact of the matter is we can take that 150 billion, add it to the 320 billion that’s in the law now that he’s prepared to support for tax incentives.”
However, he said, no concessions have yet been made to Manchin on coal. “Nothing has been formally agreed to,” he said. There are just a handful of issues left to be resolved, he said. “I do think I’ll get a deal,” adding that the negotiations are nearing finalization. “Look, I was a senator for 370 years,” Biden said. “I was … relatively good at putting together deals.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who met with Biden for breakfast Friday morning while Sen. Chuck Schumer joined via Zoom, backed up the idea that agreement is in sight.