That follows press secretary Jen Psaki saying one week ago President Biden’s “preference is not to make changes to the filibuster rules,” but that “He believes that voting rights and access to voting, ensuring it’s easier for the American people is enough of a huge priority and should be for everyone.” And, of course, Biden’s own embrace of changing the procedure in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.
Asked point blank “Aren’t you going to have to choose between preserving the filibuster and advancing your agenda?” Biden’s response: “Yes.” As in, yes, Republicans are not going to let his agenda proceed as long as they have the ability to block it. “You have to do what it used to be when I first got to the Senate back in the old days,” he continued. “You had to stand up and command the floor, you had to keep talking […] so you’ve got to work for the filibuster,” he said.
That pronouncement directly followed Sen. Joe Manchin, the most vocal foe of progress in the Senate Democratic conference, making the rounds of all the Sunday shows a couple of weeks ago to say he would be okay with the talking filibuster, after all. Since that pronouncement, that “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,” he’s backtracked a bit. He’s been insisting lately that he won’t back away from the 60-vote threshold to pass bills. Which pretty much defeats the purpose when it comes to getting stuff actually passed.
Meanwhile, in the background, Democratic senators continue to publicly fall in line with filibuster reform. Sens. Tina Smith of Minnesota and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada have joined the reform. Here’s one of the latest, for example. New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich tweeted Thursday “I cannot support the continued abuse of the filibuster in the United States Senate.” He called for the filibuster to be abolished “or, at the very least, reformed to force senators to physically hold the floor to extend debate.” He centered those comments on voting rights and the efforts in the Georgia state legislatures, specifically, to suppress the vote. “They want to prevent Black voters from participating in our election,” he wrote. “Let’s all say what it is: A racist attempt to steal future elections. […] We can’t let the filibuster continue to shield structural racism in our country.”
It’s all looking perhaps a bit choreographed, especially after Majority Whip Dick Durbin’s big speech Monday, emphasizing the racist, Jim Crow roots of the filibuster. And then Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s press conference, introducing the voting rights For the People Act in the Senate, alongside Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, the Senate’s point person on filibuster reform.
Add a dash of Biden’s close ally Rep. Jim Clyburn blasting Manchin and his fellow anti-reform Democrat, Krysten Sinema. “We’ve got 50 Democrats [in the Senate], Warnock and Ossoff are two. Since when did Sinema and Manchin get to be more important than Ossoff and Warnock?” said Clyburn. “They all got us to 50. So this whole notion that we’ve got to do what Manchin says—Warnock is up in two years for reelection.”
Cap it with Reverend Sen. Warnock’s tour de force first floor speech. “I am a proud son of the great state of Georgia,” he told the Senate, relating his family’s long history in the state. “My mother grew up in Waycross, Georgia. You know where that is? It’s way ‘cross Georgia,” he joked. “Like a lot of Black teenagers in the 1950s she spent her summers picking somebody else’s tobacco and somebody else’s cotton. But because this is America, the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton went to the polls in January and picked her youngest son to be a United States Senator.”
“I’m not here today to spiral into the procedural argument regarding whether the filibuster in general has merits or has outlived its usefulness,” Warnock said. “I’m here to say that this issue is bigger than the filibuster. I stand before you saying that this issue—access to voting and preempting politicians’ efforts to restrict voting—is so fundamental to our democracy that it is too important to be held hostage by a Senate rule, especially one historically used to restrict the expansion of voting rights.”
That’s the argument. That we saw a full-on assault on the filibuster with that argument means there might, just might, be an actual plan at work from Biden, Schumer and down the ranks of Democratic senators to coalesce around the idea of the talking filibuster. When it comes down to restoring the very basic right of every eligible American free and unfettered access to the ballot, Democrats are going to be forced by Republican obstructionism to act. Manchin is going to be forced to act, and his doing so will just prove to voters (who don’t really care anyway) how necessary it was to change the procedure. But the show might make the traditional media happy.
Just to put a point on Biden’s intent here, this happened this week, too: