We recently discussed how Democratic members and staffers are now repeating the same phrase that they will push through immigration reform, spending bills, and other items “by any means necessary.” That includes packing the Supreme Court and sacking nonpartisan staffers like the Senate Parliamentarian. President Joe Biden has now joined the movement by casting aside prior principles that he long defended to achieve his own agenda. He told ABC anchor David Muir that he is reversing his position on the filibuster and would support its curtailment in order to federalize election rules. It is part of what the President now says is a strategy to muscle through the legislation by “whatever it takes.”
President Biden has never been a prisoner to principle. As discussed in an earlier column, he has spent his career as a largely opportunistic actor who tends to go where the polls rather than principles take him. However, one principle that he has not been willing to jettison (until now) was the filibuster.
As a senator, Biden was vehement in his opposition to those who wanted to curtail the filibuster. He called such efforts “disastrous” and proclaimed: “God save us from that fate … [it] would change this fundamental understanding and unbroken practice of what the Senate is all about.” His colleagues, including then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and now-Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), gave equally full-throated endorsements of the rule being denounced today as a thoroughly racist relic.
Despite remaining silent for much of the year as groups denounced the filibuster as a “racist relic,” Biden finally summoned up the courage to again reaffirm his opposition to curtailing the filibuster rule. Rather than risk the ire of his party, he explained it as a purely strategic decision while stating that he still supports the filibuster.
With the Build Back Better legislation blocked in the Senate, pressure was building on Biden to drop his opposition. Democrats are particularly adamant that they need to take over election rules and force states to adopt new rules before the midterm elections. To make the case, many in the media have been hyping the argument that the rule is a “relic of the Jim Crow period.” Putting aside the factual and historical errors, Biden was facing a test between principle and politics. His choice was, if nothing else, predictable.
In pushing to preempt state election laws, Muir asked Biden “are you prepared to support fundamental changes in the Senate rules to get this done?” Biden responded “yes.” Muir then asked “what does that mean?” Biden responded “that means whatever it takes.”
There is nothing more chilling than a president declaring that he will do “whatever it takes” to achieve his goals, including changing what he called the “fundamental understanding and unbroken practice of what the Senate is all about.”
While President Biden may have found his natural resting place in a conflict between politics and principle, the move against the filibuster rule will only aggravate our deep divisions. The Democrats would force through a sweeping federalization of state election laws for the first time in our history. It would federally preempt the laws in dozens of states and declare that Congress, not state legislatures, will now dictate how people vote in states from New Hampshire to Idaho to Oregon.
I previously wrote why the filibuster rule was designed for times like this:
Pushing through such controversial measures with bare majorities and on straight party lines will only deepen the divisions and increase the rage in this country. So this is precisely a time when the filibuster can play a positive role, by forcing legislation to pass with a modest level of bipartisan support. It requires consensus and compromise at a time of growing, violent division.
The filibuster has gone through historic controversies through the centuries, from opposing Caesar to opposing civil rights. But as a consensus-forcing rule, its time may have arrived, to the chagrin of many.