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Biden needs patience to bring two senators around on filibuster reform

I liked Biden’s “For the People Act” speech. It celebrated democracy and sought to strengthen the U.S. version of democracy, which has been under assault – not just figuratively, but literally — from a Trumpian mob.

President Joe Biden delivering remarks on actions to protect voting rights in a speech at National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
President Joe Biden delivering remarks on actions to protect voting rights in a speech at National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
REUTERS/Leah Millis

President Biden made his pitch Tuesday for the “For the People Act,” which includes many reforms to make it easier to vote or, to phrase it from the opposite starting point, to overcome the gazillion and one ways Republican-controlled states have adopted or have in the works to make it harder to vote — and especially harder for various Democratic-leaning constituencies to vote. You know the list of provisions, of course, and I won’t go over them here in the interests of brevity.

I liked Biden’s speech. It celebrated democracy and sought to strengthen the U.S. version of democracy, which has been under assault – not just figuratively, but literally — from a Trumpian mob.

Most of the immediate post-speech commentary on CNN, which is where I watched the speech, was about what Biden didn’t say, that the commentators thought he needs to say, mostly about the Senate filibuster rules.

Some of the critics suggested that Biden is insufficiently committed to filibuster reform, and believe that in the absence of filibuster reform the “For the People Act” is a dead letter.

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Those critics aren’t wrong, but their analysis suffered critically (in my humble opinion) from self-imposed blindness.

The critics know that filibuster reform cannot happen, nor can the “For the People Act” pass, without the support of all 50 Democrats in the Senate. And they know that two conservative Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema Arizona, have been unwilling to sign onto filibuster reform.

For now, and the foreseeable future, that’s where the story is stuck.

I have no idea whether either Manchin or Sinema is open to persuasion. I would assume that Joe Biden does have an idea on that. I would assume that, in not demanding that Manchin and Sinema change their position on filibuster reform while advocating for the “For the People Act,” Biden is working on the reluctant pair. My guess, and I feel pretty strongly about it, is that Biden would gladly see the filibuster rule changed, if not abolished, and then he would be much more likely to get to sign the “For the People Act.”

The main point in this short post, other than endorsing the “For the People Act,” is to push back slightly on those left critics and analysts, including the ones who opined right after Biden’s speech, who seem to think Biden is opposed to filibuster reform.

My hunch is, Biden would easily overcome whatever nostalgic affection (if any) he might have for the filibuster in order to pass this vital voting reform, which would be a wonderful blow for not only small-d democracy, but for the big-D Democratic Party, of which Biden is a lifelong member and the current ex-officio leader.

That’s my hunch. My hope is that if Biden is patient, and if Manchin eventually lives with the fact that, however much he may wish it, there will be many bills that he would like to see enacted but will not unless the filibuster rule is changed, we might see a breakthrough for democracy in America via the elimination or at least the diminution of the filibuster and the passage of the “For the People Act.”