President Biden, in the first presidential news conference of his administration, outlined his views for reforming the filibuster in the U.S. Senate, which remains the sole obstacle for getting the LGBTQ Equality Act to his desk.
Asked by Yamiche Alcindor of PBS NewsHour whether the filibuster should be eliminated when voting rights or civil rights come up in the Senate, Biden said, “I believe we should go back to the position of the filibuster that existed when I was a United States senator 40 years ago.”
“Between 1970 to 1971, [when] the filibuster existed, there were a total of 58 motions to break a filibuster the whole time,” Biden said. “Last year alone there were five times as many.”
Consistent with his earlier comments, Biden suggested the right way to go on the filibuster was to go back to requiring a senator to talk on the Senate floor to filibuster as opposed to simply signaling their intent to block a motion on a bill.
“It used to be you had to stand there and talking and talking and talking and talking til you collapsed,” Biden said. “But guess what, people got tired of talking and tired of collapsing. … So, I strongly support moving in that direction.”
At the same time, Biden said he’s “a fairly practical guy” and wants to get things done consistent with the 50-50 party split in the Senate the electorate chose in the 2020 election but suggested he may be in favor of eliminating the filibuster entirely if Republicans continue to block his agenda.
“We’re ready to get it over, and if we have to, if there’s complete lockdown and chaos as a consequence of the filibuster, then we’ll have to go beyond when I’m talking about,” Biden said.
In response to a follow-up question from the Washington Post’s Seung Min Yim on whether ending a filibuster should take 60 or 50 votes, Biden said it would be hard to come up with a Senate rule that allows for just 50 votes to invoke cloture.
Biden, in response to a question from CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, said he agrees with former President Obama the filibuster is a relic of structural racism, but tamped down expectations when asked why then it shouldn’t be eliminated entirely.
“A successful elective policy is the art of the possible,” Biden said. “Let’s figure out how to get this done, move in the direction of significantly changing the abuse of using the filibuster first. It’s been abused from the time it came up to be, in an extreme way in the last 20 years.”
Asked if that means he’s closer to eliminating the filibuster, Biden replied: “I answered your question.”
It’s not up to Biden whether or not the Senate keeps the filibuster. It takes a simple majority vote in the Senate to change the rules. In the 50-50 Senate, that seems unlikely with several senators saying they have concerns with filibuster reform, and Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) opposing the idea of outright scrapping the filibuster.
Despite Biden’s comments, proponents of the Equality Act face strong headwinds in making changes to the filibuster to make sure the bill becomes law and appear to be focused on getting the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture on a filibuster in the Senate.
This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.