Bring Back the Talking Filibuster
President Joe Biden wants to make the filibuster great again.
Facing the prospect of legislative logjams that could derail his policy agenda, Biden recently told ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos that he supports a Senate rule change to restore the talking filibuster, where marathon floor speeches are used to block bills from receiving a vote.
Biden previously opposed calls to reform or eliminate the cloture rule, which requires a 60-member supermajority to force a vote on filibustered legislation. Conservative commentators fumed over the flip-flop, which a Washington Post headline described as a "warning shot" aimed at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans.
It's far from a foregone conclusion, however, that obstructionism would persuade moderate Democrats like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema to support ending the filibuster -- or that the president would nudge them in that direction.
Biden sounded more like a Senate alum waxing nostalgic than a smooth operator plotting a gradual shift toward embracing the nuclear option. He described the traditional filibuster as "what it used to be when I first got to the Senate back in the old days."
Republicans who want to mothball Democratic bills should have to "stand up and command the floor," the president said. That's a reasonable reform that would preserve the minority party's ability to stonewall while discouraging overuse of the tactic due to the time and energy involved.
Long speeches intended to delay or prevent a vote began with the first Senate session in 1789, though the word "filibuster" -- derived from a term for pirates in Dutch and Spanish -- wasn't used until the 1850s, according to a historical account on the Senate website.
There was no mechanism to end a filibuster until senators adopted a 1917 cloture rule requiring a two-thirds majority vote to conclude debate. In 1975, the Senate lowered the threshold to three-fifths.
Today, the mere threat of a filibuster is all that's required to kill legislation.
"If Senate leaders know that at least 41 senators plan to oppose a cloture motion on a given measure or motion, they often choose not to schedule it for floor consideration," the Brookings Institute explains.