Abolishing the Filibuster Is About Power, Not Anti-Racism
As the Senate majority prepared to abolish the filibuster in order to advance its political agenda, a long-tenured member of the chamber issued a stern warning.
“We should make no mistake. This nuclear option is ultimately an example of the arrogance of power. It is a fundamental power-grab by the majority party,” then-Sen. Joe Biden (D–Del.) said during a speech delivered on May 23, 2005, from the Senate floor.
Calling it “the single most significant” vote he would cast in more than three decades as a member of the Senate, Biden admonished Republicans for trying to blow up the filibuster to get judicial nominees confirmed with a simple majority. “Folks who want to see this change want to eliminate one of the procedural mechanisms designed for the express purpose of guaranteeing individual rights and they also, as a consequence, would undermine the protections of the minority point of view in the heat of majority excess,” he said.
The times, they sure have changed.
During a Thursday press conference, now-President Joe Biden indicated publicly what he has reportedly been saying behind closed doors for a while: that the Senate’s filibuster rules should be changed—perhaps even abolished, allowing legislation to pass with a simple majority, though he continues to hedge on that point.
“It’s being abused in a gigantic way,” Biden said of the filibuster, before suggesting that the Senate ought to return to the pre-1971 rules that required senators to actually stand on the floor and speak if they wanted to prevent a vote on a bill.
But, moments later, Biden suggested that he’d be willing to go further if the Senate’s Republican minority blocks the passage of legislation—including a possible $3 trillion infrastructure bill, a gun control bill, and other progressive agenda items. “If there’s complete lockdown and chaos as a consequence of the filibuster, then we’ll have to go beyond what I’m talking about,” he said.
Far from being a procedural mechanism meant to protect individual rights and guard against the tyranny of the majority, Biden says he now agrees with former President Barack Obama that the Senate’s filibuster rules are “a relic of the Jim Crow era”—a line that has become the go-to explanation for progressives who would like to see the 60-vote requirement swept aside. (Obama, by the way, also defended the filibuster during the 2005 debate over the so-called nuclear option.)
But the history of the filibuster predates the Jim Crow era by several decades. In fact, the filibuster was accidentally invented by none other than America’s first political villain: Aaron Burr. As vice president in 1805, Burr suggested that the Senate abolish a rule that allowed a simple majority to cut off debate on a bill. That same rule—technically a “motio
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