One of Joe Biden’s top allies in Congress is open to scrapping the filibuster if the former vice president were to win in November.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), who occupies the United States Senate seat Biden held for nearly 40 years, made the admission to Politico in an interview published on Tuesday. The senator argued that while he was generally opposed to scrapping the filibuster on principle, he was also unwilling to allow Biden’s political agenda to falter because of the rule.
“I will not stand idly by for four years and watch the Biden administration’s initiatives blocked at every turn,” Coons said. Adding that he was “gonna try really hard to find a path forward that doesn’t require removing what’s left of the structural guardrails, but if there’s a Biden administration, it will be inheriting a mess, at home and abroad. It requires urgent and effective action.”
The filibuster, which is unique to the Senate because of the chamber’s longstanding tradition of allowing unlimited debate, has become an increasingly divisive issue among Democrats. Members of the party’s progressive faction, including Biden’s onetime 2020 rival Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), have argued it only serves as an obstacle to implementing broad sweeping change and should therefore be abolished if Democrats retake the Senate in 2020.
Many, like Warren, have argued the filibuster is undemocratic, allowing even one senator to hold up major pieces of legislation favored by a majority of the chamber’s members. The rule requires that a three-fifths supermajority, usually 60 votes, is required to end debate on a piece of legislation being considered by the Senate. As neither party has been able to control that many seats in recent years, this has ensured that any bill without bipartisan support would be under threat of a filibuster, even if the tactic was utilized by only one senator.
Generally, progressives have favored scrapping the rule in order to advance controversial causes, such as gun control or reproductive health. A number cite the basis for their support on then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) effort to push through rule change weakening the filibuster for judicial appointments in 2013. Reid’s change, a scaled down version of abolishing the full filibuster, reduced the threshold that executive and judicial nominees had to reach for confirmation, from 60 to 51 votes. The rule change was approved on a near-party-line vote, with the entire GOP caucus and three moderate Democrats voting in opposition.
Moderate Democrats, including Biden and to a lesser extent Coons—who supported Reid’s rule change, have generally expressed opposition to abolishing the full filibuster in the past.
It is unclear, though, if the former vice president’s position has evolved, much like that of Coons. The Biden campaign did not return requests for comment on this story.
In recent months, Biden’s allies and campaign staff have begun floating the prospect that his presidency will be the most comprehensive, and according to some the most economically “radical,” since the New Deal.
Originally, Biden claimed his impetus for running in 2020 was to defeat President Donald Trump and restore “the soul of the nation.” That message was predicated on the argument that Trump’s administration had only served to divide the country and diminish the progress made during the Obama era. It failed to excite members of the Democrat Party’s progressive faction during the primaries, as exhibited by the drubbing Biden took in the first three nominating contests. The former vice president, though, refused to change strategy, and ultimately bested Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for the nomination, thanks in part to the help of establishment Democrats.
Since the coronavirus pandemic forced businesses to shut down in early March, stalling the national economy and generating double-digit unemployment, Biden’s calculus seems to have shifted.
“The blinders have been taken off,” Biden told donors during a recent virtual fundraiser. “Because of this COVID crisis, I think people are realizing, ‘My Lord, look at what is possible. Look at the institutional changes we can make.’”