Changing the Face of the Senate: President Joe Biden Supports Ending Filibuster to Codify Abortion Rights
Abortion rights have been the center stage of American politics and public discourse ever since the Supreme Court overturned the
Abortion rights have been the center stage of American politics and public discourse ever since the Supreme Court overturned the landmark ruling of Roe v Wade last week.
Many abortion rights advocates have blasted Congress for failing to codify (or write into law) the right to abortion access – saying they've had decades to do so and have failed to act.
Now, in order to do so, Democrats in the Senate would have to convince 10 Republicans to vote with them which is unlikely, or they could end the filibuster rules that have prevented Democrats from advancing much of their agenda since coming to majority power in 2021.
President Joe Biden has signaled that he would support ending the filibuster or changing the rules in order to allow Congress to codify abortion rights – but of course changing the filibuster would have ripple effects far beyond that one legislation. Here's what you need to know about the filibuster and what changing it would mean.
Biden’s Comments on the Filibuster
Biden spoke at the NATO summit this week, reflecting from afar on the ripple effect the SCOTUS decision is having.
Los Angeles Times reports, "'America is better positioned to lead the world than we ever have been,' Biden said. 'But one thing that has been destabilizing is the outrageous behavior of the Supreme Court of United States in overruling not only Roe v. Wade, but essentially challenging the right to privacy.'
He added: 'I could understand why the American people are frustrated because of what the Supreme Court did.'"
The president then went on to add that he supports changing the filibuster rules to pass legislation codifying abortion access rights.
But it would require voter input this midterm, according to the president.
What Does the Filibuster Do and What Would Ending it Mean?
Right now, the Senate is locked in what's known as a filibuster – which requires 60 votes to pass most legislation.
There was a time with the filibuster was a rarely used tool only invoked for the most important legislation or sticking points between parties. In recent years, it's become a silent ever-present threat keeping both sides from passing any meaningful legislation. It's just business as usual, grandstanding for both parties to use to prove to their voter base that they refuse to compromise or back down – which has become a virtue in modern politics.
NPR explains, "It's a senator or group of senators exercising their right to unlimited debate. If pursued in earnest, it can keep a piece of Senate business off the floor indefinitely. The chamber's majority leader can either remove the issue at hand from consideration or file a motion to invoke cloture.
That motion takes 60 votes to succeed. That is why you constantly hear that it takes 60 votes to get anything done in the U.S. Senate. If 60 votes or more are available, cloture is invoked and a set period of debate ensues — followed by a debate on the issue itself."
It is possible to change the rules, and they have been changed in the past, but leaders are always hesitant to remove rules that allow the filibuster because it may work for them now – but the pendulum always swings. Eventually their party won't have the majority, and if they remove the filibuster for themselves, their rivals can make use of it later.
It is possible to change the rules temporarily, but all of this may rely on more Democrat seats in the Senate. President Biden this week urged voters to flip a few red seats blue, clearing the path to changing the filibuster and codifying abortion rights.
While it seems like a minor call to action, it may have large effects down the road. After all, a majority of Americans (around 61%) support the right to access of abortion care – and may be spurred to move this Fall to make sure that's protected.