Civil rights groups and leaders who have been advocating for fair elections were given a glimmer of hope on Thursday when President Joe Biden seemingly signaled his support for finally ending the filibuster, something that Senate Republicans successfully employed just one day earlier to block voting rights legislation from even being debated.
Biden’s comments during a town hall on CNN Thursday night suggested he was coming to the realization that his expectations for bipartisanship were never going to be met by Republicans who have been resolute in their opposition to any legislative agenda promoted by Democrats.
When Biden was asked whether he would support “the notion of doing away with the filibuster” in order to accomplish his legislative plans, the president answered in the affirmative and hinted that wouldn’t be the end of it, either.
“And maybe more,” Biden responded.
He added later in the town hall, “We’re going to have to move to the point where we fundamentally alter the filibuster,” before contextualizing that comment by saying it “remains to be seen exactly what that means in terms of fundamentally — on whether or not we just end the filibuster straight up.”
While that wasn’t exactly a definitive promise that Biden would move to end the filibuster, they were his strongest words yet on a topic that civil rights leaders and groups have been pushing the president on after Senate Republicans have repeatedly prevented legislation involving voting rights and police reform from advancing.
Damon Hewitt, president and executive director with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called Biden’s openness to ending the filibuster “good news” and emphasized the consequences of not making that happen.
“As long as this racist relic of the Senate stays in place it will prevent legislation that advances racial justice, both now and in the future,” Hewitt said. “It’s a simple choice between a free America or one chained by the past. Our democracy hangs in the balance.”
Just Democracy, a coalition of racial justice groups that said “the filibuster is abused, overused, and must be reformed,” called Biden’s support to end what he has previously referred to as a racist “Jim Crow relic,” providing a glimmer of hope for civil rights leaders who have been advocating for fair elections.
“We’re thrilled to hear him call for changes to a Senate rule that Republicans have weaponized to obstruct and block progress for Black and Brown people,” Just Democracy said in a brief statement emailed to NewsOne. “We hope the President will continue to use the full power of his office and platform to call for structural democracy reform. The President’s legacy and agenda hinge on Congress removing the filibuster as a blockade.”
Democracy for All, a national coalition of advocates, labor groups and community organizations, called the filibuster an “arcane” rule serving as a barrier to fair elections.
“We applaud President Biden’s statement in support for clearing the path for progress on voting rights,” Stasha Rhodes, Campaign Director of Democracy for All 2021, said in a brief statement before adding: We’re ready to see change.”
Biden’s willingness to do something about the filibuster came one day after Senate Republicans blocked the Freedom To Vote Act from advancing, prompting NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson to remind the president and lawmakers about who was being affected most by these legislative setbacks and failures.
“Don’t forget that Black voters landed a victory for this President and this Congress, so don’t fail us again,” Johnson warned.
Republicans had previously filibustered similar attempts to discuss the For the People Act. Police reform efforts ended the same way last month, prompting the sister of George Floyd — for whom the police reform legislation is named — to claim that Biden wasn’t “stepping up enough.”
LaTosha Brown and Cliff Albright, co-founders of Black Voters Matter, previously told NewsOne that Senate Republicans were ignoring the will of the nearly 70% of Americans who are in favor of not just debating HR1/S1 but also passing the For The People Act.
“Their actions today prove that they’re hell-bent on dismantling our democracy,” Brown and Alright said in a statement emailed to NewsOne.
To be sure, the filibuster has been preventing Black legislative progress since the 1840s. Created to protect pro-slavery planters, the modern filibuster is more than a simple procedural move. Notably, it was also employed against both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for 60 business days — a record that still stands to this day — and an anti-lynching bill in 1922.
The need for a supermajority to pass legislation may make sense in a truly bipartisan body of lawmakers that can compromise. But compromise cannot exist when Republicans remain laser-focused on legislating based on Donald Trump’s lies about nonexistent election fraud.