As Sinema stands firm, Biden calls for end of filibuster, invokes Jefferson Davis

President Joe Biden yesterday in a speech about his support for the passage of federal voting rights legislation, announced that he supports ending the Senate filibuster rule, and he compared those who support the rule’s preservation to Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States during the Civil War. 

“Let the majority prevail,” Biden said in the Atlanta speech. “And if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this.” 

Under Senate rules, most bills require 60 votes to cut off debate and proceed to a vote, unless the bill conforms to the Senate’s strict reconciliation rules, which allow a bill to proceed with only a simple majority. 

“And here’s one thing every senator and every American should remember: History has never been kind to those who have sided with voter suppression over voters’ rights. And it will be even less kind for those who side with election subversion,” Biden said. “At consequential moments in history, they present a choice: Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?  Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor?  Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?” 

Wallace, a former Democratic governor of Alabama, was a strict segregationist. Bull Connor was one of the Jim Crow era’s most notable and violent enforcers of racial segregation. 

Throughout her time in the U.S. Senate and previously in the U.S. House, Ariz. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D, has been a consistent supporter of maintaining the filibuster. 

A Sinema spokesperson last month said, “Senator Sinema has asked those who want to weaken or eliminate the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation which she supports if it would be good for our country to do so.” 

In a column in The Washington Post last June, Sinema wrote, “If anyone expected me to reverse my position because my party now controls the Senate, they should know that my approach to legislating in Congress is the same whether in the minority or majority.” Sinema says the filibuster “compels moderation and helps protect the country from wild swings between opposing policy poles.” 

Fellow Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has also remained firm in calling on the Senate to keep the filibuster. 

“We need some good rules changes to make the place work better, Manchin told reporters yesterday. “But getting rid of the filibuster doesn’t make it work better.” 

Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry President and CEO Danny Seiden called the president’s rhetoric around the filibuster unhelpful. 

“I understand the president’s desire to pass legislation to advance his agenda, but invoking the names of Confederates and segregationists just further divides and doesn’t persuade,” Seiden said. “We should be applauding Sen. Sinema for her commitment to reaching bipartisan agreement, whether it’s on voting rights or any other issue. I suspect that if the Senate switches partisan control after the November election that Sen. Sinema’s Senate colleagues will be thanking her.” 

Arizona’s other senator, Democrat Mark Kelly, has been more evasive on his position on the filibuster. 

Politico reported on Tuesday that Kelly said, “I’ve never been part of an organization where it’s really, really hard to do things. So if there’s a real proposal, I’ll take a look at it and evaluate it based on what’s in the best interests of the country.” 

Biden’s call for eliminating the filibuster represents a reversal of the position he held when he was a senator from Delaware.

Stephen Matter

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