ChrisWeigant.com

Biden Torpedoes Half His Agenda

[ Posted Thursday, July 22nd, 2021 – 16:52 UTC ]

Last night, President Joe Biden participated in a town hall in Cincinnati, Ohio, hosted by CNN and moderated by Don Lemon. He made some news there, because when he was directly asked if preserving the Senate filibuster was more important than passing voting rights bills, he sounded like he kind of wanted to have it both ways. He seems absolutely convinced that either: (1) Republicans are going to suddenly magically develop a conscience and a high-minded sense of civic duty and start joining with Democrats to pass good legislation; or (2) that getting rid of the filibuster would somehow "throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done." The first seems naive, at best. The second, however, is completely backwards.

Early on in the program, an audience member asked Biden in general about his prioritizing bipartisanship to a ridiculous degree, but without specifically mentioning the filibuster:

I am dismayed at how often Democratic plans for stabilizing the economy or shoring up new strains of the virus are held hostage by the Utopian need to gain bipartisan support. It appears, at every turn, the Democratic plan is weakened and still secures zero Republican votes. Sometimes the opposition is just wrong, and working to get them to agree with you is fruitless. Why is the strategy to abandon the need for bipartisanship not the right answer?

Biden reminisced about his time in the Senate for a bit, and then stated his belief that (as he predicted during his campaign) "the fever would break" among Republicans:

I was able to get an awful lot of compromises put together to do really good things, to change things. And I still believe that's possible.... A lot of my Republican friends say, "Joe, I -- I know you're right, but if I do this, I'll get primaried and I'll lose my primary. I'll be in trouble."

But I think that's all beginning to move. I don't mean overnight. Don't get me wrong, I'm not playing out some panacea here. But I think people are figuring out that if we want to -- I've always found you get rewarded for doing what you think at the time is the right thing, and people really believe you believe it's the right thing to do.

You can see why the word "naive" might not even be strong enough. But later on, Biden was specifically asked about the filibuster, in relation to passing voting rights and election reform bills. In this exchange, Biden can only be called "downright delusional." Host Don Lemon restated the question as: "Why is protecting the filibuster -- is that more important than protecting voting rights, especially for people who fought and died for that?" Biden responded [Note: in part -- a more extended version of both of these exchanges is provided at the end of this column with a link to the full transcript, to save space here]:

But here's the deal: What I also want to do -- I want to make sure we bring along not just all the Democrats; we bring along Republicans, who I know know better. They know better than this.

And what I don't want to do is get wrapped up, right now, in the argument of whether or not this is all about the filibuster or --

Look, the American public, you can't stop them from voting. You tried last time. More people voted last time than any time in American history, in the middle of the worst pandemic in American history. More people did. And they showed up. They're going to show up again. They're going to do it again.

But what I want to do is I'm trying to bring the country together. And I don't want the debate to only be about whether or not we have a filibuster or exceptions to the filibuster or the -- going back to the way the filibuster had to be used before.

Biden begins by continuing his "the fever among Republicans is bound to break any day now" thinking, then confidently predicts that none of the Republican voter-suppression laws is going to make the slightest difference because all the voters from last time will "show up again," and then finishes by saying he is merely trying to avoid Republicans using Democrats' moves on the filibuster as some sort of political weapon against them.

Lemon then quoted Barack Obama's assertion that the filibuster was "a relic of Jim Crow," and asked Biden: "If it's a relic of Jim Crow, it's been used to fight against civil rights legislation historically, why protect it?"

Biden's answer makes no sense whatsoever:

There's no reason to protect it other than you're going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done... Nothing at all will get done. And there's a lot at stake. The most important one is the right to vote. That's the single most important one. And your vote counted, and counted by someone who honestly counts it.

But it goes beyond that. For example, wouldn't -- wouldn't my friends on the other side love to have a debate about the filibuster instead of passing the recovery act?

Biden fundamentally either does not understand or will not admit the true scope of the problem. How would either jettisoning the filibuster entirely or changing it to allow voting rights legislation to pass on a simple majority vote in the Senate possibly "throw the entire Congress into chaos?" It's already chaotic! Why or how would this mean "nothing at all will get done," since removing the filibuster would actually do exactly the opposite and allow Democrats to pass not just voting rights bills but all kinds of other good ideas the Republicans have been blocking?

Biden seems scared of the filibuster being used as a potent political argument against Democrats (who would be busy passing his entire agenda), but this also makes no sense. You know why Republicans don't talk much about the filibuster now? Because they don't have to. It is working just fine for them as is. Why bother talking about it? They certainly have nothing to complain about, since they have already bottled up as much of Biden's agenda as they possibly can.

Contrary to Biden's argument, removing the filibuster would reduce the chaos and allow all kinds of things to get done. To state the opposite is to not face the reality of today's Senate Republicans.

Joe Biden may soon get his greatest wish -- passing a major piece of legislation with a bipartisan vote in the Senate that beats the inevitable filibuster attempt. But even this could be counterproductive to the rest of his legislative agenda. Mostly because it is only going to strengthen his mistaken belief that bipartisanship is still somehow possible on very contentious and partisan issues.

This would be a mistake, because it is false. After all, the bill in question is an infrastructure bill. Back in the hazy old days Biden loves to idolize (and even a whole lot more recently), infrastructure bills were almost completely nonpartisan. After all who doesn't want better bridges and roads? Oh, sure, the parties would haggle over the total price and how to pay for it (or "whether to pay for it," at times), but in general the two sides would work towards something acceptable enough for everyone and a bill would emerge, get overwhelming majorities in both houses (so all the politicians could go home and brag about all the bacon they just got for their state or district), and easily pass. To put it another way, infrastructure is the easiest possible subject to get bipartisan approval, since it is in no way ideological.

And yet, on this simplest of bills, Republicans have wasted month after month after month. By doing so, they have successfully stalled most of the rest of Biden's agenda. And they still haven't come up with a workable agreement ("surely by next Monday," they now swear). This simply should not be this contentious an issue -- and yet it is.

However, the rest of Biden's agenda is indeed contentious, at least as far as the Republicans are concerned. And without at least reforming the filibuster rules, at least half of what Biden wants to accomplish simply will not happen. Anything that the Senate parliamentarian decides is not directly connected to the federal budget is going to be deemed not eligible for a budget reconciliation bill and will thus require 60 votes to move forward. Biden may very well pass his economic agenda almost in full -- which would be a monumental and historic achievement, to be sure -- but nothing else is going to have a prayer of passing the Senate.

This means: No voting rights bills or election reform -- which means no counter to all the voter suppression laws (and laws which have politicized the counting and certification of elections) which red state after red state keeps passing. No reform of the Supreme Court (even minor reforms). No new protections for Unions or workers. No police reform. No immigration reform (comprehensive or otherwise). No social justice reform. No climate change programs that get ruled out by the parliamentarian. No protections for L.G.B.T.Q. Americans. No civil rights legislation at all. No new protections for women's rights. No new gun safety laws. No marijuana reform. And nothing that the parliamentarian rules out from the next big budget reconciliation bill (the "human infrastructure" bill Bernie Sanders is currently writing). And this has already meant: No federal minimum wage increase. No nonpartisan/bipartisan special commission to investigate the 1/6 insurrection at the Capitol.

These are all the things that Joe Biden will not accomplish without reforming the filibuster. Biden campaigned heavily on most of these issues. Even if the historic human infrastructure bill passes, Biden will only have accomplished roughly half of his stated agenda. And none of the rest of it is going to move an inch in the Senate for the next year and a half, no matter what Biden believes to the contrary.

That is what "nothing at all will get done" looks like, Mister President. Refuse to even consider filibuster reform, and you will have successfully torpedoed half of what you promised to fight for in your campaign. Because nothing at all will get done on any of it until (at the very earliest) after the 2022 midterms.

-- Chris Weigant

 

CNN Town Hall hosted by Don Lemon
[Note: all text taken from the official White House transcript]

The first question framed the issue in terms of bipartisanship, without mentioning the filibuster. Here was how the questioner put it:

[Q:] I am dismayed at how often Democratic plans for stabilizing the economy or shoring up new strains of the virus are held hostage by the Utopian need to gain bipartisan support. It appears, at every turn, the Democratic plan is weakened and still secures zero Republican votes. Sometimes the opposition is just wrong, and working to get them to agree with you is fruitless. Why is the strategy to abandon the need for bipartisanship not the right answer?

President Biden responded by pointing out his own long service in the Senate and again expressed his belief that "the fever will break," and suddenly Republicans will start voting in their constituents' best interests (instead of purely to halt his entire agenda dead in its tracks).

[PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN:] I was able to get an awful lot of compromises put together to do really good things, to change things. And I still believe that's possible.... A lot of my Republican friends say, "Joe, I -- I know you're right, but if I do this, I'll get primaried and I'll lose my primary. I'll be in trouble."

But I think that's all beginning to move. I don't mean overnight. Don't get me wrong, I'm not playing out some panacea here. But I think people are figuring out that if we want to -- I've always found you get rewarded for doing what you think at the time is the right thing, and people really believe you believe it's the right thing to do.

A later question got at the heart of the problem a lot more directly. Here is the entire question and Biden's initial response, where he first does a good job of correctly identifying how high the stakes are for our democracy, but then rather weakly states his wish for the old-style Mr. Smith Goes To Washington "talking filibuster."

[Q:] Last week, regarding the GOP's efforts to restrict voting rights, you said those efforts were, quote, "the most dangerous threat to voting and the integrity of free and fair elections in our history," end quote. While you have condemned these attacks, you and congressional members of your party have done little to actually stop these assaults. If these efforts are really the most dangerous in our history, isn't it logical to get rid of the filibuster so we can protect our democracy and secure the right to vote?

[THE PRESIDENT:] I stand by what I said. Never before has there been an attempt by state legislatures to take over the ability to determine who won. Not count the votes -- determine who won.

We have election officials across the board that they're deciding to push out of the way. And if, in fact, tomorrow -- let's say we're running last time and we're -- these laws had been in effect that are -- these changes. In Georgia, the Georgia legislature -- you know, Biden won by multiple thousand votes; they could say, "We don't think it was legit." And the state legislature votes, "We're going send electors up to Congress to vote for Trump, not Biden." That's never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever been tried before. This is Jim Crow on steroids what we're talking about.

And so, it takes -- to go to your second point, I've been saying for a long, long time: The abuse of the filibuster is pretty overwhelming. When I got to the United States Senate at a time when we had guys like Jim Eastland and Strom Thurmond and Robert F. Byrd and a whole range of people who were very, very, very, very, very, very conservative on race, to say the least -- even then, if you were to filibuster, you had to stand on the floor and hold the floor. And that's why Strom, I think, set the record at 24 straight hours or something. Don't hold me to the number. But, you know, so you had to take -- there were significantly fewer filibusters in those days. In the middle of the civil rights movement.

. . .

I would go back to that where you have to maintain the floor. You have to stand there and talk and hold the floor. You can't just say that now.

The moderator then picked up on the question and posed it even more directly. This was the key exchange, in full, right up to where Biden pivoted to talking about one of his signature achievements (which is totally irrelevant to the filibuster question, since it passed under budget reconciliation rules with precisely zero Republicans voting for it).

[DON LEMON:] Why is protecting the filibuster -- is that more important than protecting voting rights, especially for people who fought and died for that?

[[THE PRESIDENT:]] No. It's not. I want to see the United States Congress, the United States Senate, pass S.1 and S.4, the John Lewis Act, and get it [sic] on my desk so I can sign it.

But here's the deal: What I also want to do -- I want to make sure we bring along not just all the Democrats; we bring along Republicans, who I know know better. They know better than this.

And what I don't want to do is get wrapped up, right now, in the argument of whether or not this is all about the filibuster or --

Look, the American public, you can't stop them from voting. You tried last time. More people voted last time than any time in American history, in the middle of the worst pandemic in American history. More people did. And they showed up. They're going to show up again. They're going to do it again.

But what I want to do is I'm trying to bring the country together. And I don't want the debate to only be about whether or not we have a filibuster or exceptions to the filibuster or the -- going back to the way the filibuster had to be used before.

[LEMON:] But isn't that the only way you're going to get it done right now?

[THE PRESIDENT:] No, I don't believe that. I think we can get it done.

[LEMON:] If you -- if you -- you agree with the former president; he has called -- as you call him, your "old boss" -- that it's "a relic of Jim Crow."

[THE PRESIDENT:] It is.

[LEMON:] If it's a relic of Jim Crow, it's been used to fight against civil rights legislation historically, why protect it?

[THE PRESIDENT:] There's no reason to protect it other than you're going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done.

[LEMON:] Right.

[THE PRESIDENT:] Nothing at all will get done. And there's a lot at stake. The most important one is the right to vote. That's the single most important one. And your vote counted, and counted by someone who honestly counts it.

But it goes beyond that. For example, wouldn't -- wouldn't my friends on the other side love to have a debate about the filibuster instead of passing the recovery act? Or wouldn't they love doing it instead of being in a position where we provide for -- how many of you have children under the age of 17? Raise your hand. Guess what? You're getting a lot of money in a monthly check now, aren't you?

No, you deserve -- no, no, no, I really mean it. Republicans used to fight for it as well. It's called the Child Tax Credit. If you have a child under the age of seven, you get 300 bucks a month -- 350 bucks a month. If you have a child under -- between 7 and 17, you get a total of 200 bucks a month. And guess what? It's cutting child poverty in half. In half.

 

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

22 Comments on “Biden Torpedoes Half His Agenda”

  1. [1] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    Yes.

    I was shocked at Biden's apparently whole-hearted and misguided endorsement of the continuation of the filibuster as it currently stands. Your analysis is spot-on, especially the insight about how infrastructure is the most inherently bipartisan legislation there is. Joe's pet bipartisan infrastructure bill, even if it passes which sure seems unlikely right now, is the opposite of a marker on the return journey to Republican sanity and workmanlike cooperation.

    I guess you are missing here only some credible mind-reading as to what is actually going on in Bidenland. Sure, the good old days, yadda, yadda. But he was Obama's VP, for cripe's sake. He's had a front-row seat for the past two decades to see that the Senate of the good old days is long gone. I wish I could believe that crafty Uncle Joe is playing some key senators like fishes on a long line, but it sure doesn't seem like it after today.

  2. [2] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    I think Biden is saying that he wants the focus to be on WHAT the legislation accomplishes if passed and not let the Republicans make it all about HOW it would be passed. Democrats get to determine the focus of the conversation this way. Start focusing on the filibuster and that will be all that Republicans will discuss.

  3. [3] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    @russ,

    then he needs to do a better job of saying it.

  4. [4] 
    andygaus wrote:

    When November comes round, the Republicans will try to block Biden from pardoning a turkey, saying that he's soft on crime.

  5. [5] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    @ag

    nonsense! the turkey is ineligible for pardon, and biden is just demonstrating his corrupt, autocratic agenda by the pretense.

    JL

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Contrary to Biden's argument, removing the filibuster would reduce the chaos and allow all kinds of things to get done.

    And, who thinks this is a good thing?

    Well, I guess it is a good thing ... if Republicans never win the senate again. And, good luck with that.

    Unfortunately, Democrats don't seem to have much luck in recent times when it comes to seating judges on the Supreme Court. Ahem.

    Heh.

  7. [7] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Russ[2],

    I think you're right. Time will tell.

    One thing I do know ... Biden knows better what's going on in Congress than Chris will ever know.

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    John M from ct.

    Your references to "crafty Uncle Joe" are always a dead giveaway.

    You really have no idea.

  9. [9] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Chris,

    I'm interested in understanding how ending the filibuster completely would be good for uniting the country.

    Oh, I know, of course, the country is divided. It's always been divided. Right. But, never like this.

    The United States of America is on its last legs as an influential nation and supposed leader of the free world.

    Hardly naive or delusional, Biden understands this very well. Uniting the country is of utmost paramounce if anything of substance is to get done, now or into the future.

    Maybe instead of abolishing the filibuster, which is relatively easy to do, how about persuading the American people that Democratic polices are now far and away the best polices to improve their daily lives and proving that confidence in government is not misplaced?

    You simply have no chance whatsoever of reaching some semblance of unity if the filibuster is abolished. At, least, I don't see how that happens.

    Disunity, which will only get worse without the filibuster, equals chaos ... one government undoing the work of the last with zero confidence in any outcome.

    Good luck with that.

    Oh, did you hear the part where Biden was talking about the reaction to the US by world leaders at the G7 when Biden said, America is back? I hope everyone heard at this town hall what Biden said about Putin's worldview...

  10. [10] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Joshua,

    then he needs to do a better job of saying it.

    No, you and your fellow citizens need to do a better job of understanding it.

    It really ain't that hard.

  11. [11] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Why can't Democrats win a filibuster-proof majority in the US senate?

    If that can't be done during a Biden administration (or immediately following the Trump years), then it can't be done.

    Then see where you are with no filibuster. Or, do y'all think Republicans won't ever take the senate again?

  12. [12] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    @liz,

    [10]
    i understand it just fine, but i'm not the target demographic. most people, of any country but ours especially, are simply not all that bright. who was it that said nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the voters...

    [11]
    CW has actually written on this recently i think - or maybe it was another author. the main reason is that red states have a much lower population on average than blue states, but the same number of senators. so something like 30 percent of the nation's population are represented by something like sixty percent of its senators.

    JL

  13. [13] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Your statement that not ending the filibuster will cause Biden to torpedo half of what he promised during the campaign is ridiculous.

    He has already torpedoed much more than half of that already.

    Maybe half of what is left would be more accurate.

    Biden is following SOP procedure for Deathocrats which is:

    Nothing fires up our juices like making excuses!

    But Biden did make a good point when he talked about Republikillers being worried about getting primaried and the citizens respond to politicians doing what they think is the right thing to do.

    That is how democracy is supposed to work.

    So instead of writing article after article about the filibuster and other excuses (which is what the Deathocrats, Republikillers and big money interests want) you should be writing some articles about using One Demand to primary the big money politicians in 2022.

    Then we can replace the big money politicians whose job it is to make excuses and get nothing done for ordinary citizens which is by it's nature getting plenty done for the big money interests.

  14. [14] 
    dsws wrote:

    I think Biden is right. If he and the Democratic leadership in the Senate stake everything on fixing (let alone abolishing) the filibuster, it would guarantee that nothing gets done. Manchin has been vociferous, persistent, and absolute about it. He would literally rather have a rebooted USSR entirely conquer the US, than have even the slightest reform to the 60-vote requirement for passing anything in the Senate. It's insane. If the situation actually materialized, it would be treasonous. But it's still his sole priority in life. Other senators have been nearly as unequivocal. The filibuster cannot be fixed until there's enough of a movement for it that several senators are successfully primaried in single-issue campaigns, and Biden is right not to try it.

    On the other hand, for stuff that does go into a reconciliation bill, it sure ought to be at least as possible to negotiate one vote from among the dozen least-extreme Republicans, as it is to negotiate one vote from the farthest-right Democrat.

  15. [15] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    poet [12]

    The way to think of that is that we are a republic (or a nation if you please) of "united states", which (surprise!) is WHY we are designated 'The United STATES of America'.

    We are not a republic of united 'citizens', but rather of united STATES. Every single state has all the same power in the senate as every other state. Population is of zero consequence in the senate.

    That situation is not accidental. The founders established it that way completely by intent.

  16. [16] 
    dsws wrote:

    As for the question of what happens when Republicans take the Senate again, if we change the "filibuster" in some way, the answer is basically nothing. They can already get a few of the farthest-right Democrats on board for just about any bill they feel like, and fifty-one votes (possibly including a veep tie-breaker) is enough for them to get the gavel.

  17. [17] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    E. Miller on [9]: "... one government undoing the work of the last with zero confidence in any outcome."

    In the long term, the argument for weakening or abolishing the filibuster is that, yes, it would allow each party to actually pass the legislation on which it campaigns for election. And the people could finally find out what that legislation actually feels like.

    Over time, if a majority of voters is still allowed to vote (big IF), they will be able to vote for the actual legislation, not for the promises and the BS. Suppose the Dems abolish the filibuster and pass the Biden program. The elements of that program poll incredibly positive in the US electorate, even among Republicans (if you don't tell them the programs are Democratic sponsored).

    Now, as you warn, the Republicans manage to retake the Senate, House, and White House. Taking advantage of the lack of a filibuster, they pass regressive legislation to their hearts' contents: outlaw abortion, eliminate taxes on the wealthy, cut off all social safety net programs for the poor and working classes, etc.

    Within a few years, are the people more happy with the Republican program? Do they remember the Biden program with regret? Are they open to campaigners who promise to reverse the Republican legislation and restore the Democratic legislation? One suspects they would be - one suspects that, without a filibuster, the Dems would eventually establish another permanent electoral majority, based on actual voter experience with the alternative, for a generation or more. A previous example is the New Deal, where most people remembered the heartless Republican approach to poverty and suffering for thirty years, and voted Democratic because of it.

    Now, of course, this doesn't work if, during the Republican control years mentioned above, the Republicans abolish the electoral franchise for all but their own voters, through restrictions based on voter fraud. If you get my drift.

    Suggesting that, if the Dems do abolish the filibuster, they should reform the Supreme Court pronto, to prevent the final hijacking of democracy and majority rule when the Repubs get their final, last chance, in 2024 or 2028.

  18. [18] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    @crs,
    I'm fully versed in the Connecticut compromise, and why it was necessary to get the constitution ratified. By design, less populous states have more power in the senate.

  19. [19] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    John[17],

    You completely understand what I'm talking about!

    And, maybe eliminating the filibuster would force Democrats to be better communicators so that voters would understand how Democratic policies would benefit them and the country and how Republican policies would not.

    Heck, maybe eliminating the filibuster might even force Republicans to have competitive or even better policies. Heh.

    I think I might be convincing myself. Perhaps, someone should send a memo to Biden ... hey, Chris!?

  20. [20] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Joshua[12],

    I think Democrats don't win filibuster-proof majorities in the senate has little to do with state populations and a lot to do with Democrats' seeming inability to sell their stuff.

  21. [21] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    ... the art of persuasion may seem like a lost art when talking about Democrats and their ability to sell their polices to centrists and moderate Republicans (if such animals still exist in any great number) in the electorate, but I think it's more true that Democrats are just bad salespeople.

  22. [22] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Joshua,

    i understand it just fine ...

    I knew that. :)

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