Biden says eliminating filibuster would "throw the entire Congress into chaos"


President Biden essentially rejected the idea of eliminating the filibuster, asserting, that doing so would "throw the entire Congress into chaos, and nothing would get done." 

He was in Cincinnati at a town hall Wednesday night, and his desire to preserve the filibuster, with some reforms, came despite prodding from CNN host Don Lemon about the role of the filibuster in stalling civil rights legislation, and amid clear support among audience for eliminating it.

When a first-year law student asked about eliminating the filibuster, which has meant in modern times that most legislation needs 60 votes to end debate and move forward, the audience cheered. While some Democrats have said eliminating the filibuster is the only way to pass voting rights, Mr. Biden demurred and suggested that he wants —  and believes he can get — a broader coalition. He said he wanted to bring Republicans along, too. 

The president  pushed the Senate to move forward with voting rights legislation and not get  "wrapped up whether this is all about the filibuster." 

 In Mr. Biden's second town hall since taking office, COVID-19 and restarting the economy dominated the discussion. He addressed the spike in coronavirus cases, declining vaccination rates,  and also immigration, the opioid crisis and the ongoing debate in the Senate over his infrastructure bill.

He remains confident that despite the failed procedural vote on the bill Wednesday, the legislation will be treated more favorably on Monday,  and the bill will ultimately be successful. "I think it's going to get done," he said.

The infrastructure bill is a large part of Mr. Biden's economic agenda, and he insisted Wednesday it has bipartisan support, and repeatedly praised home state Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, a Republican.

Lemon kicked off the town hall by asking Mr. Biden about vaccinations as the nation grapples with slowing vaccination rates and infections that are rising in some states because of the rapidly spreading Delta variant among those without protection against the disease. "We have a pandemic for those who haven't gotten a vaccination. It's that basic, that simple," Mr. Biden answered.

Mr. Biden noted that there are  ongoing trials on the vaccination of children under 12 years of age, and he said he thought kids in school will likely be wearing masks in the fall.

The town hall comes as Mr. Biden marks six months in office. 

Biden says eliminating filibuster would "throw the entire Congress into chaos"
President Biden, accompanied by CNN journalist Don Lemon, appears at a CNN town hall at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati on Wednesday, July 21, 2021. Andrew Harnik / AP
 

The president was asked whether he stands by Vice President Kamala Harris' message to would-be immigrants in Guatemala, when she urged immigrants not to come to the United States' southern border. 

They "should not come," Mr. Biden responded to the audience member. 

"We are setting up in those countries, if you seek asylum in the United States, you can seek it from the country," the president said.

Asked about DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the president said he's "not letting this go" after a federal judge ruled it unlawful. The Obama-era program protects young people who are undocumented and entered the U.S. as children, known as "Dreamers." Current recipients are not immediately affected.  

First of all, Mr. Biden said his administration is going to appeal the case. 

"Number two, we're going to make sure that a number of my American colleagues say they support the right of Dreamers … they should be able to stay in the United States of America," he said. 

 

Mr. Biden gave no indication that he would advocate eliminating the filibuster, insisting he thinks it's possible to pass voting rights reforms without changing Senate rules. 

The president repeated that he thinks states' efforts to change or restrict voting access is "Jim Crow on steroids." And yet, he did not indicate he would put pressure on the Senate to change the rules. 

"I've been saying for a long long time, the abuse of the filibuster is pretty overwhelming," the president said. 

Asked if he thinks protecting the filibuster is more important than protecting voting rights, Mr. BIden responded, "No, it's not." But the president said he doesn't want to throw Congress into "chaos" by changing the rules. 

"What I don't want to do is get wrapped up around whether this is all about the filibuster," the president said of the Senate blocking S.1. 

"You will throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done," the president added about eliminating the filibuster. 

Mr. Biden said he thinks voting rights reforms can happen, but he wants to bring Republicans along, too. 

 

Mr. Biden said he thinks the bipartisan infrastructure package will move forward on Monday, after Democrats failed to get enough votes on a procedural move Wednesday, with all Republicans voting against it. 

Negotiators have yet to finalize details of the plan, including how to pay for it. 

"The vote on Monday is a motion on being able to proceed on this issue," Mr. Biden said.

"I think it's gonna get done," he said, reiterating a sentiment he shared earlier in the day. 

The president said he's working with senators like Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio on infrastructure. 

 

 A Republican member in the audience asked the president to address inflation, and increasing prices that could make life harder for the middle class. 

The president touted how the economy has grown during his presidency thus far. 

"First of all, good news is, the economy is picking up significantly," Mr. Biden said. 

Still, the president acknowledged that there is inflation, although he blamed part of it on prices coming back to pre-pandemic times. 

"The vast majority of the experts, including Wall Street, are suggesting it's highly unlikely that it's going to be long term inflation that's going to get out of hand," Mr. Biden said. 

Lemon, too, pressed Mr. Biden on whether pumping trillions of dollars into the economy isn't increasing inflation. 

The president argued that pumping more money into the economy will actually reduce inflation. Mr. Biden insisted the increase in prices comes with the increase in demand. 

 

An educator in the audience asked the president about school-age children who are too young to get the vaccine, and about mask policies in schools. 

"I understand your concern, I really do," the president said, mentioning his own grandchildren.

Mr. Biden pointed to teachers being vaccinated. Those under 12 should "probably" be wearing a mask in school in the meantime, and those who have been vaccinated shouldn't need to wear a mask, he said. 

"That's probably what's going to happen," the president said. 

Still, Mr. Biden said it will get "tight" in some communities, if schools rely on the honor's system as to whether a child is vaccinated. 

The president said the vaccine will be approved "soon" for children under 12. 

 

Lemon kicked off the townhall by asking the president if he still feels like the pandemic is waning. The president said the pandemic is among the unvaccinated. 

"It's real simple," Mr. Biden said. "We have a pandemic for those who haven't gotten a vaccination. It's that basic, that simple." 

Lemon asked if Americans should be worried, even those who have been vaccinated. The president reiterated that most people who get vaccinated will avoid hospitalization and death. 

"What I say to people who are worried about a new pandemic is, get vaccinated," he said. 

 

 President Biden made a stop Wednesday afternoon ahead of his town hall at the IBEW/NECA Electrical Training Center, which runs a five-year electrical apprenticeship program. Mr. Biden stopped at three locations in Cincinnati and spoke with instructors and apprentices. 

Mr. Biden praised the work of unions and said the country would come to a screeching halt if all union workers were to quit.  He reinforced that they helped build the middle class.  

On the way out of the last stop, a reporter asked if "we would get an infrastructure deal" and Mr. Biden answered "yes, we will." 

 

First lady Jill Biden headed to Alaska and Hawaii on Wednesday to encourage Americans to get vaccinated. After that, she will head to Japan, where she is leading the U.S. delegation to the Opening Ceremony of the Summer Olympics, although there is a state of emergency in that country due to COVID-19. Several American athletes have been sidelined from the games after testing positive for COVID-19. 

Read more here.

 

A procedural vote to advance the $579 billion bipartisan infrastructure framework failed in the Senate on Wednesday after Republicans unsuccessfully pushed Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to delay the vote to allow negotiators to finalize the details of the plan. The infrastructure plan is a key part of President Biden's agenda. 

GOP senators blocked the measure from moving forward in the evenly-divided Senate, declining to provide the 10 votes Democrats needed to begin debate on the infrastructure package, which is a pillar of President Biden's economic agenda. The 49 to 51 vote fell short of the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster.

Schumer changed his vote from "yes" to "no" to allow for another vote "at a future time."

While Schumer set Wednesday's preliminary vote to nudge the bipartisan coalition of senators negotiating the specifics of the measure to reach a deal, they were still working to resolve outstanding issues. And without legislative text, Republican Senate leaders warned members would be unlikely to vote to begin debating a bill they haven't yet seen.

Read more here.

Melissa Quinn and Jack Turman