U.S. President Joe Biden was a longtime supporter of the Senate supermajority rule known as the filibuster, but with the chamber’s Republican minority blocking parts of his agenda, the former senator said this week he is open to altering the rule in order to try to enact voting rights legislation.
The 100-member Senate is currently divided evenly between members who caucus with Biden’s Democratic Party and members of the Republican Party.
Democrats can pass bills using the tiebreaker vote Vice President Kamala Harris can cast when necessary. But before a bill can be put to a simple majority vote, there must first be a move to end debate on the measure, which under Senate rules requires the support of 60 senators.
The procedural hurdle has its critics who argue it is anti-democratic and prevents the federal government from addressing problems facing the nation. But supporters say it forces the members of the Senate to find consensus on those matters and prevents the party in power from enacting sweeping changes.
Democratic Party leaders say they want to make voting rights legislation a category that needs only a simple majority support in order to move to a final vote and that they plan to pursue that change in the coming days.
Left uncertain is whether they have enough support among their caucus to achieve that goal. Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have expressed opposition, citing concerns that doing so would give Republicans an open path to do whatever they want should they reclaim a majority in the next round of elections in November.
Senator Mitch McConnell, the body’s top Republican, has also warned that if Democrats do away with the filibuster, his side would find other ways to slow action in the Senate.
Some information for this report came from Reuters.