Biden backs exception to Senate filibuster to protect abortion access | Joe Biden


Joe Biden said on Thursday he would support an exception to the Senate filibuster to protect access to abortion, after the supreme court overturned the right in a historic ruling this month.

“If the filibuster gets in the way, it’s like voting rights,“ Biden said during a press conference at the Nato summit in Madrid, adding that there should be an “exception to the filibuster for this action to deal with the supreme court decision”.

The term filibuster refers to the 60-seat super-majority needed for most legislation to pass the Senate without being blocked by any single senator.

The rule is meant to help the Senate act as a less volatile chamber than the House, which works on simple majority votes, and to protect the rights of the minority.

But many on the left charge Republicans and some centrist Democrats with using the rule more in the archaic, Spanish-derived sense of the word “filibuster” – as pirates or raiders, ransacking the political process to their own advantage.

Biden was a senator from 1973 until 2009. An institutionalist to the core, he has been reluctant to support changes to the filibuster – even “carve-outs” for key legislation.

Earlier this year, Biden endorsed a carve-out on the issue of voting rights. The move was meant to answer Republican attacks on those likely to vote Democratic, prominently African Americans, but two Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, stood in the way of their party.

Biden’s latest comments made clear he is willing to support a carve-out to protect abortion rights. Manchin and Sinema would in all likelihood block the move once again.

With the Senate split 50-50 and controlled by the vote of the vice-president, Kamala Harris, Democrats’ legislative options are limited.

Biden is therefore under pressure to take executive action to protect abortion rights. Although his options are few, in Madrid he said he would meet governors on Friday to talk about the issue and would “have announcements to make then”.

Biden also repeated harsh criticism of the decision to overturn Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling which guaranteed the right to abortion, and reiterated his warning that other constitutional protections could be at risk from a supreme court tilted right by three justices appointed by Donald Trump.

Overturning Roe ‘a sad day for the court and for the country’, says Joe Biden – video

Biden said: “One thing that has been destabilising is the outrageous behavior of the supreme court of the United States in overruling not only Roe v Wade but essentially challenging the right to privacy.”

Clarence Thomas, the senior conservative on the court, has written that other privacy-based rights, to contraception, gay sex and same sex marriage, should be examined.

Thomas did not say another such right, to interracial marriage, was in question. He is Black. His wife, the far-right activist Ginni Thomas, is white.

As a devout Catholic, Biden has long seen many US left question his bona fides as a supporter of abortion rights. In such quarters, the president’s remarks in Spain met with rather weary responses.

Elie Mystal, justice correspondent of the Nation, wrote: “Oh look, Biden said he wasn’t open to changing the filibuster to pass a federal abortion law, people loudly complained, and now he’s changed his mind. FUNNY HOW THAT WORKS!

“It’s almost like telling elected officials what we want them to DO makes them more likely to DO IT.”


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