President Barack Obama, whose comments about the filibuster being an outdated practice reminiscent of the Jim Crow era were echoed by President Biden on Thursday, once gave a speech on the Senate floor in favor of keeping the procedural process.
In 2005, then-senator Obama delivered a speech arguing against ending the filibuster and thereby allowing one party to “change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet.”
“If the majority chooses to end the filibuster, if they choose to change the rules and put an end to Democratic debate, then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse,” Obama said.
In a speech he gave at the funeral for civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., in July 2020, Obama said that if the filibuster needed to be eliminated in order to pass civil rights and voting rights legislation, then it should be.
“And if all this takes eliminating the filibuster, another Jim Crow relic, in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that’s what we should do,” Obama said.
The filibuster is a longstanding procedural process that allows a lawmaker to object and halt further action or votes, which had in the past infamously led to senators giving time-wasting, hours-long speeches about different topics.
Today, senators can merely signal their intent to object, even privately, and that’s enough for Senate leaders to take action. Leaders sometimes just drop the issue from floor consideration.
Otherwise, it takes 60 votes to end a filibuster.
Changing the filibuster rules is an idea backed by some Senate Democrats eager to advance Biden’s agenda in the evenly split 50-50 Senate.
Biden echoed Obama’s thoughts on the filibuster on Thursday during his first official press conference as president, agreeing when a reporter presented him with Obama’s characterization of the filibuster as a relic of the Jim Crow era.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.