Block a bill? Biden wants old-school Senate filibusters

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President Joe Biden sits next to a bowl of Irish shamrocks, left, as he has a virtual meeting with Ireland's Prime Minister Micheal Martin on St. Patrick's Day, in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden wants the Senate to engage in old-fashioned filibusters, forcing senators who try to block bills to have to stand and talk for hours, as happened in Hollywood movies and during the civil rights era, if they want to object to his legislative agenda.

It would be a dramatic shift for the Senate, a throwback, embraced by leading Democrats in the 50-50 chamber who are looking for ways to prevent a Republican blockade of Biden's priorities.

Requiring a “talking filibuster” would force senators opposing a bill to make their case, rather than simply signal objections, but it could also grind the Senate to a halt and turn deliberations into a made-for-TV spectacle with political fallout for all sides.

Biden's backing gave a boost Wednesday to centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who has suggested a similar approach, but leading senators said they're not quite ready to make any quick changes.

“I don’t think that you have to eliminate the filibuster. You have to do it what it used to be when I first got to the Senate back in the old days,” Biden said in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “You had to stand up and command the floor. You had to keep talking.”

The filibuster question is expected to hover over this first year of Biden's presidency. Fresh off passage of Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, Democrats who control the Senate will face challenges passing the rest of their priorities. While the House is able to approve bills swiftly, the rules of the Senate are more cumbersome. A single senator can now signal an intent to filibuster, setting a 60-vote threshold to advance most legislation.

There are political risks and rewards at play, and Republican leader Mitch McConnell has vowed a “scorched earth" payback if Democrats change the rules to fully eliminate the filibuster.

For now, Democratic senators want to show Americans what they're up against by bringing forward potentially popular proposals the House has already passed, including bills to expand voting rights and background checks for gun purchases, and forcing Republican opponents to articulate the case against them.