Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., spent over an hour on the Senate floor Wednesday night reading a 2005 speech from President Biden verbatim where Biden said eliminating the filibuster would “eviscerate the Senate.”
Biden, then a Delaware senator, said at the time it was “one of the most important speeches for historical purposes that I will have given in the 32 years since I have been in the Senate.”
He said that ending the 60-vote hurdle would turn the Senate “into the House of Representatives.”
The Senate at that time was also split 50-50. George W. Bush was in office, meaning a Republican had the tie-breaking vote, Vice President Dick Cheney.
Biden said at the time “the Senate ought not act rashly by changing its rules to satisfy a strong-willed majority acting in the heat of the moment.”
The former senator said, “it is my personal belief that the Senate should be more judicious in the use of the filibuster.” He added that “it should come as no surprise that in periods where the electorate is split very evenly, as it is now, the filibustering of nominations was used extensively.”
But ending the filibuster, he said, was a mistake.
“It is not only a bad idea, it upsets the constitutional design and it disservices the country,” Biden’s speech said. “No longer would the Senate be that ‘different kind of legislative body’ that the Founders intended. No longer would the Senate be the ‘saucer’ to cool the passions of the immediate majority.”
Biden on Thursday said he supported changes to the filibuster but stopped short of supporting calls for its elimination.
He said he would “strongly support” reforming the silent filibuster to a “talking” filibuster where senators who want to block legislation would have to hold the floor by talking endlessly. He cited statistics that there were just 58 motions to break a filibuster from 1917 to 1971, but just last year, there were “five times that many.”
Biden said he agreed with former President Barack Obama’s assessment that the filibuster was a “Jim Crow relic.”
In 2005, Biden valued the filibuster, lamenting what might happen if it were eliminated: “Senators would start thinking about changing other rules when they became ‘inconvenient.’ Instead of two-thirds of the vote to change a rule, you’d now have precedent that it only takes a bare majority. Altering Senate rules to help in one political fight or another could become standard operating procedure, which, in my view, would be disastrous.”
Democrats of late have taken up a pressure campaign to eliminate the “racist” filibuster, particularly as they work to pass the sweeping elections bill H.R. 1. Moderate Democrat Sens. Joe Manchin, W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, Ariz., remain opposed to eliminating the hurdle.