Biden leaves door open for Senate changes to advance agenda

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President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden at his first news conference left the door open to backing fundamental changes in Senate procedure to muscle key parts of his agenda like immigration and voting rights past Republican opposition “if there’s complete lockdown and chaos.”

Even as his administration navigates the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic damage, Biden is grappling with how to deliver on a host of big promises despite a razor-thin Senate majority. He teased that changes to Senate rules that would allow bills to pass with fewer votes may be necessary for him to achieve some of those goals.

“If there’s complete lockdown and chaos, as a consequence of the filibuster, then we’re going to have to go beyond what I’m talking about,” he said at the Thursday news conference.

Despite strong poll numbers, Biden faces headwinds in delivering on his ambitious legislative agenda. His party's congressional majorities are narrow, Republican opposition appears entrenched and not all Democrats are aligned in reforming Senate rules on the filibuster.

Biden at first backed a modification — but not elimination — of the arcane procedural tactic. But he then suggested, at least on certain issues, he would go further, saying the filibuster — which requires 60 votes to pass legislation in the Senate — was being “abused in a gigantic way” by Republicans.

“I want to get things done. I want to get them done consistent with what we promised the American people,” said Biden, who spent decades in the Senate. “I am going to say something outrageous: I have never been particularly poor at calculating how to get things done in the United States Senate.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer at his own press conference Thursday declined to lean too heavily into filibuster changes, only saying that “everything, everything is on the table.”

And West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat whose vote is critical, said he thought the rules were there to make sure “the big guy doesn’t pick on the little guy,” adding that he was trying to protect “basic civility.”