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With much of his voting rights agenda stalled in Congress, the coronavirus pandemic entering a dangerous, politicized new phase and the fate of a much-needed plan to address the nation’s crumbling infrastructure still in doubt, President Biden on Wednesday stood by his support of the Senate filibuster.
“What I don’t want to do is get wrapped up around whether this is all about the filibuster,” Biden said during a CNN town hall in Cincinnati, when asked by host Don Lemon why he continues to support a procedure he has called “a Jim Crow relic.”
Biden added that abolishing the filibuster — which prevents legislation from moving forward in the absence of 60 votes — would “throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done.”
The president defended his belief that a bipartisan approach in Washington remained a viable way to run the government as well as to help repair the deep divisions between Americans.
“I spent a lot of time as a senator and vice president and I’m going to say something outrageous: I don’t think you’ll find any Republican I ever worked with who said I broke my word,” Biden told a skeptical audience member who inquired whether it was worth trying to work across the aisle with Republicans who have largely sought to block his agenda.
Biden assured the audience that his decades-long tenure as a senator had given him absolute faith in the ability for Democrats to forge constructive compromises with Republicans. The president cited Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who he said privately gave him his word that a deal to move the bipartisan infrastructure deal was within reach.
A procedural test vote on the aforementioned infrastructure framework failed earlier Wednesday due to GOP resistance. Biden, however, dismissed the failure as “irrelevant” during the town hall.
“I come from a tradition in the Senate, you shake your hand, that’s it. You keep your word,” said Biden. “And I’ve found Rob Portman does that. I’ve found ... your governor is a good man. You shake his hand, it’s done.”
Biden said that he’s confident that the Senate will pass a motion to proceed on debate of the bill by Monday, noting that it’s entirely possible and that Democrats may still have to offer further concessions on contentious issues.
He also revealed that several Republicans have confided in him that they’ve agreed with his point of view but voted along party lines out of fear of losing their jobs.
“The well has been so poisoned over the last four years and even now, there is still this lingering effort,” he explained, in a less-than-veiled criticism of the former administration. Biden was also critical of the divisions that have been exacerbated by those who cling to conspiracy theories peddled by former President Donald Trump as well as the fringe group QAnon that the 2020 election was decided by fraud.
“I don’t care if you think I’m Satan reincarnated, the fact is you can’t look at that television and say nothing happened on the 6th. You can’t listen to people who say this is a peaceful march,” Biden said of the riot at the Capitol carried out by Trump’s supporters, adding, “I think we’re beginning to see sort of the venom leak out of a lot of it. We’ve got to get beyond this.”
For all his talk of bipartisanship, however, Biden remained critical of Republicans when discussing their framing of Democrats' contentious relationship with law enforcement. Many in the GOP have seized on rising crime rates across the country, perhaps imperiling legislative negotiations over police reform, and painting Democrats as anti-police.
“They’re lying!” Biden exclaimed when asked about that notion, adding that what was needed instead of defunding law enforcement was changing the behavior of officers.
Yet, in quintessential Biden fashion, the president projected optimism throughout his town hall for the idea that a nationwide reconciliation between the two parties would eventually triumph.
“I have faith in the American people that we’ll get to the right place,” Biden said.
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