Biden tells Muir on filibuster exception for voting rights: 'whatever it takes'

He spoke with "World News Tonight" anchor David Muir in an exclusive interview.

December 23, 2021, 6:22 PM

President Joe Biden said in an exclusive interview with ABC "World News Tonight" anchor David Muir that he would support changing Senate rules to allow voting rights legislation to proceed – but only if necessary.

"Are you prepared to support fundamental changes in the Senate rules to get this done?" Muir asked Biden on Wednesday during a sit-down interview at the White House.

"Yes," Biden replied.

"What does that mean?" Muir asked.

"That means whatever it takes," the president said.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden is interviewed by ABC's David Muir at the White House, Dec. 22, 2021.
President Joe Biden is interviewed by ABC's David Muir at the White House, Dec. 22, 2021.
ABC News

Asked by Muir if he supported an exception, or "carveout" to the filibuster -- the long-standing Senate procedure that requires 60 senators to vote to allow a bill to move forward -- Biden said he did, but only as a last resort.

"I don't think we may have to go that far," the president said, "but I would be if that’s, if it’s -- the only thing standing between getting voting rights legislation passed and not getting passed is the filibuster, I support making the exception of voting rights for the filibuster."

Last week, Biden told reporters that "there's nothing domestically more important than voting rights," calling it "the single biggest issue."

But after the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives in August passed a bill that would significantly expand the federal government's ability to combat restrictive voting rules in Republican-led states across the country, the legislation has gone nowhere in the evenly-split Senate.

PHOTO: Residents wait in line to cast ballots at a polling location in Atlanta, Jan. 5, 2021.
Residents wait in line to cast ballots at a polling location in Atlanta, Jan. 5, 2021.
Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE

Under the "filibuster" procedure, most bills need 60 senators to vote to allow them to proceed. So, the 50 Democratic senators currently in the Senate would need at least 10 of their Republican colleagues to join them in voting to allow the voting rights legislation to move forward; so far, that has not happened.

Some Democrats have called for the filibuster to be done away with completely, while others have said an exception should be made for the issue of voting rights since, in their opinion, it is so important to the democratic process.

Either of those steps would require the backing of all 50 Democrats.

But moderate Democrats Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are opposed -- fearing Republicans could abuse the practice if they retake control of the Senate.

PHOTO: Activists from Fair Elections for New York, Black Voters Matter and Workers Circle hold a mock funeral for U.S. democracy and called for federal voting rights legislation outside the United States Mission in New York, Dec. 9, 2021.
Activists from Fair Elections for New York, Black Voters Matter and Workers Circle hold a mock funeral for U.S. democracy and called for federal voting rights legislation outside the United States Mission in New York, Dec. 9, 2021.
Andrew Kelly/AP

"Right now," Biden told Muir, there are 10 bipartisan senators sitting down, including Joe Manchin, trying to change the Senate rules -- which have been changed a number of times -- change the Senate rules to accommodate being able to bring up and get passage of, up or down, of major pieces of legislation without requiring 60 votes."

Following Biden's comments to ABC News, a reporter on Thursday asked White House press secretary Jen Psaki if, as some Democrats have called for, Biden would support doing away with the filibuster for other progressive priorities -- such as gun violence prevention, climate change and immigration.

She did not rule it out.

“He's happy to have that conversation with Democrats, and certainly we expect that to be a part of the conversations that will be had in the year ahead," Psaki said.

At a CNN town hall in October, Biden was asked: "When it comes to voting rights, just so I'm clear though, you would entertain the notion of doing away with the filibuster on that one issue, is that correct?"

"And maybe more," the president responded then.

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