Sasse Reads Biden’s 2005 Filibuster Defense on Senate Floor: ‘God Save Us from That Fate’
Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) spent over an hour on the Senate floor Wednesday night reading verbatim a 2005 speech from Joe Biden decrying the “terrible message” of changing the filibuster.
Sasse, speaking for more than an hour, read Biden’s 5,000-word speech in character — which the then-Delaware Senator called at the time “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.”
Biden argued vociferously that ending the filibuster “would eviscerate the Senate and turn it into the House of Representatives.”
“It is not only a bad idea, it upsets the constitutional design and it disservices the country,” the speech reads. “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.”
While Biden said that “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.” Biden went on to cite numerous historical examples to illustrate the point.
He added that “the Senate ought not act rashly by changing its rules to satisfy a strong-willed majority acting in the heat of the moment.”
“Proponents of the ‘nuclear option’ argue that their proposal is simply the latest iteration of a growing trend towards majoritarianism in the Senate. God save us from that fate, if it is true,” he stated. “. . . Put simply, the ‘nuclear option’ changes the rules midstream. Once the Senate starts changing the rules outside of its own rules, which is what the nuclear option does, there is nothing to stop a temporary majority from doing so whenever a particular rule would pose an obstacle.”
“Adopting the ‘nuclear option’ would change this fundamental understanding and unbroken practice of what the Senate is all about,” Biden continued. “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.”
Biden’s address came as then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R., Tenn.) warned that he could use the “nuclear option” to push through President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees despite Democratic-led filibusters. Republicans held a 55-45 majority in the Senate at the time, and Democrats threatened to grind Senate business to a halt if Frist went through with his threat. Eventually, a group of 14 senators — seven Democrats and seven Republicans — agreed to a deal allowing three appellate-court nominees to move forwards and ending the crisis.
Under the leadership of Harry Reid, Democrats subsequently executed the “nuclear option” on the judicial filibuster in 2013. Biden, then the vice president, said he supported the move.
After his White House reiterated earlier this month that Biden preferred “not to make changes” to the filibuster, the president appeared open to filibuster reform in an interview with ABC News, saying “it’s getting to the point where, you know, democracy is having a hard time functioning.”