By Jeff Mason and Jarrett Renshaw
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House on Friday offered a strong signal that it is preparing to seek changes soon to a long-standing Senate tradition that has allowed Republicans to block voting rights legislation and other major Democratic initiatives.
Democratic President Joe Biden, who spent 36 years in the Senate, has previously opposed any significant overhaul of a Senate rule known as the filibuster, which requires 60 of the 100 senators to agree on most legislation.
His opposition has angered Democrats and activists who say an arcane rule should not stand in the way of important issues such as voting rights and immigration.
“I expect you’ll hear more from the president about it in the coming weeks,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday about the filibuster. Asked what more he would want to address with filibuster reform beyond voting rights, Psaki said to “stay tuned.”
During a televised town hall event on Thursday, Biden said the Senate should “fundamentally alter” the filibuster process, but did not offer specifics on how.
The White House’s potential shift on the issue comes after the latest successful effort by Republicans to block Democratic legislation aimed at thwarting restrictive new voting laws enacted in Republican-led states. On Wednesday, Republicans used the filibuster to block beginning a debate on the measure.
When Republicans control the White House and the Senate, Democrats have used the filibuster as well.
Psaki suggested Biden had lost patience with Republican resistance to Democrats’ ideas on voting rights, saying the president is “frustrated” and “disappointed.”
“When a hand has been extended by Democrats to work together to protect the fundamental right, Republicans have not only recoiled, they have blocked the … ability to make any semblance of progress,” Psaki said.
While Democrats are united on voting rights, they are not unified in whether to overhaul the filibuster. U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, has publicly opposed eliminating the filibuster, even for specific issues.
With a 50-50 split in the Senate, Democrats would need all of its members to support changes.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Jarrett Renshaw; additional reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)