The right to filibuster legislation remains in place and Democrats fear that eliminating it could make moderate and independent voters uneasy, alter the character of the Senate and further decrease any attempts at bipartisanship. Democrats from Republican-leaning states have said they do not support the idea.
But Mr. Biden, a product of more than three decades in the Senate who prides himself on his institutional credentials, recently showed more openness to the idea of reducing the power of the filibuster. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said any decision would have to await the election though “nothing’s off the table.” It is clearly on the minds of Senate Democrats as they see a chance to take the majority.
“A lot of us are seriously contemplating that possibility, but I’m not ready to make a commitment at this point,” Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told reporters on Capitol Hill. He said a motivating force was how the Senate “has disintegrated under the abuse of the filibuster by Mitch McConnell.”
Once rarely used, the filibuster has become routine in the Senate as deep polarization set in. In the past, Mr. Obama came close to calling for jettisoning it, but Adam Jentleson, a progressive activist and a top aide to the majority leader at the time, Harry Reid, said Mr. Obama’s framing of the filibuster as a negative force would make it harder for Democrats who had been reluctant to consider the move to stick with that position.
“Not only did he adopt the cause of reform, he cast it as a structural civil rights issue,” said Mr. Jentleson, the author of a coming book on the decline of the Senate. “Obama has reset the debate and given senators a reason to see reform as a positive good, a step they can take to fulfill his vision and erase the legacy of Jim Crow.”
Trying to turn Mr. Obama’s comment on Democratic Senate candidates, Republicans said that eliminating the filibuster would empower the most liberal faction of the Democratic Party and alienate centrist voters.
“Mainstream voters can’t stand what they’re seeing from the woke mob of liberals hijacking cities across America, and these candidates will have to answer for why they want to give them more power,” said Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.