MADRID – President Joe Biden called for altering Senate filibuster rules to codify into law abortion rights and privacy protections, the most aggressive position he has staked out on reproductive rights and one that could reshape a roiling national debate ahead of the midterm elections.
Biden, who previously has been reluctant to change the decades-old rules in institutions like the Senate in service of Democratic priorities, took a more combative approach in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision last week to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Biden’s comments on changing the filibuster came after Democrats had criticized what they saw as a lackluster response to a tectonic shift in abortion rights, and after many of the world leaders with whom he had spent the past week had released statements critical of the Supreme Court’s decision.
“I believe we have to codify Roe v. Wade in the law, and the way to do that is to make sure the Congress votes to do that,” he said here in Madrid at a news conference at the end of a five-day foreign trip focused on Ukraine. “And if the filibuster gets in the way, it’s like voting rights; it should be – we provide an exception for this.”
Biden also amplified his criticism of the Supreme Court in a way that the longtime former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has historically avoided, but in recent days has increasingly embraced.
“I really think that it’s a serious, serious problem that the court has thrust upon the United States, not just in terms of the right to choose, but in terms of the right to who you can marry, the right to a whole range of issues related to privacy,” he said.
Earlier in the news conference, he also railed against the Supreme Court. While he rebuffed the suggestion that world leaders raised it with him during his meetings, he said he viewed the court’s actions as a major problem for the country.
“The one thing that has been destabilizing is the outrageous behavior of the Supreme Court of the United States and overruling not only Roe v. Wade, but essentially challenging the right to privacy,” he said. “We’ve been a leader in the world in terms of personal rights and privacy rights, and it is a mistake in my view for the Supreme Court to do what it did.”
He bristled at the idea that world leaders had changed their view of the United States, even though numerous leaders in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision criticized the direction the country was heading in.
“They do not think that. You haven’t found one person – one world leader – to say America is going backward,” Biden said. “America is better positioned to lead the world than we ever have been.”
When asked whether he was the best messenger on the issue, he first chuckled, then defiantly responded by saying: “I am the president of the United States of America. That makes me the best messenger.”
The pathway toward changing the filibuster is still much in doubt. While Democrats have a tenuous majority – with 50 seats, and Vice President Kamala Harris able to break a tie – not all have been supportive of changing filibuster rules to pass legislation. But Biden himself has at times been resistant, so it’s unclear whether he can sway others, including Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.
After a draft decision of the repeal leaked in May, Sinema responded by defending the filibuster, pointing to its use in the past so Democrats could prevent Republicans from instituting abortion restrictions.
“Protections in the Senate safeguarding against the erosion of women’s access to health care have been used half-a-dozen times in the past 10 years, and are more important now than ever,” she said.
The news conference came at the end of a six-day trip where Biden met with the Group of Seven in Germany, and attended a NATO summit here in Madrid. Much of the twin gatherings were centered around solidifying global alliances backing Ukraine in its fight against Russia.
Asked how long Americans should continue expecting to pay higher gas prices at the pump as a result of the war, Biden said, “As long as it takes.”
“Russia cannot, in fact, defeat Ukraine and move beyond Ukraine,” he said. “This is a critical, critical position for the world here.”
He said he was trying other avenues to stem the rise of gas prices, and sought to blame Putin for the hike.
“The bottom line is ultimately the reason why gas prices are up is because of Russia,” he said. “Russia, Russia, Russia.”
Asked about an endgame for the war, or of the United States’ support of Ukraine in it, Biden said, “We are going to support Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
Biden in many ways marveled at how quickly and aggressively the alliances worked to reshape its posture. They decided to admit two new countries, Finland and Sweden, into NATO. They agreed to increase troop levels on the eastern flank as a way to deter Putin from invading other countries.
“Putin thought he could break the transatlantic alliance. He tried to weaken us,” he said. “He expected our resolve to fracture, but he’s getting exactly what he did not want. He wanted the Finlandization of NATO. He got the NATOization of Finland instead.”
He also remarked about how much things have changed among the NATO alliance since the last time it drafted a mission statement 12 years ago.
“The world has changed, changed a great deal since then,” he said. “And NATO is changing as well.”
His comments on the filibuster seemed to provide some indication that he wants U.S. institutions, which he has long defended as resilient, to adapt to changing times as well.
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