President Joe Biden said Thursday that he would support an exception to the Senate filibuster to codify Roe v. Wade and federally protect access to abortion.
“I believe we have to codify Roe v. Wade in the law and the way to do that is to make sure that Congress votes to do that, and if the filibuster gets in the way, it’s like voting rights, it should be ‘we provide an exception for this’ — require an exception to the filibuster for this action to deal with the Supreme Court decision,” Biden said during a press conference at the NATO summit.
Biden’s comments come on the heels of the consequential Supreme Court decision last Friday to overturn the landmark 1973 decision and deny a constitutional right to abortion. The president has previously been opposed to getting rid of the filibuster — which establishes a 60-vote threshold to move most bills through the Senate — but said Thursday he would do “everything in my power” to protect the right to choose .
The president added he’d be in favor of changing filibuster rules to not only guarantee abortion rights but also a constitutional right to privacy — which he said the Supreme Court “wiped” out with its decision on Roe. He said codifying privacy rights would protect access to abortion as well as a “whole range of issues,” including same-sex marriage.
“I’m the president of the United States of America — that makes me the best messenger,” Biden said. “And I really think that it’s a serious, serious problem that the Court has thrust upon the United States.”
Biden’s support for ending the filibuster is his most concrete call for legislative action yet on preserving abortion rights. With the filibuster as it stands, Democrats almost certainly lack the 60 votes they would need to codify Roe in a 50-50 Senate.
Even with the president publicly throwing his support behind reforming the filibuster, the chances of carving out exceptions to the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for most legislation appear slim.
Opposition to amending the 60-vote threshold from Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) has in recent months stood in the way of passing other legislative priorities for Democrats — including federal election and voting reform bills. While Manchin has expressed support for codifying Roe, neither he nor Sinema have indicated openness to changing Senate rules to preserve abortion rights.
And even if Democrats gain two seats after the midterm elections in November — which could secure enough votes to amend the filibuster — such a carveout would prove useless should Republicans gain control of the House of Representatives in this year’s midterm elections.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), speaking to reporters from Madrid, subtly warned against looking to a weaker filibuster as the answer.
Noting that a Democratic senator is currently out for medical reasons — Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) office announced Friday morning he would have surgery for a broken hip — Durbin said: “I hope he’s back very soon, but that shows the perilous nature of our control when we’re all present and voting.”
“The notion of changing the rules is that you’re really at the mercy of one or two senators who can make that decision for us,” he added. “That doesn’t create the kind of environment where — someone asked about massive institutional change — this is not the environment to be looking for that.”
Biden has faced criticism from Democrats in recent days for not speaking out more forcefully or going far enough in taking action to protect abortion rights — with some from the president’s party calling on him to declare a public health emergency in response to moves by several states to end or severely limit abortion access. But Biden pushed back on that narrative at Thursday’s press conference, insisting that he is the Democrat best positioned to lead the party on protecting abortion rights.
“I’m the only president they got,” he said.
Biden also said at the press conference he would meet Friday with a group of governors once he returns home from the NATO summit about “what actions they think I should be taking” to protect abortion and privacy rights. With the Supreme Court’s reversal on Americans’ constitutional right to abortion access, the power to enact anti-abortion legislation now rests with states.
“I feel extremely strongly that I’m going to do everything in my power which I legally can do in terms of executive orders as well as push the Congress and the public,” Biden said.
Andrew Desiderio contributed to this report.