Joe Biden's Filibuster Hypocrisy

He was for the filibuster before he was against it.

By + More

By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Vice President Joe Biden has a short memory.

While speaking Sunday at a fundraising event in Florida, the vice president denounced the Republicans' use of the filibuster to block key Democratic initiatives in the U.S. Senate. "As long as I have served," Politico quoted Biden as saying, "I've never seen, as my uncle once said, the Constitution stood on its head as they've done. This is the first time every single solitary decision has required 60 senators." Adding, "No democracy has survived needing a supermajority," Biden described the parliamentary tactics of the GOP as putting what the paper said was "a dangerous new roadblock in the way of American government."

What is truly amazing about the vice president's observation, however, is that he apparently made it with a straight face. Biden, who served in the Senate for more than 30 years, was a longtime proponent of the filibuster as a way to block Republican presidential appointments and legislative initiatives. He was also an active opponent, on philosophical grounds, of the so-called nuclear option, a Republican effort to change the rules of the Senate to end the filibuster as a way to block judicial nominations. 

Speaking on the Senate floor in May of 2005, Biden said, "At its core, the filibuster is not about stopping a nominee or a bill, it's about compromise and moderation. The nuclear option extinguishes the power of independents and moderates in the Senate. That's it, they're done. Moderates are important if you need to get to 60 votes to satisfy cloture; they are much less so if you only need 50 votes. Let's set the historical record straight. Never has the Senate provided for a certainty that 51 votes could put someone on the bench or pass legislation." 

When the Senate was considering President George W. Bush's nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the United States Supreme Court, Biden held out the prospect of a filibuster to block it. "If he really believes that reapportionment is a questionable decision … then clearly, clearly, you'll find a lot of people, including me, willing to do whatever they can to keep him off the court," Biden said, adding, "That would include a filibuster, if need be." 

During his years in the Senate, Biden could be counted on to routinely join Democratic efforts to support filibusters of Republican programs--from the second President Bush's energy bill to the first President Bush's effort to cut the tax on capital gains in order to stimulate the U.S. economy and blunt the impact of the early-'90s recession. Now that he is vice president, and the entire Obama agenda is imperiled, he has changed his mind in an apparent deathbed conversion. It won't last. 

  • Check out this month's best political cartoons. 
  • Become a political insider: Subscribe to U.S. News Weekly, our digital magazine. 
  • Follow the Thomas Jefferson Street blog on Twitter.