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Biden to push changing Senate filibuster rules to clear the way for sweeping elections overhaul

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'We will choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice'

MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

President Joe Biden is expected to endorse changing long-standing Senate filibuster rules in order to push through a sweeping federal overhaul of U.S. elections during a speech in Atlanta, Georgia, on Tuesday.

What are the details?

The president foreshadowed fundamentally altering the filibuster during a CNN town hall in October. But at the time he said he couldn't support the controversial move until his "Build Back Better" social spending agenda had passed, because doing so would have angered moderate Democrats and killed the legislation.

But now, with the economic item behind him, Biden is committed to advancing the elections bill by amending the legislative filibuster, a parliamentary rule dating back to the 1800s that requires 60 votes for most legislation to pass in the Senate.

According to a readout of the president's remarks viewed by the New York Times, Biden will voice support for a filibuster "carve-out" specifically to advance the Freedom to Vote Act, rather than a wholesale elimination of the rule.

To support his position, the president will reportedly cite "repeated obstruction" by Republicans and contend that the filibuster has protected "extreme attacks on the most basic constitutional right," an administration official said.

“The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation,” Biden will say in the speech, the Times reported. “Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice? I know where I stand.”

What else?

The Times characterized Biden's approach as the "most significant step he will have taken to pressure lawmakers to act" on the issue. But, aggressive as it is, it still may not be enough to woo his supporters, many of whom plan to skip the speech in protest of his administration's inability to get the legislation done.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a coalition of voting rights groups plans to boycott Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris' visit, slamming the Democratic ticket for offering nothing but "platitudes" and "bland promises" in return for their votes in the 2020 election.

“Georgia voters made history and made their voices heard, overcoming obstacles, threats, and suppressive laws to deliver the White House and the US Senate,” the groups said in a statement. “In return, a visit has been forced on them, requiring them to accept political platitudes and repetitious, bland promises. Such an empty gesture, without concrete action, without signs of real, tangible work, is unacceptable.”

Prominent progressive Georgian Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams will reportedly also miss the speech.

Anything else?

It should be noted that even with the president's backing, a filibuster amendment will have to be agreed to by moderate Democrats such as Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) to take effect, since Republicans appear united in opposition. And both Democratic senators have repeatedly declared opposition to the move.

Last week, when questioned about the possibility of a filibuster "carve-out," Manchin seemed to criticize the idea of creating a one-time exception to the rule.

"Any time there's a carve-out, you eat the whole turkey. There's nothing left," he said.

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