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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

The question Biden needs to answer

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event in Wilmington, Del. on July 28, 2020. Credit: AP/Andrew Harnik

Former Vice President Joe Biden has decided on a running mate. And his historic pick of Sen. Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential nominee reveals a great deal about his current ideological leanings.

But a more important question for Biden isn’t being asked enough: As president, will he or won’t he support overturning the filibuster in the Senate?

That’s the whole ball of wax for a key portion of the electorate. It should be anyway.

Millions of center-right independents and anti-Trump Republicans are considering supporting Biden on Election Day. Some have never before backed a Democrat for president. They’re willing to make the break — this one time  — because of Biden’s reputation as a moderate in his party, and because of their unique distaste for President Donald Trump. 

How much harm can ol’ Joe do in four years, they figure.

That’s a fair rhetorical question where Biden is concerned — Biden with an intact filibuster that is. But Biden sans the filibuster is a completely different story, and conservatives and political moderates deserve to know in advance of voting where he stands on the issue, unequivocally.

Many betting markets are predicting that Democrats will win the White House, narrowly capture the Senate (including through a 50-50 tie with the incoming vice president as the deciding vote) and easily retain control of the House of Representatives in November. Should those predictions prove accurate, Americans will have handed Democrats complete control of the federal government for the first time since the 111th Congress.

But the filibuster was never in serious jeopardy in 2009 when that Congress came in. It is today. Former President Barack Obama has now joined with progressives and other party leaders in calling for its repeal. What was once referred to as the “nuclear option” is becoming mainstream orthodoxy in a fired up Democratic Party seeking to drive through its agenda next year come hell or high water. (President Trump also wants to jettison the filibuster, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel wisely won’t hear of it.)

The filibuster has protected this country from knee-jerk passions and bullying majority rule since shortly after Aaron Burr dispatched Alexander Hamilton at Weehawken. Dispatching the 60-vote Senate cloture safeguard would be an even bigger deal, and Americans should be talking about it with enormous concern. It would constitute a historic and possibly irreparable change in how we are governed.

Biden’s strength is his avuncular nature. He’s a go-along-to-get-along guy that almost anyone would be happy to have a beer with; Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham called him the nicest person in Congress. That's all well and good, but it doesn’t bode well for a presidency in which 51-vote majorities are needed to pass both House and Senate bills. Can anyone imagine Biden vetoing massive tax and spending bills from progressives in his own party? Vetoing anything? I can’t.

A President Joe Biden wouldn’t get to decide whether the filibuster stays or goes under a Democratic Senate; that would be up to the next Senate majority leader. But as the leader of his party heading into this election, he needs to take a clear position.

Tongues will now wag about the Harris’ vice presidential candidacy, and for good reason. Biden’s up there in years, and his choice of a running mate says a lot about his priorities. But his answer to the filibuster question would say even more.

It’s the most important question of this election, and early voting is just around the corner.

William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.