A sitting president obviously has no direct role over how congressional chambers conduct their business, but President Obama’s newly announced support for filibuster reform is still an important step in the larger effort.
Jumping squarely into the white-hot debate currently being waged in the Senate, the White House on Wednesday said it supports Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s efforts to change the rules of the upper chamber.
“The President has said many times that the American people are demanding action,” White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in a statement to The Huffington Post. “They want to see progress, not partisan delay games. That hasn’t changed, and the President supports Majority Leader Reid’s efforts to reform the filibuster process.”
“Over the past few years important pieces of legislation like the DREAM Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act, and the American Jobs Act weren’t even allowed to be debated, and judicial nominations and key members of the administration are routinely forced to wait months for an up-or-down vote,” Pfeiffer added. “The American people deserve a United States Senate that puts them first, instead of partisan delay.”
This is, as best as I can tell, the first time the Obama White House has explicitly endorsed institutional Senate reforms. Indeed, as Sam Stein noted, there was a related effort two years ago, and at the time, the president stayed out of the fight.
If Obama doesn’t get a say in congressional procedural matters, why does today’s statement matter? For a couple of reasons, actually.
First, it raises the stakes considerably – it’s one thing for a handful of senators to seek changes; it’s another when the White House agrees that the Senate is a dysfunctional mess and starts to demand reforms.
Second, though most Senate Democrats appear to support proposed changes, it’s not yet clear if all of the necessary votes are in place, and some Dems may yet go wobbly. Obama’s unambiguous position should help stiffen spines, making clear to the caucus this is important to party leaders on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.