Biden White House hosts AOC, progressive lawmakers to discuss filibuster reform

The meeting signals potential for a spirit of collaboration between the Biden administration and progressives

By Jon Skolnik
March 26, 2021 7:44PM (UTC)
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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Joe Biden (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

White House chief of staff Ron Klain met privately with a number of progressive lawmakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y. and Andy Levin, D-Mich, to discuss the filibuster and the minimum wage, signaling potential for a spirit of collaboration between the Biden administration and left-leaning Democrats. 

According to Axios, Klain did not say whether Biden would move to support or oppose the filibuster, which has proven a significant roadblock for Democrats looking to approve gun bills in the Senate. Democrats have already passed two in the House, according to Insider, but it is extremely unlikely they'll see the support they need in the Senate. 

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There have been talks of removing the filibuster (i.e. the "going nuclear") in order to skirt around an obstructionist GOP. It would take a simple majority in the Senate to eliminate the filibuster via cloture, a very doable maneuver with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking senatorial vote. Republicans have warned, however, that nuking the filibuster would end all hope for bipartisanship. 

Biden has gradually inched toward a more progressive outlook on the filibuster, but also expressed hesitations about scrapping it entirely, stressing the need for incremental reform. "Let's deal with the abuse first," he said in a press conference. "If we have to, if there's complete lockdown and chaos as a consequence of the filibuster, then we'll have to go beyond what I'm talking about."

Although no deal on the filibuster was struck, Klain did reaffirm President Biden's commitment to enacting a $15 national minimum wage. Currently, the federal minimum wage sits at $7.25 per hour, a mandate that has not changed since 2009. There was a progressive push to raise the minimum wage as part of the newest coronavirus relief package, as Salon reported last month. However, the Senate Parliamentarian parried the effort by ruling that it went against the rules of the budget reconciliation process, a legislative maneuver Democrats used to push the bill through despite significant Repblican opposition.

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Last week, Klain met with leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, including the group's chair, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. During the meeting, the group pressed for Biden's commitment to progressive stances on a number of topics, including immigration, transportation, climate change, healthcare, child care, and paid leave, as Politico reported.

In the past, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has praised Klain. When he was appointed in November, she tweeted, "Good news and an encouraging choice." According to the Daily Beast, Klain has an open channel of communication with Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. "Progressives are a big part of our party and making sure their voices are heard here at the White House is a big part of my job," Klain said in an interview

As Axios notes, the existence of a backchannel between the White House and the Congressional Progressive Caucus might help the President push through another sweeping piece of legislation against GOP opposition: a $3 trillion infrastructure and jobs package. According to The Washington Post, the bill is likely to contain provisions such as free community college, universal pre kindergarten, a newly expanded child tax credit, and more. 

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"The country has not had a real infrastructure bill since Dwight Eisenhower set up the highway system," said former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, D. "This could do more for American manufacturing and blue-collar jobs than anything else. It's crucial not just for Biden's legacy but for the legacy of the American government in the next decade. It's a seminal moment for the country."


Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik is a staff writer at Salon. His work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Baffler, AlterNet, and The New York Daily News.

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Aoc Democrats Filibuster Joe Biden Senate