President Biden on Thursday said he would support changing the filibuster rules in the Senate to codify a woman’s access to abortion into federal law passed by Congress.
“I believe we have to codify Roe v. Wade in the law, and the way to do that is to make sure Congress votes to do that,” Mr. Biden said at a press conference in Madrid, Spain, at the conclusion of a three-day summit with the heads of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. “And if the filibuster gets in the way, it’s like voting rights, we require an exception to the filibuster for this action to deal with the Supreme Court decision.”
A change to the filibuster rules would make it easier for the Senate to pass legislation on abortion rights with a simple majority, instead of the 60 votes required for most measures.
Democrats currently hold the Senate majority with 50 senators and have Vice President Kamala Harris for a tie-breaking vote, meaning Democrats can’t advance much of their agenda with the filibuster in place.
Mr. Biden, who long opposed dropping the filibuster to pass legislation, announced last year that he would be open to altering it so Congress could advance two bills that would overhaul U.S. elections. However, that call failed to gain any traction, and the bills never passed.
It is unlikely that a carve-out for abortion would gain widespread support from two centrist Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who have expressed doubts about changing the filibuster.
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Still, the White House is desperate to take control of the abortion debate. The Biden administration has been taking heat from progressive lawmakers over its inaction since the Supreme Court last week struck down Roe v. Wade, overturning decades of women’s right to abortion services.
Progressives have slammed the White House for its failure to take stronger action, given that the draft of the decision was leaked weeks ago.
Mr. Biden has expressed dismay over the decision but has offered no tangible paths to protect abortion access following the ruling.
The White House has dismissed taking executive action because it would not impact states that have banned or limited abortions. The administration strongly pushed back against a plan offered by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat, to offer abortion services on federal land.
Mr. Biden said he will meet Friday in Washington with governors who have moved to protect abortion rights.
The president also said the domestic turmoil over abortion has destabilized his efforts to keep NATO nations united against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but downplayed the impact, emphasizing that the military alliance still remains strong.
“The one thing that has been destabilizing is the outrageous behavior of the Supreme Court of the United States and overruling not only Roe v. Wade, but essentially challenging the right to privacy,” Mr. Biden said. “We’ve been a leader in the world in terms of personal rights and privacy rights. And it is a mistake, in my view, for the Supreme Court to do what it did.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said criticizing the Supreme Court on the world stage was “unmerited and dangerous.”
“He’s upset that the court said the people, through their elected representatives, will have a say on abortion policy,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement. “That does not destabilize democracy — it affirms it. By contrast, it is behavior like the president’s that undermines equal justice and the rule of law.”
Still, Mr. Biden downplayed the impact the Supreme Court’s decision last week has had on foreign relations. His remarks came at a press conference following the conclusion of two separate European summits among leaders of NATO and the heads of the seven largest economies, known as the Group of Seven or G-7.
“I have not seen anyone come up to me and do anything, nor have you heard, them say anything but ‘thank you for America’s leadership. You’ve changed the dynamic of NATO and G-7,’ ” he said.
Mr. Biden also dismissed the impact of the soaring inflation and record-level gas prices on his efforts to achieve his goals during the summits, saying America’s economy is stronger than some of its allies. But he quickly returned to the abortion issue, vowing to codify Roe v. Wade to guarantee women the right to an abortion.
Several leaders who have strong relationships with the U.S. took the unusual move of weighing in on domestic matters this week. Among the harshest critics were leaders who stood shoulder to shoulder with Mr. Biden as the G-7 summit kicked off earlier this week.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the Supreme Court decision “horrific” and “a devastating setback.” He said he can’t imagine “the fear and anger” American women are feeling.
“No government, politician or man should tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her body. I want women in Canada to know that we will always stand up for your right to choose,” he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron declared abortion “a fundamental right” that must be protected. He accused the U.S. Supreme Court of undermining women’s liberties.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the ruling “a big step backward,” and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the decision shows “there is still a long way to go for gender justice.”
“Women’s rights are threatened. We must defend them resolutely,” Mr. Scholz said.