Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on Friday said she is “open” to changing the way that filibuster rules are used in the Senate, signaling a significant development from a longtime defender of the procedure.
“Ideally the Senate can reach bipartisan agreement on those issues, as well as on a voting rights bill. But if that proves impossible and Republicans continue to abuse the filibuster by requiring cloture votes, I’m open to changing the way the Senate filibuster rules are used,” she said in a statement issued Friday night.
The statement comes after President Joe Biden encouraged reform, urging a return to a talking filibuster that would require a bill’s opponents to speak on the Senate floor and explain their opposition. “That is an idea worth discussing,” Feinstein said in the statement.
“I don’t want to turn away from Senate traditions, but I also don’t believe one party should be able to prevent votes on important bills by abusing the filibuster,” she added.
The Friday statement illustrates a surprising shift from a legislator in the Senate of nearly three decades.
The California Democrat told Politico earlier this week that she was “undecided” about changes to the filibuster and had concerns about what would happen if Republicans regain control of the Senate.
“It is one of the reasons I am hesitant,” she said at the time.
Late last summer, Feinstein had appeared to reject talk of reform saying in August that the filibuster’s “sobering effect” on the chamber was “healthy.”
“I think it’s a part of Senate tradition, which creates a sobering effect on the body, which is healthy,” Feinstein said during an Insider interview in August.
Weeks later, as conversations grew over potential to expand the Supreme Court, Feinstein remained skeptical of making changes to the tradition.
“I think the filibuster serves a purpose. It is not often used, it’s often less used now than when I first came, and I think it’s part of the Senate that differentiates itself,” she told NBC News in September.
Feinstein’s latest suggestion of an openness to reform comes as a growing group of Democratic senators have pushed for change, with some even saying the filibuster should be abolished altogether.
“There are many significant issues Congress needs to address,” said Feinstein in her Friday statement, touching on the recent mass shooting at Atlanta-area spas, and her longstanding effort to address both gun laws and violence against women. Those efforts have gained fresh momentum in the wake of a suspected Georgia man gunning down six women of Asian-descent and two others this week.
Feinstein’s appetite for reform follows a push by Biden who called for a return to a “talking filibuster,” rather than doing away with it altogether during an interview earlier in the week.
“I don’t think that you have to eliminate the filibuster; you have to do it what it used to be when I first got to the Senate back in the old days,” Biden said during an ABC News interview on Tuesday. “You had to stand up and command the floor. You had to keep talking.”
Earlier this week, citing the HR1 voting rights package, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) signaled a shift in attitude about the filibuster and an openness to change.
While understandably rapt attention has been turned to Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who have been outspoken in their support of the procedure, less focus has been paid to Feinstein and Heinrich who were once signatories to a bipartisan letter to Senate leadership led by Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Chris Coons’ (D-DE) to preserve the filibuster and now appear to be reversing course.