Senate Democrats are making a final plea for their own colleagues to support changing the filibuster to enact voting rights legislation ahead of a high-profile showdown that is expected to come to a head as soon as Wednesday.
The Senate is not expected to take a vote on advancing voting rights legislation until 6:30 p.m., and Democrats are using the day to go to the Senate floor to push for voting legislation, even though they do not have the 50 votes needed to change the rules and allow the bill to pass without GOP support.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) offered veiled pushback to Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who support the 60-vote filibuster, noting that there were "a few" Democrats who believe the filibuster "helps bring us together."
"I don't see ... evidence of that at all, and I think the majority of my colleagues would agree with that. But even for those who feel that the filibuster is a good thing and helps bring us together, I would ask this question: Isn't the protection of voting rights, the most fundamental wellspring of this democracy, more important?" Schumer asked.
"Isn't protecting voting rights and preventing their diminution more important than a rule in the Senate, which has not always been in existence and was not envisioned by the Founders? That is the question we should ask," Schumer said.
Typically, when Schumer speaks in the morning, the Senate chamber is largely empty. But underscoring the importance of the debate for Senate Democrats, most were seated at their desks while Schumer spoke.
Democrat after Democrat stood from the desks and echoed Schumer's push, marking an unusually busy period of activity for a Senate floor that can go for hours without a vote or a speech on a routine day of the Senate.
"For those who are witnessing this, this is a rare moment in the history of this chamber. In recent history, it's rare because we're here. Half of the seats are occupied in the United States Senate. This is a rare occurrence because it is rare that we come together to debate, to amend or to even exercise the authority given to us as United States senators," said Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat.
Democrats view voting rights as crucial because GOP-controlled states have enacted new rules that tighten voting restrictions in the wake of the 2020 presidential election, which former President Trump has falsely claimed was stolen.
"It is no coincidence that after more Americans voted than in the history of this country in the 2020 election that suddenly there was a slew, a flood of state election laws meant to suppress the votes of Americans," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who chairs the Senate Rules Committee.
Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), recounting efforts by Republican legislators in his own state, argued that "nothing less than the very future of our democracy is at stake, and we must act or risk losing what so many Americans have fought for and have died for nearly 250 years."
But Republicans, who have argued that the legislation represents a federal overreach, are expected to block the Democratic bill from getting the 60 votes needed to move forward.
Democrats "will try to use fear and panic to smash the Senate, silence millions of Americans and seize control of democracy," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.
McConnell added that if Democrats successfully changed the filibuster, Republicans would retaliate by making day-to-day life difficult for Democrats trying to run the Senate.
"The Senate in nuclear winter would not be a hospitable place for either side. As then-Sen. Obama explained a decade and a half ago, if the majority chooses to end the filibuster, if they choose to change the rules and put an end to Democratic debate, then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse," McConnell said.
Former President Obama has since come out in support of a rules change for voting rights legislation.
After Republicans block the voting rights legislation, Schumer is expected to try to change the rules by getting rid of the 60-vote hurdle for voting rights legislation while leaving it intact for other issues.
Instead, under the proposed rules change, the Senate would use a talking filibuster for voting legislation. That would allow opponents to slow it down, but the bill would ultimately be able to pass with a simple majority.
But that effort will likely fail, because Democrats need total unity from all 50 of their caucus members and Manchin and Sinema are still opposed.
Their stances have infuriated progressive activists and some of their own colleagues, who have floated potential primary challenges.
The public infighting has raised eyebrows among Republicans, who are questioning lashing out at the two members Democrats will also need to win over if they are going to revive President Biden's Build Back Better legislation.
"The one thing you don't want to do is start publicly attacking them," said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican.