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Democrats set for filibuster brawl amid escalating tensions

Democrats are setting the stage for a massive brawl over the fate of the legislative filibuster as they face growing pressure to get rid of the roadblock.

With Republicans waging their first successful filibuster attempt, and more fights looming on the horizon, Democrats are driving toward a tipping point on what to do about the procedural hurdle, which requires most legislation to get 60 votes to make it through the Senate. 

In June, a number of high-profile measures important to Democrats seem set to be blocked by the GOP’s filibuster, which supporters hope will convince wary Democrats to back ending the filibuster. The blocking of Democratic priorities will certainly enrage those liberals who already want the filibuster killed off.

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Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerFive takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision Senate confirms Chris Inglis as first White House cyber czar Schumer vows to only pass infrastructure package that is 'a strong, bold climate bill' MORE (D-N.Y.) signaled that he views it as a crucial test for his majority amid growing impatience about the slow pace of some behind-the-scenes negotiations.

“We have also seen the limits of bipartisanship and the resurgence of Republican obstructionism. ... Senate Democrats are doing everything we can to move legislation in a bipartisan way when and where the opportunity exists,” Schumer wrote in a letter to his caucus. 

“The June work period will be extremely challenging. I want to be clear that the next few weeks will be hard and will test our resolve as a Congress and a conference,” he added. 

The burgeoning debate is likely to be influenced by a chaotic juggling act from last week, when Senate Republicans used their first filibuster under Biden to block a bill creating an independent commission to probe the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. 

The setback, while widely expected, poured fuel on calls from a growing number of Democratic senators and progressives to change the Senate’s rules. 

“I think we should not perpetuate McConnell's bastardization of the Senate filibuster,” Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetSchumer vows to only pass infrastructure package that is 'a strong, bold climate bill' Past criticism of Trump becomes potent weapon in GOP primaries Hillicon Valley: Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC | Lawmakers urge Biden to be tough on cyber during summit with Putin | TSA working on additional security regulations following Colonial Pipeline hack MORE (D-Colo.) told MSNBC’s “Meet the Press," referring to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham quips key to working with Trump: We both 'like him' The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay Democrats scramble to unify before election bill brawl MORE (R-Ky.). 

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A coalition of 57 progressive groups released a joint statement arguing that Democrats could either “protect the filibuster or deliver on critical and popular policies.”

“The path forward is clear: The filibuster must be eliminated as a weapon that a minority of senators can wield to veto popular democracy-protecting bills,” the groups said. 

Democrats aren’t going to nix the filibuster because of the vote, but they predict it will influence caucus discussions by raising questions about what Republicans won’t seek to block.

“We wouldn’t change it on the commission. But the vote on the commission is very instructive to people about, ‘Alright, well we couldn’t even get an agreement on this,’” said Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Defense: Pentagon pulling some air defense assets from Middle East | Dems introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for discrimination | White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine Democrats introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for government discrimination Democrats scramble to unify before election bill brawl MORE (D-Va.). 

“When we run up against priorities that are really important ... and they use the filibuster to block it, we’re not talking now about the filibuster in the abstract. We’re talking about, ‘Wow, the nation really needed this,’” Kaine added. 

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterCentrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle On The Money: Sanders: Democrats considering trillion spending package | Weekly jobless claims rise for first time since April Sanders: Democrats considering trillion spending package MORE (D-Mont.) said “of course” his own thinking on the filibuster was influenced by Republicans using it to block the commission vote. 

“I didn’t come here to do nothing,” Tester added, while noting that he hopes the Senate could find a way to function with the filibuster. 

The setback on the commission vote comes as Democrats, and some Republicans, were also frustrated by a group of conservative senators slow-walking a debate on China-related legislation, even after a lengthy committee process and amendment votes on the Senate floor. 

“None of this is an advertisement that the current rules are working,” said Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyEnd the practice of hitting children in public schools Public option fades with little outcry from progressives Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle MORE (D-Conn.). 

Those tensions — both from seeing that so-called regular order isn’t going to stop a small group of senators from gumming up the works and the commission filibuster — are only likely to ramp up as Schumer plots a June full of contentious policy and political fights. 

He is vowing to give a sweeping bill to overhaul federal elections a vote in June, as well as a paycheck bill previously filibustered by Republicans under the Obama administration. He’s also mulling bringing up a LGTBQ protection bill that previously passed the House and gun reforms amid slow-going talks that Murphy is leading with GOP senators. 

Any push to change the filibuster will set up a heated debate within the Democratic caucus, but supporters of changing the rules hope that by forcing Republicans to block bills, they can convince reluctant members to dump the filibuster.

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Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinHollywood goes all in for the For the People Act The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle MORE (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaCentrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle Democrats scramble to unify before election bill brawl The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? MORE (D-Ariz.) oppose nixing the filibuster, and others are viewed as wary of gutting it entirely.

Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinOvernight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 COVID-19 long-haulers press Congress for paid family leave Joe Manchin keeps Democrats guessing on sweeping election bill MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Democratic senator, hinted that such members are going to start facing calls to justify why they support keeping the legislative filibuster as-is. 

“For some of my colleagues on the Democratic side, who support the filibuster in the extreme, we're going to have to have an explanation,” Durbin said. “Look at the extreme. It is just indefensible.” 

Schumer has stopped short of supporting changing the Senate rules, only saying that everything is on the table as Democrats try to enact a “bold” agenda. But he predicted that the recent setbacks on both the commission and the China legislation might sway members of his caucus. 

“I think the events ... probably made every member of our caucus realize that a lot of our Republican colleagues are not willing to work with us on a whole lot of issues, even issues where we try to be bipartisan,” Schumer said. 

But it’s not clear the dual setbacks got them closer to winning over key holdouts. 

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Manchin fumed over the GOP’s refusal to negotiate on the Jan. 6 commission, issuing a rare, eyebrow-raising joint statement with Sinema urging Republicans to work with them to figure out an agreement. 

But he told reporters repeatedly that he would not change the filibuster rule over the vote. 

“I’m not separating our country, OK?” Manchin said. “I don’t know what you all don’t understand about this. You ask the same question every day. It’s wrong.” 

And Republicans appear confident that while Manchin and Sinema are frustrated, the two won’t support nixing the legislative filibuster. 

“They’ve been very firm in their defense of the legislative filibuster for obvious reasons,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTrump endorses Murkowski challenger Yellen: Disclosure of tax data to ProPublica a 'very serious situation' Sanders won't vote for bipartisan infrastructure deal MORE (R-S.D.). “I talk to both of them a lot, and I don’t see that happening. I think they’re committed to that.” 

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Senate is where dreams go to die Federal government to observe Juneteenth holiday on Friday Joe Manchin keeps Democrats guessing on sweeping election bill MORE (R-Texas), who has teamed up with Sinema on legislation, added, “They have principled objections to eliminating the filibuster.”