He and most of its members have approved what they see as a limited change to the chamber rules. Even so, Schumer has set the stage for a future majority with a slightly larger margin, whether Democratic or Republican, to follow where he failed and perhaps go further.

Schumer gave Manchin months of space to work on a compromise election bill, despite activists pushing him to act faster. The leader’s insistence on a vote that will split his caucus has only sparked more anger at West Virginia and Arizona’s Sinema, which he needs to run the rest of President Joe Biden’s agenda. Still, Schumer says he had no choice.

“We sent our best envoy to speak to the Republicans. It was Joe Manchin. And we gave it months,” Schumer said in an interview Wednesday. “The epiphany that happened when the rules changed? He didn’t even have any bites.

Though social spending, coronavirus relief and infrastructure have consumed the Senate at times this Congress, no topic has fascinated Democrats like voting and electoral reform. Schumer engineered the first Democratic version of Bill “S. 1” – designating it as the party’s top priority. Even when senators were digging into other legislation, Schumer was still maneuvering on elections, calling weekly meetings with a small group of senators for months.

His long arc of aligning Democrats for a bill designed to tackle gerrymandering, expand early voting and make Election Day a federal holiday ended up persuading literally dozens of them to change the filibuster. systematic – despite previous written vows that they would do no such thing. In quick succession this summer, the Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Angus King (I-Maine) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) informed Schumer that they would support a rule change.

This same trio tried and failed to convince Manchin on their side.

“Really, he worked every way he could to try to get us to yes. This is the last piece of the puzzle. If that doesn’t, then he’s literally flipped every stone in the crick. He did it all,” Tester said of Schumer.

There are no moral victories in the Senate: bills pass or fail. And Schumer repeatedly acknowledged that this was a fight he might not be able to win.

Sinema and Manchin support the Democrats’ electoral reforms but fall short of the 60-vote threshold to pass them, ensuring the legislation won’t ultimately succeed. However, at noon on Wednesday, the rule change had won over Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mark Kelly (D-Arizona), all previously reluctant to tackle the filibuster.

At the start of last year, “maybe only half would be in favor of changing the filibuster rule. And in the fall, it grew,” Schumer said. “We have 48.”

Sinema and Manchin, however, have been remarkably consistent in their opposition to the filibuster changes. In a 2019 interview, Sinema bluntly warned Schumer and Democratic leaders that they “won’t get my vote” to change the supermajority requirement. Manchin voted against his party’s decision in 2013 to end the filibuster for most nominations and vowed last January that “I will not vote in this Congress” to change the threshold.

Sinema declined to comment for this story. In a speech on the floor Wednesday, Manchin said Schumer should hold onto the Senate ballot and election package for weeks rather than quickly move to a rule change to pass the bill.

“We could have kept the voting rights legislation as pending business for the Senate today, next week, a month from now,” Manchin said. “It is important.”

Just a year ago, the positions of Manchin and Sinema were a boon for Schumer; at that time, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to sign an organizing resolution for a 50-50 Senate without Schumer’s vow not to change the filibuster. Schumer never made that promise, although two of his moderates did.

Yet the Democratic leader has been deliberate and almost painstaking in his fight against the filibuster, to a degree that his predecessor, the late Senator Harry Reid, was not after he left the Senate and campaigned against the demand. of the qualified majority. Schumer called together a small group of centrist Democrats for “family conversations” about rule changes after another failed vote on election legislation early last year. He made his first explicit push in December, after Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) blocked a bipartisan amendment deal on a defense bill.

At that time, Schumer was mostly focused on passing Biden’s $1.7 trillion climate and social spending bill. When Manchin derailed this, Schumer quickly moved on to voting legislation, while acknowledging it was an “uphill” battle.

Schumer generally touts the unity of his caucus, refusing to engage in protracted debates on issues that divide his 50 members. This time, the Democrats agreed to isolate the recalcitrant.

“There has been a lot of anxiety about what priority this is for us. And that, I think, makes it clear that there is no higher priority,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

Republicans see the real left-wing pressure on Schumer coming from outside the chamber.

“He feels incredible pressure from his progressive base. And also, his own political future may also hinge on his performance to avoid a tough primary,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a frequent sparring partner of Schumer.

Schumer is up for re-election but has yet to attract a primary opponent, despite GOP hopes that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) will challenge him. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (DN.Y.) said it’s “extremely cynical” to believe Schumer’s actions as a leader stem from a primary threat that she says won’t materialize anyway: “I doubt”.

There are other political considerations going on. As Republicans plan to re-elect Democratic incumbents this fall, the four Democrats facing the toughest Senate races all back Schumer’s rule change.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) said Wednesday that the Senate should be reinstated “at a time when we can debate these issues,” and Sen. Maggie Hassan (DN.H.) said when she Sworn to protect the buccaneer, she “never imagined that today’s Republican Party would fail to defend democracy.”

Kelly simply said Schumer’s “prerogative” is to call votes. “My job is to come here and represent my constituents the best way I know how. And to vote on the legislation, even if it won’t pass.

Some Democrats have suggested Schumer’s move on Wednesday was just the start of a long campaign to unseat Manchin and Sinema. Another unilateral vote on changing the rules this year is not off the table for the party.

But as Schumer approached the record vote he craved, he still sounded a note of willingness to continue working with Republicans. Even, it seems, about overhauling the rules of the chamber.

“We need to restore the Senate,” Schumer said. “What I intend to do on the rule changes is get a group together, maybe even bipartisan, to come up with some rule changes and see what we can do to improve the Senate.”