By Steve Benen

The need for federal legislation to strengthen and protect democracy should be obvious. After all, as regular readers know, Republican officials across multiple states have spent much of 2021 placing indefensible hurdles between Americans and ballot boxes through voter-suppression measures.

At the same time, GOP officials are hijacking election administration systems. And actively undermining public confidence in election results. And positioning far-right, anti-election ideologues to serve as Secretaries of State, whose offices oversee elections. And targeting poll workers. And exploring ways to make it more difficult for Americans to turn to the courts in the hopes of protecting voting rights.

And empowering heavy-handed poll watchers. And preparing to exploit gerrymandering to create voter-proof majorities. And laying the groundwork to allow officials to overturn election results Republicans don't like.

It's against this backdrop that Democratic leaders wanted to hold a debate on the Senate floor on the For the People Act. Republicans had other ideas.

Senate Republicans filibustered debate on voting rights legislation Tuesday, putting Democrats in a predicament about how to advance their high-priority bill. The vote to advance an amended version of the "For The People Act" split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 needed. All Democrats voted to begin debate and Republicans unanimously voting to block the bill.

The fact that every member of the Senate Democratic caucus voted together was no small detail: On the party's top legislative agenda for this Congress, Democratic leaders desperately wanted unanimity within the conference. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and his team knew they weren't going to overcome a GOP filibuster yesterday, but they were determined to get 50 votes -- and on this, they scored a moral victory.

As the dust settled late yesterday on Capitol Hill, the question on many minds was obvious: What happens now?

Nearly every Democrat within range of a microphone said roughly the same thing. President Biden, for example, said, "This fight is far from over" -- a message that was echoed not only by officials throughout his party, but also allied proponents of voting rights.

To that end, as Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) told Rachel on the show last night, the Senate Rules Committee she chairs will be holding a series of field hearings on the issue, including an upcoming event in Georgia. It's part of a full-court-press approach Democrats are taking with the hopes of keeping the debate alive ahead of upcoming congressional showdowns.

At this point, I can hear some of you through the screen. "Yeah, yeah," you're saying. "Democrats and their allies will give it their best shot, but we all know this isn't going to turn out well."

The cynicism is understandable, and if we're being realistic, the odds are not on progressives' side.

On the surface, there are two paths to success: finding 10 Senate Republicans who'll support meaningful voting-rights legislation or reforming the filibuster rules. The former is difficult to take seriously.

But the door to the latter is not completely closed. As the Associated Press reported overnight, "Discussions are ongoing among congressional Democrats on how to proceed, with leaders noting privately that both Sinema and Manchin oppose eliminating the rule — but that doesn't mean they would oppose changing it. And President Joe Biden has signaled a willingness to consider a change."

The AP article added that Democratic leaders don't expect to eliminate the filibuster altogether, but they believe there's "an opportunity to improve the process" through some procedural changes.

This is not to say that sweeping voting-rights legislation is likely to pass anytime soon, but when Democrats insist that yesterday was the start, not the end, of the process, it's not unreasonable to believe them.