Kyrsten Sinema Has Made Herself Into ‘a Shame to Democrats’
Maybe there’s a principle other than mindless bipartisanship, but it’s awfully hard to find.
After months operating in the shadow of fellow holdout Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema is coming in for overdue scrutiny of her rejection of President Joe Biden’s legislation. She doesn’t give a clue of what it would take to garner her support, unless it’s an imprimatur from Mitch McConnell she’ll never get, given his promise to stop Biden in his tracks no matter what.
She’s being chased by reporters and activists everywhere, including into the bathroom, just in time to get herself some undeserved sympathy for objecting to the Building Back Better bill, a $3.5 trillion package that would expand the safety net to correct some of society’s inequities laid bare by the pandemic. She broadly objects to any bill—even one that would expand the child tax credit to lift 4.3 million children out of poverty—that comes up by way of reconciliation, the process that allows a simple majority of yeas to pass bills that impact the budget. Other than that, she mostly postures.
When Sinema has come in for criticism, she’s pleaded sexism—of which there is a massive amount in politics. Still, if you ask if she’s harder to deal with than Manchin, the answer is yes. He comes to play. He stayed around last weekend to work on the bill. That bathroom she was heckled in was in Arizona, where she went, she explained, to see a doctor about her sore foot, as if there were no orthopedists in Washington. She failed to mention she’d be hobbling to a fundraiser for wealthy donors at a luxury hotel while she was there, perhaps to assure them she won’t be voting to raise their taxes.
She also won’t give a number that discussions can start from, huffing that she doesn’t “negotiate in public.” We know that Manchin gave an opening number, in writing, weeks ago, and this week said he wasn’t ruling out a higher one in the $1.9 to $2.2 trillion range. Granted, he’s maddening too but gets a partial pass in the caucus for general amiability, a houseboat (not a yacht) docked near fish markets on the Potomac where he hosts spaghetti dinners, and for political pragmatism as the only Democrat who can win a seat in West Virginia, where Donald Trump ran up a 39-point margin in 2020.
Sinema flaunts her pragmatism, if you can call it that, a mix of New Agey, can’t-we-all-get-along-ism that saw her gradually drop activism in favor of understanding and, later, admiration for the other side, including lobbyists. When she voted against a gradual increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour, she marched to the well of the Senate to cast it, with a curtsy and a thumbs-down. It was hard not to take it as a thumb in the eye of those who work full-time but still fall below the poverty line. She may have thought she was paying homage to maverick John McCain but the GIF seen around the world was more reminiscent of the ever-sullen Melania rocking a jacket on her trip to the border inscribed “I REALLY DON’T CARE DO U?”
There’s a lot she doesn’t care to do, or say. Asked by a polite reporter what she had to say to progressives frustrated that they don’t know where she is on the bill, she replied she’s “in the Senate.” When told her fellow senators also wanted to know where she stood, she said, “I’m clearly right in front of the elevator.” Get it?
Time was, Sinema was a progressive. She began her career in the state legislature as an activist out of the Green Party before running for Congress in 2004 as a Democratic centrist. Her concern back then for the little people, she explained in speeches and interviews, came from three years living in an abandoned gas station without running water, power, or a phone after her family fell on hard times. When The New York Times reviewed utility bills for that period provided by her parents, she said that’s how, as a child, she remembered it.
She doesn’t tell that story lately, perhaps because her concern for the little people has expanded to include the little people on Wall Street she came to know as a member of the House Committee on Financial Services. In the midst of her 2018 Senate campaign to replace retiring Trump critic Jeff Flake, then Rep. Sinema voted for a Republican bill to sharply weaken Dodd-Frank that reined in those responsible for the 2008 meltdown. She’s one of the top recipients of campaign contributions from the banking and financial services sectors that benefitted from her vote.
Maybe there’s a principle other than mindless bipartisanship, but it’s awfully hard to find. More likely, she may believe that voting with Trump a quarter of the time and ranking as the Senate’s 47th most conservative member is what it takes to keep a Senate seat in Arizona. If so, she could be underestimating how purple the Grand Canyon state is trending. Biden won there in 2020, running 4 points better than Clinton in 2016 who did 6 points better than Barack Obama in 2012. Sinema’s fellow senator, Mark Kelly, the former astronaut married to former Rep. Gabby Giffords, seriously wounded at a strip mall in Tucson, gets an 11 percent unfavorable rating among Democrats polled compared to Sinema’s 30 percent. There are two PACs raising money to primary her in 2024. Ten days ago, the state party passed a resolution warning her of a vote of “no confidence” should she vote against Biden’s signature legislation.
Sinema may fancy herself a maverick, but she has remade herself into the face of Democratic self-loathing.
Last weekend, Saturday Night Live’s Cecily Strong took a crack at conveying what makes Sinema tick during the show’s cold open: “Look, as a wine-drinking, bisexual triathlete, I know what the average American wants. They want to be put on hold when they call 911. They want bridges that just stop and cars fall down. They want water so thick you can eat it with a fork. And I will fight for that no matter what."
Back in 2003, when Joe Lieberman was running for president, Sinema called him “a shame to Democrats,” adding “I don't even know why he's running. He seems to want to get Republicans voting for him—what kind of strategy is that?”
Let me answer: It’s your strategy and it’s wrong. There are too many take-no-prisoner McConnell Republicans out there—a majority of whom believe Trump is the true president and anything goes so long as it hurts Biden—to play nice.
At this moment, one of the Arizona legislators that launched the rogue Cyber Ninja recount could be teeing up to challenge you. It’s no time to go GOP-lite unless it’s to heed the advice of Ronald Reagan and start dancing with the one who brung you.