Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s bipartisan tendencies are winning her some Republican support, but her own party is far from pleased. The senator’s approval ratings are plummeting among Democratic Arizona voters eager for legislation Sinema stands against. Her fate in Arizona may illustrate a critical question: can moderate-left senators find a home, or will Democratic radicals crush their ability to stay in power?
A July poll from the think tank Data for Progress found that the number of Arizona Democrats interested in replacing Kyrsten Sinema in the 2024 party primary, 66 percent, is three times that of her supporters, 22 percent. Only 42 percent of Arizona Democrats approve of Sinema, with 39 percent of Democrats disapproving.
As one of the most moderate Democrats in the Senate, Sinema has sided with the GOP 22.9 percent of the time. The senator voted for several of former President Trump’s cabinet picks, including Attorney General William Barr.
Former Republican legislator Stan Barnes predicted in 2019 that Sinema “will be rewarded for these types of votes someday.” But Sinema’s bipartisanship, far from rewarding her, could cost the senator her seat.
Dan O’Neal of Progressive Democrats of America told The American Spectator that Sinema is doomed if she continues on her current path.
“Knowing what’s going on on the ground here, she will have a very, very tough time winning a primary here,” he said. O’Neal was positive that Sinema would eventually side with her progressive voter base, citing abolishing the filibuster as an example: “We’re confident that she’ll do the right thing.”
Sinema’s bipartisanship is winning her some approval from Arizona’s GOP. The Data for Progress poll has Sinema’s Republican Party support at 34 percent. In contrast, her colleague Chuck Schumer pulled in a mere 17 percent of Republican support, according to a Marist poll in February 2021.
Arizona went blue by 0.3 percent in 2020, and while Sinema’s GOP approval far surpasses President Biden’s mere 12 percent Republican support, her moderate status is not attracting enough voters to guarantee success in any election. She currently does not have majority support from Democrats, Republicans, or Independents.
The controversy around Sinema centers largely on the senator’s continued support for the filibuster. Sinema has gained notoriety among Democrats for her refusal to eliminate the filibuster to push through the For the People Act, which would enact sweeping federal control over voting and campaign finance. This refusal has gained Sinema right-wing approval, with political activist Charlie Kirk praising her defense of the filibuster at a recent Trump rally in Arizona: “Kyrsten Sinema is more of a Republican than John McCain ever was.”
The senator wrote a Washington Post op-ed in June defending the filibuster, asserting that the process “compels moderation and helps protect the country from wild swings between opposing policy poles.” Sinema said that bipartisan agreement is more productive than radical, one-sided party measures and predicted that eliminating the filibuster would allow for “repeated radical reversals in federal policy,” leading to “further eroding Americans’ confidence in our government.”
While Sinema’s words reflect a desire for national unity, her stance seems to have had the opposite effect on Arizona Democrats, including the political organization Progressive Democrats for America.
Not all Democrats are critical of Sinema’s stand on the filibuster. The Arizona senator may have an ally in President Joe Biden, who cautioned against repealing the filibuster in his CNN town hall on Wednesday. “You’re going to throw the entire Congress into chaos,” Biden said regarding the effects of abolishing the filibuster. “Nothing will get done,” he warned.
The Arizona poll has Biden pulling in 95 percent Democratic support, more than twice the approval rating of his moderate colleague in the Grand Canyon State. In addition to Democratic voters, more than 500 Arizona small businesses signed an open letter to Sinema, urging her to help abolish the filibuster: “Do not let archaic and anti-democratic Senate rules like the filibuster continue to tilt the playing field…. against the interests of our communities.” One business owner, Amneris Cocco of Sal’s Painting, told AZMirror that she saw Sinema’s support of the filibuster as a slight to Arizonans. “She’s not listening to us,” lamented Cocco.
As Arizonans turn on Sinema, prominent Democrats are also pressuring the senator to budge. Majority Leader Charles Schumer told the Joe Madison Show that the party is continuing to push Sinema and her fellow filibuster defender Joe Manchin of West Virginia to change their minds. “We’re going to continue to push. We’re going to have hearings. We’re going to have votes until we get this done,” said Schumer.
This stance notably contradicts Schumer’s 2005 defense of the filibuster, in which he called a move to eliminate the filibuster the “nuclear option,” slamming the move as an “abuse of power.” This change in Democrat sentiment continues to loom over Sinema as her fellow party members swoop in to pick apart her stance. Senior Democratic strategist James Carville scoffed at Sinema’s bipartisan logic on the filibuster, noting that “some of her arguments are less than rigorous.”
Facing fire from both her party and her constituency, Sinema seems determined to cling to her bipartisan tactic. She told the press that bipartisan support for a recent infrastructure bill is evidence that her strategy has merit: “Folks around D.C. and around the nation will lament and say that bipartisanship is a thing that’s gone past. And you all have heard for weeks now people saying that a bipartisan agreement couldn’t happen.”
While Sinema’s bipartisan tone may be triumphant, her Arizona counterparts are singing a far different tune. Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods went after Sinema, saying that bipartisan unity was not necessary for all legislation. “[W]e have to make an exception here for voting rights and craft something with [the] senator from my state, Sinema. I don’t know what her problem is, frankly,” asserted Woods, saying that “a lot of us can’t explain the behavior.”
The former attorney general finished with a question for Sinema that, perhaps unintentionally, hinted at her possible future in American politics: “If you can’t do it [bipartisanship] to preserve democracy…. why are you even there? Why are you in the Senate?”
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