When centrist Democrat Kyrsten Sinema defeated Republican Martha McSally in Arizona's 2018 U.S. Senate race, it was a political shocker — as Arizona, for decades, had been synonymous with the right-wing politics of Sen. John McCain and his predecessor, Sen. Barry Goldwater. But the fact that the 44-year-old Sinema is a Democrat doesn't automatically make her a staunch progressive, and her relatively conservative record during her years in the U.S. Senate has sometimes been a source of frustration for the more progressive wing of her party. Journalist Amanda Becker examines Sinema's record in a recent article published by The 19th, asking some Arizona residents what makes her tick politically.
"Sinema and West Virginia's Joe Manchin are critical moderate votes in an evenly split Senate," Becker explains, "and Democrats need both to pass key pieces of President Joe Biden's agenda — including infrastructure and care packages, and a sweeping voting-rights bill for which Sinema was an original co-sponsor…. Manchin and Sinema are also the only outspoken Democratic holdouts for scrapping the filibuster, a procedural hurdle that effectively requires 60 votes to pass most pieces of major legislation."
Not all Senate Democrats are officially on board with ending the filibuster, but practically, Manchin and Sinema are seen as its biggest defenders in the party.
One of the people quoted anonymously in Becker's article told The 19th that Sinema "doesn't care what" Democrats think because she "sees her voters as independents and crossovers." And another interview told The 19th that Sinema engages in "performative bipartisanship" and "triangulates every single thing she does."
Trish Muir, who chairs the Pima Area Labor Federation — an AFL-CIO council in Tucson — has found Sinema to be unresponsive. Muir told the 19th, "Outside of calling her general office number, I don't know how to get ahold of this woman…. I follow her on Facebook, I follow her on Twitter, to kind of keep an eye on what's happening — and I see a lot of her focus, and a lot of her energy, being spent on behalf of corporate interests."
Becker notes that progressive Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan has been highly critical of Sinema at times and that to some on the left, the Arizona senator has become a "super villain." But Arizona Democrat David Lujan, according to Becker, has described Sinema as "politically astute" and said, "If she realizes that there's just no way to compromise, I think she will consider: What are the other options to be able to get (this) done?"
Sinema recently drew anger from critics after missing last week's vote on creating a Jan. 6 commission. The vote failed, and it would have failed even if she had been present. But while Sinema said she would have voted in favor of the bill, some felt it was negligent to be absent for a vote of historic importance — especially since she gave no excuse for missing it. She also angered the left by opposing raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, a slight that was exacerbated by her now-infamous curtsy when voting no.
Before she was elected to the U.S. Senate, Sinema served in the U.S. House of Representatives and, before that, the Arizona State Legislature.
Sinema was known for her vehement opposition to the Iraq War during the George W. Bush years, leading some Arizona residents to think of her as a progressive. But then, some on the right were quite opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, including paleoconservative Patrick Buchanan and former Rep. Ron Paul.
One of the interviewees for Becker's article said of Sinema, "I don't think she's changed her views on any of the issues — I just think she has changed her approach."