Kyrsten Sinema takes a victory lap on infrastructure — but Arizonans say not so fast

Our senator celebrates a "bipartisan" victory. But what she gave up to get that done definitely wasn't worth it

Published December 1, 2021 5:30AM (EST)

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., center, answers questions from members of the press after a procedural vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill on July 28, 2021. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., center, answers questions from members of the press after a procedural vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill on July 28, 2021. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Biden's signing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was an important victory for his administration and our nation. And, yes, for Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who represents our state. But Sinema's subsequent media victory lap obscures the bigger truth.

Taken as a whole, Sinema's tenure as senator is defined by obstructing the change that Arizonans need and that Americans elected a Democratic congressional majority and a Democratic president to deliver.


Every single good thing in the bipartisan infrastructure bill (also known as the BIF) could have been passed by Democrats alone via budget reconciliation. In fact, it could have been passed along with so much more that has been left to the uncertain fate of the Build Back Better Act. And it could probably have been passed months ago.

The only thing the BIF actually adds to what Democrats could have already passed on their own is this: a symbolic show of bipartisanship. That has some value for a nation riven by violent polarization, true. And it burnishes Sinema's cherished brand. But at what cost?

RELATED: Sinema's giant flip-flop: She once campaigned on issues she now wants dropped from Biden's plan

Splitting President Biden's agenda has delayed it, and risks decimating it. As the New York Times has showed, the BIF represents a fraction of Biden's original proposal. Allowing Sinema and a tiny group of conservative Democrats to separately advance their preferred items with Republican help has enabled them to undercut everything else: extending the child tax credit; universal pre-K; paid family leave; expanding Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing; extending Medicaid to cover millions more uninsured people; and much larger investments in creating good union jobs to build a clean energy economy. In fact, Sinema has single-handedly removed or drastically curtailed two of the most popular parts of Biden's plan: prescription drug price reform and making the rich pay their fair share in taxes.

And then there is the overarching crisis of Sinema's obsession with protecting the arcane Senate rule that Barack Obama called a "relic of Jim Crow" –– the filibuster –– at the expense of so much that her constituents need.

If it weren't for Sinema's (and Joe Manchin's) defense of the filibuster, here are the benefits Arizonans could already be experiencing or expecting soon: a $15 minimum wage, the PRO Act, gun violence prevention reform, measures to secure women's rights, the Dream Act and broader immigration reform, anti-LGBTQ discrimination laws, and –– most importantly in a constitutional democracy –– protections to ensure free and fair elections in which everyone has the freedom to vote. Measures on every one of these issues have passed the House and have all (or nearly all) 50 Democrats on board. Only the filibuster stops them from becoming law.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

On voting rights –– a right that, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. emphasized in his "Give Us the Ballot" speech in 1957, empowers the realization of all others –– Sinema's betrayal is especially inexplicable and urgent for Arizonans. The same Arizona Republican Party that embarrassed us all with the baseless, taxpayer-funded 2020 election "audit" has pushed through legislation to subvert our elections and reduce Arizonans' access to the ballot. And the same Republican U.S. Senate caucus that failed to hold Trump accountable for inciting a violent attempt to overturn our election on Jan. 6 has used the filibuster three times this year to block the Senate from even debating compromise voting rights legislation. It is clear that the only way to deliver federal protection for this most basic constitutional right is to remove the filibuster as an obstacle.

Yet Sinema stands in the way.

For someone who, like Sen. Sinema, claims the great John Lewis as a personal hero, the very notion of indulging in celebratory satisfaction with one's service while simultaneously obstructing the urgent defense of the sacred right Lewis shed blood to protect is simply disgraceful.

We can appreciate the important good in the bipartisan infrastructure act without ignoring how much more good Sinema's obstruction has stymied.

It's undeniable: when we zoom out from the headline of the moment, the vast range of life-changing benefits and protections that Sinema is obstructing vastly outweigh those she has helped deliver. That's not cause for a victory lap for Sinema. It's cause for an about-face.

Don't be fooled by the hype. Arizonans deserve much better from Sen. Sinema.

More from Salon's coverage of the lightning-rod Arizona senator:

By Warren H. Stewart Sr.

Dr. Warren H. Stewart Sr. is chair of the African American Christian Clergy Coalition. He lives in Phoenix.

MORE FROM Warren H. Stewart Sr.

By Kai Newkirk

Kai Newkirk is founder and President of For All, a center for nonviolent leadership to build a multiracial social democracy. He lives in Tempe, Arizona.

MORE FROM Kai Newkirk

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Arizona Bipartisanship Commentary Democrats Infrastructure Bill Kyrsten Sinema Progressives