Alan Zendell, June 23, 2021
Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who was elected to represent Arizona in 2018, has been in an unusual position for the past month. The media has characterized her as “the other” Democratic voice opposed to killing the filibuster. That’s because West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin has gotten all the attention as the fulcrum on which the slim Democratic majority in the Senate rests. He has steadfastly held out for bipartisan negotiations with Republicans and for keeping the filibuster, donning the mantle of a one-Senator blockade standing in the way of progressive legislation.
Most observers view Manchin as the key to everything this Congress wants to accomplish, and the fact that Sinema quietly stated the same views as Manchin did nothing to discourage the notion that she would simply go along with everything Manchin agreed to. But Senator Sinema has a clear voice of her own, as was evident in her Monday Op-Ed in the Washington Post.
Her situation is quite different from Manchin’s, who has successfully carved out a niche as a Democrat in one of the reddest states in the country. Since 2001, he has won four statewide elections (Secretary of State, Governor, U. S. Senator twice) by the same West Virginians who voted two-to-one for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. At seventy-three, he’ll be seventy-six when he’s up for re-election in 2024. In terms of career longevity, he has little to lose by standing up for bipartisanship and bucking his party’s stands on key legislation.
At forty-five, Sinema still has most of her career ahead of her. Arizona’s Republican-dominated legislature is forcing through some of the most restrictive voting rights legislation in the country, designed to reduce minority (largely Democratic) voting. So when Sinema speaks out for bipartisanship and against killing the filibuster, it’s hard to accuse her of being hypocritical. Those positions could wind up seriously diminishing her re-election chances.
Given that, I read her Post opinion piece with great interest and learned, first of all, that she’s no Joe Manchin clone. In three terms in the House of Representatives, she had a solid record of working across the aisle to pass important legislation. She wants lasting results, which she believes can only be achieved by passing bipartisan laws. She points out that the filibuster was designed to protect against egregious excesses by a party holding a slim majority, and that eliminating it would place democracy in jeopardy and simply open the door for Congress to reverse anything passed without support from the opposition party the next time they’re in the majority. If anything is certain in politics it’s that majorities can be as fleeting as snowflakes in July.
Sinema writes that history proves the filibuster “is needed to protect against attacks on women’s health, clean air and water, or aid to children and families in need,” and that it forces moderation on the part of the extreme wings of both parties. She believes that the “question is less about the immediate results from any … Democratic or Republican goals — it is the likelihood of repeated radical reversals in federal policy, cementing uncertainty, deepening divisions and further eroding Americans’ confidence in our government.” It’s difficult to argue with that, since it’s obviously true. Congress’ abysmal approval ratings over the last decade, often well below twenty percent, demonstrate clearly that Americans have lost confidence in that branch of government.
Despite the unarguable truth of her position, it omits two essential factors. One is the question both she and Manchin have refused to answer: what will you do if your best efforts at bipartisan negotiation fail? The other is that all of their highly-principled sentiments only have meaning when people on both sides of the aisle act in good faith, that they remain true to their oaths of office to always put the interest of the nation ahead of their own. The fact that Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy have the same top priority – regaining control of the Congress at any cost, no matter that post-COVID America has too many critical problems to permit congressional gridlock to continue – makes Sinema’s argument futile.
The critical For the People voting rights bill is at the center of the current storm. Majority Leader Schumer forced the Senate to vote on whether it should debate the measure, and as expected, every Republican voted NO, but both Sinema and Manchin joined their Democratic colleagues and voted YES, despite knowing it can only pass if the filibuster is suspended. Does that suggest they’ll defer the fight over bipartisanship until the bad actors on the other side are replaced by people of principle?
The For the People bill cannot be allowed to fail if we are to save our democracy. Every Democrat must vote to pass it by any means necessary.