Kyrsten Sinema, the only out bisexual U.S. senator, is getting plenty of criticism from fellow Democrats, fellow Arizonans, and fellow LGBTQ+ people for her resistance President Biden’s economic agenda and other progressive measures.
“There is a sense in which we no longer live in a democracy; we live under the tyranny of Kyrsten Sinema,” U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres of New York, one of the first gay Black men in the House of Representatives, said this week, according to CNN. “I welcome the ideological diversity of the party. I can live with dissent. My colleagues and I have trouble living with what we perceive to be erraticism. The perception of erraticism is brought on by a lack of communication and clarity for where she stands.” And five military veterans resigned from her advisory council Thursday.
Sinema, a former House member and before that an Arizona state legislator, has emerged as one of the two most conservative Democrats in the Senate, the other being Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Both have objected to the size of Biden’s infrastructure spending plan and to ending the filibuster, a procedure under which it takes the votes of 60 senators to end debate on a bill and move to a vote on the actual legislation.
With the Senate divided 50-50 between Democrats (including their two independent allies) and Republicans, the filibuster could doom progressive bills such as voting rights legislation and the Equality Act, an LGBTQ+ civil rights measure. This week Republicans blocked a voting rights bill through the filibuster, even though it was more moderate than the one approved by the House earlier and included some elements that Manchin thought would bring in some GOP support.
Sinema has been the target of more wrath than Manchin, perhaps because she was expected to be more liberal given her track record, but partly because, according to some Democrats, Manchin has been more willing to talk to his colleagues.
Sinema “has provided little information to fellow Democrats, other than Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, whereas Manchin has engaged directly with lawmakers and even spent Tuesday at a caucus lunch fielding a barrage of questions and hearing concerns from his Democratic colleagues,” CNN reports. “Sinema skipped the lunch, meeting with White House officials instead.” Her aides, though, said she has engaged in “good-faith discussions” with Schumer and President Biden.
Of particular concern now is the president’s Build Back Better plan, a package of social spending legislation including free community college, an extension of the child tax credit, efforts to combat climate change, and much more. Sinema and Manchin “balked at the plan's $3.5 trillion price tag — the main reason why it was slashed to now near $2 trillion,” according to CNN. Sources have said Sinema objects to the idea of paying for expanded social programs through higher taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals.
But a powerful House member said Thursday that Sinema is ready to negotiate on the package. Rep. Richard Neal, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, spent 40 minutes on the phone with Sinema Thursday morning, The Hill reports.
“I said, ‘Kyrsten, this has got to pass.’ She said, ‘I couldn’t agree more,’” Neal told reporters at the U.S. Capitol. He made a case for higher corporate taxes, “pointed out that not only are they efficient, but they weren’t punitive — [that] this was still good pro-growth economics,” he said. Sinema didn’t counter him but just listened, Neal said.
He emphasized that there is still some distance to go to reach an agreement, but he expressed optimism. “She said to me, ‘We agree on this, this has got to happen,’” Neal said. “That gives us an opening.”
Meanwhile, liberal Democrats are floating the possibility of a primary challenge to Sinema in 2024, when she is up for reelection. “I think the consequences of what happens in the next few days is going to make her or not make her vulnerable,” Rep. Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Dem, told CNN.