U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a bisexual Democrat who’s proved a disappointment to many members of her party, is now touting her friendship with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — a Republican who’s helped block much progressive legislation.
Sinema gave a speech Monday at the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center, which is named for the minority leader, who is the senior senator from Kentucky.
“In today’s partisan Washington, it might shock some that a Democratic senator would consider the Republican leader of the Senate her friend. But back home in Arizona, we don’t view life through a partisan lens,” Sinema said, according to Insider.
McConnell praised Sinema effusively in introducing her. “I’ve only known Kyrsten for four years, but she is, in my view — and I’ve told her this — the most effective first-term senator I’ve seen in my time in the Senate,” he said. “She is, today, what we have too few of in the Democratic Party: a genuine moderate and a dealmaker.”
Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a fellow Democrat, have been key opponents of ending the filibuster — a process in the Senate in which it takes 60 votes to end debate on a bill and move to a vote on the bill itself. That’s been a barrier to voting rights legislation, the Equality Act, and more. The Senate has a 50-50 split between Republicans and Democrats (including the two independents who caucus with them) with Vice President Kamala Harris having the power to break a tie, so if only a simple majority were required, many bills supported by Democrats would get through. The House of Representatives has no filibuster rule.
In introducing Sinema, McConnell mentioned that she and Manchin had voted against scrapping the filibuster in January so that a voting rights bill could pass. “That was not fashionable in the Democratic Party in the last year and a half,” he said. “It took one hell of a lot of guts for Kyrsten Sinema to stand up and say, ‘I’m not gonna break the institution in order to achieve a short-term goal.’”
Both Sinema and McConnell defended maintaining the filibuster. “The Senate was designed to be a place that moves more slowly, to cool down those passions, to think more strategically and long-term about the legislation before us,” she said. “And most importantly, it was designed to require comity, to require people to compromise and work together so the legislation we pass represents the viewpoints of a broad spectrum of the country, not just the passion of the moment.”
Sinema has mentioned in the past that while an end to the filibuster would benefit the Democrats now, it would benefit the Republicans if they had a majority. McConnell noted this as well, saying he felt much pressure from Donald Trump to end the filibuster when Trump was president. The Republicans held a slim majority in the Senate during Trump’s presidency.
Sinema’s actions in office have turned many in her party against her. She’s not up for reelection until 2024, but there is talk of mounting a primary challenge. A recent AARP poll found that majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents in Arizona disapprove of her performance. When respondents were broken down by other demographics — age, race, gender, etc. — Sinema polled unfavorably with almost every category as well.
“To an extent that seems without precedent, Arizonans of every race, creed, gender, and political persuasion don’t like Kyrsten Sinema at basically the exact same rate,” Slate contributor Dan Kois noted.
His colleague Christina Cauterucci, “in January, highlighted a rumor that Sinema was attempting to set herself up for a run for president in 2024 as a straight-down-the-middle candidate,” Kois added. “If this happens, these poll numbers suggest that she may, indeed, be the one candidate who can truly unite America.”