Here we go again with Kyrsten Sinema.
I know it feels like the world is repeating itself over and over again, but what can you do? The United States Senate is the single biggest obstacle to political progress in America (at least in the electoral, within-the-system sense), and Kyrsten Sinema is one of the single biggest reasons why, and as nice as it would be to ignore her, she keeps making it very difficult.
To wit: on Tuesday, Sinema went to Texas to hang out with John Cornyn, her Republican Senate colleague, to tout her love of bipartisanship and her devotion to the filibuster. Hanging out with a Texas Republican just as Republicans in Texas are working hard to suppress basic democracy is a choice! But it’s a choice Sinema happily made. She also peddled this absolute twaddle about the filibuster:
“The reality is that when you have a system that is not working effectively — and I would think that most would agree that the Senate is not a particularly well-oiled machine, right? The way to fix that is to fix your behavior, not to eliminate the rules or change the rules, but to change the behavior,” Sinema told a group of reporters. When one of them asked about the filibuster’s clear ties to Jim Crow, Sinema rejected the premise.
This is…enraging, on a basic “throw something against the wall, run around the room screaming, froth at the mouth” kind of level. But it is also part of a pattern with Sinema. She loves to make arguments in favor of the filibuster that are so stupid, illogical and historically illiterate that people think she cannot possibly believe them.
Sinema invites that kind of bafflement. Joe Manchin at least has the “excuse” that he’s in a Trump state, trying to cling on, gotta put on a show, blah blah blah, and even that doesn’t cut it. But Sinema seems an altogether more surreal character. Her state was just won by Joe Biden. Republicans have lost Senate races in Arizona a combined three times since 2016. Her own state party is pleading with her to oppose the filibuster. Read any profile of her—and there is an increasingly large number of them—and you can practically see peoples’ brains oozing out of their ears when they try to figure out what her deal is.
The best one of these, to my mind, was done by Amanda Becker for The 19th. She identifies two key things about Sinema. The first is that when Sinema—who was famously in the Green Party before she gained elected office—became a state legislator, she made a conscious choice to recast herself as a coalition-building pragmatist and an expert on “getting things done,” even though, as Becker notes, she actually got very little done:
In her book, Sinema details a series of resulting political victories that include defeating one ballot proposition to prohibit same-sex marriage and preventing another from making it onto the ballot that would have banned affirmative action. But those victories were short lived: Versions of both were subsequently approved by Arizona voters, revealing the fragility of the coalitions that she helped build to initially defeat them.
The second is that Sinema holds the people from her own party in contempt. Becker notes that, in the aforementioned 2009 book, “though Sinema frequently refers to herself as a progressive, she writes about others who identify by the same title with some derision, saying as a group they make ‘great victims.'” As a senator, Becker found, key interest groups—and even Sinema’s own constituents—find her nearly unreachable:
Trish Muir, the chair of the Pima Area Labor Federation, a local council of the AFL-CIO in the Tucson area, which is historically home to Arizona’s Democratic base, said that the federation’s members “are not just liberal Democrats” and from “all walks and all political beliefs” but have nevertheless been unable to get Sinema’s attention.
“Outside of calling her general office number, I don’t know how to get ahold of this woman,” Muir said, noting that she is in regular contact with Arizona’s other Democratic senator, Mark Kelly, who “has my cell phone number.”
“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 [and not workers],” Muir added.
The Pima Area Labor Federation has demonstrated at both of their senators offices in recent weeks. Muir said that Sinema’s in Tucson, to her knowledge, is unoccupied.
Take these two things together—stubborn fealty to working with Republicans even if it gets you practically nowhere, and sneering disdain for the people who actually put you in power—and Sinema starts to make some sense. You can understand why she voted against the minimum wage so memorably, and why she was so eager to talk to a bunch of restaurant industry ghouls about why paying people more money is wrong, and why she loves the filibuster so much. She wants to climb the ladder, she hates the left, and she’s high on her own supply. And she holds more power than practically anyone in America. We’re so screwed.