But when it comes to where she stands on the issues, Sinema—who holds the power to quash any element of President
Now the question is just how much of an impediment Sinema will be to the Democrats’ agenda. Her staunch opposition to eliminating the
Among Democrats in her home state, there’s growing frustration with her interest in bipartisan dealmaking when there’s scant evidence of it in Congress. “I want Kyrsten Sinema to be a champion for progressive causes and to make change,” says Michael Slugocki, vice chair of the Arizona Democratic Party. “I want her to make the most of it and not be caught up in procedural issues like the future of the filibuster.”
Yet longtime observers and allies say to expect the senator to use the same approach that helped her score a
The first Arizona Democrat elected to the Senate in a generation, and the first openly bisexual U.S. senator, Sinema has undergone a dramatic political evolution since the early 2000s. Depending on whom you ask, she’s either caved on liberal principles or recognized the value of pragmatism.
“It is a combination of rigorous discipline coupled with ambition,” says
Born in Tucson and raised in Florida, Sinema entered politics as a Green Party antiwar activist in Phoenix. After two unsuccessful runs for public office, she switched to the Democratic Party and won a seat in the Republican-dominated Arizona House of Representatives in 2004 at age 28. She served six years and became known as a champion of marriage equality, raising $2.5 million to help defeat a 2006 proposal to ban same-sex marriages, before advancing to the state senate.
Trained as a social worker and lawyer (she’s since earned a Ph.D. in justice studies), Sinema learned early during her time in the state legislature that she needed Republican support to move bills, says Rich Crandall, a former Republican state lawmaker who worked with her on legislation. She was creative in forging relationships, Crandall says, inviting new lawmakers to volunteer at a Phoenix soup kitchen.
She also stood out in the Democratic caucus as the person who knew every technical aspect of a bill: “Her modus operandi is to know her subject really, really, well,” Crandall says. “Kyrsten always thrived on the details, the weeds, the wonk.”
Sinema ran for the U.S. House in 2012 in a newly drawn district in south-central Arizona that was almost evenly split between the parties. After winning, she cemented her move to the center, joining the moderate Blue Dog Coalition and the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. She didn’t vote for
In the 2018 Senate race for the seat of retiring GOP Senator
In the Senate, she voted against the Green New Deal in 2019,
Now with Democrats in the majority for the first time in her career, some in the party say her opposition to altering rules on the filibuster, which requires a 60-vote threshold to advance legislation, is out of step with shifts in a state that
“It’s frustrating,” says Emily Kirkland, executive director of the group Progress Arizona. “The reason she is receiving so much attention and has such outsized influence is tied to the fact that she is so out of step with Arizona voters.”
For the time being, Sinema is keeping everyone guessing about what she might do on many agenda items Democrats want, including Biden’s $2.25 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan and his $1.8 trillion American Families Plan. Senate Democrats could agree to take a parliamentary shortcut called reconciliation to pass portions of those, but she hasn’t indicated she would back that.
Biden hosted her at the White House on May 11 to talk about the American Jobs Plan. At the Capitol after the meeting, she told reporters: “It was great. He gave me cookies.” (Asked what kind, she responded, “chocolate chip.”)
Sinema is also taking part in bipartisan talks to seek compromises on such issues as immigration reform, and working with some top Republicans on legislation. She recently introduced a bill with Senator
While almost all other Senate Democrats support ending the filibuster, senior lawmakers in the party say they’re fully aware that Sinema represents a Republican-leaning state and they wouldn’t have a majority without her. “There is a recognition in our caucus that this is not an easy state for a Democrat,” says Senate Finance Committee Chair
Goth is a reporter for Bloomberg Government.
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