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He enjoys Bourbon. She, wine. He’s been in the Senate for nearly four decades. Seit 2019 she is. Since 2019, she has.
Sinema made the pilgrimage on Monday to Kentucky to speak at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville, a familiar stop for Senate institutionalists to pay a polite nod to the chamber’s top Republican and master of its byzantine nature. And, once at McConnell’s alma mater, she was treated to a Brink’s truck of praise for her unwillingness to fall in line with the rest of her Democratic Party. It wasn’t entirely magnanimous.
“She is, today, what we have too few of in the Democratic Party: a genuine moderate and a dealmaker,” McConnell said in his introduction, which also described her as “the most effective first-term senator I’ve seen.”If obstruction is a proxy for efficacy, then there’s little room for argument. Sinema was instrumental in securing changes to Senate regulations that would have permitted a simple majority to move certain measures her party considered priority. To preserve the Senate tradition, Sinema threatened to filibuster legislation in order to stop it from being passed. She also wasn’t on board for President Joe Biden’s infrastructure packages or an effort by the progressive wing of her party to boost the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
In turn, she got a hero’s welcome from a host who similarly enjoys thwarting Democrats’ best-laid plans, including a Supreme Court nominee in 2016.
Typically, Democrats make the trip to McConnell’s turf when they’re on the mend or readying their next acts; then-Vice President Biden made the hike in 2011, while Sen. Amy Klobuchar paid a visit earlier this year to discuss the virtues of bipartisanship. But now, just weeks before the midterms, Sinema was on campus to serve up an event that suggested her fellow Democrats were on the verge of losing power in Washington, while lapping up praise from McConnell, who would use control over the chamber to stymie the balance of Biden’s first term.
“As you all know, control changes between the House and the Senate every couple of years. It’s likely to change again in just a few weeks” Sinema said.
Such a statement is as plausible as it is unhelpful—and predictable, given the Senator’s recent track record.
Sinema, though a Democrat is not reliable. Both she and Sen. Joe Manchin have the honor of being the most irritating member in the Senate Democratic Party, willing to defy colleagues. Manchin is a contrarian, but he has a reason for it. He represents West Virginia which is the most Trumpian state and may be the last Democrat who stands a chance of winning statewide. Sinema comes from Arizona where Biden won. Sinema has less to fear than Manchin.
Sinema’s comments come as Democrats are fighting with every ounce to defend narrow majorities in the House and the Senate. Arizona Democrat Sen. Mark Kelly is also fighting to remain in Washington. Dozens of House Democrats are struggling to shake the conventional wisdom that they’re cruising toward a thumping. Donors are still pumping cash into races, Biden’s poll numbers seem to be rebounding slightly, and Republicans aren’t coasting toward gavel-wielding majorities just yet.
But instead of campaigning for Democrats, Sinema is palling around with McConnell, who stands to halt Democrats’ agenda for at least the next two years. Sinema also renews her call for stronger filibuster.
Sinema in Louisville suggested that 60 votes be needed to approve anything. This includes judges and nominees from the executive branch. The optimism needed to believe the federal government could continue to function under such a system requires lawmakers to believe all of their current and future colleagues—of both parties, to be fair—will respect those they disagree with, and won’t resort to procedural tricks to delay and defer every chance they get.
The Senate is unlikely to accept all the presidential teams at this time. Now, the Senate has made it a sport to pick a handful of sacrificial nominees. In this case other qualified persons are in limbo and paid petty moneyback. It’s why Neera Tanden is now managing the flow of paper across Biden’s desk rather than running the Office of Management and Budget—because of mean tweets.
Sinema is often interpreted as an heir to the late Sen. John McCain’s maverick spirit. McCain was a man of principles and had priorities. Perhaps the most accurate diagnosis of Sinema’s agenda came from the unlikely quarter of SNLHer ultimate goal is nothing more than chaos. For a couple of hours, this meant that she gave her political opponent McConnell an address that he could share with great glee. The fact that McConnell was one of the honestest Democrats suggested that a GOP takeover was possible was a sign. And while Sinema joked that even their bar orders were at odds—“He drinks bourbon. I drink wine” she told the crowd amiably—their goals were not. Perhaps they didn’t realize there was only one winner as they each walked up to the bar.
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