Mercury is retrograde. The seasons are changing. The midterms are looming. And on Monday, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., emerged from her cone of silence to add a bit of entirely on-brand nonsense to the chaotic energy already in the air.
Sinema appeared alongside Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for a lecture at the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center on the importance of bipartisanship in the Senate. “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,” McConnell said in his introduction. (Imagine being a Democrat, having McConnell sing those praises of you and not feeling your body immediately flood with shame.)
In response, Sinema matched McConnell’s energy, saying they have “forged a friendship, one that is rooted in our commonalities, including our pragmatic approach to legislating, our respect for the Senate as an institution, our love for our home states and a dogged determination on behalf of our constituents.”
The irony of praising bipartisanship alongside the senator who has turned partisan obstruction into an art form may have eluded Sinema, but it absolutely spoke to the brand she’s tirelessly worked to develop since entering the Senate in 2018. Appearing with McConnell and singing his praises is a continuation of her “I’m not like regular Democrats” shtick that has rightfully earned her the ire of so many members of her party — and that ought to cost her re-election.
I believe that McConnell wasn’t just flattering Sinema and that she does fit neatly into his definition of “effective.” But in this case, “effective” is not a synonym of “productive” or “helping better America.” Sinema has been “effective” in the sense that she has been one of the primary roadblocks to implementing the full breadth of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda. Blocking Biden is one of McConnell’s professed goals for this Congress, which means that, if anything, Sinema has been effective for promoting the goals of the McConnell and the Republican Party.
Sinema spent months refusing to say that she would accept in the Build Back Better Act after demanding that it be made smaller. Regarding the Inflation Reduction Act, it was her swing vote’s influence that forced Democrats to keep in place a loophole that benefits private equity profits and weaken a 15% minimum tax on corporations. In that sense, she was effective on behalf of her big business donors.
Sinema’s also been one of two Democrats consistently standing in the way of filibuster reform. That stance has allowed Republicans to block attempts to strengthen voting rights, codify abortion protections and restrain dark money spending in elections. Sinema even went further than her past defenses of the filibuster on Monday and said all matters before the Senate should again require 60 votes.
That would mean reversing the rules changes made in 2013 by Democrats and in 2017 by Republicans, thus requiring that any Biden-appointed Cabinet officials and federal judges, including Supreme Court nominees, overcome a likely GOP filibuster for confirmation. Biden has been busy reshaping the judiciary and undoing the damage that former President Donald Trump wrought on the courts — but if Sinema had her way, he’d be powerless to do so.
We don’t have time to delve into all the ways that’s a terrible, ahistorical sentiment or explain how, if McConnell were to become majority leader again in November, he’d be happy to raise the bar for nominees to 60 votes again for the rest of Biden’s term. Nor is there space here to fully detail why the bipartisan wins she cited — including last year’s infrastructure bill and the gun control legislation passed this summer — would have been better bills without the filibuster.
But here’s the real kicker: I might hold my tongue toward Sinema at least slightly if it seemed like she was on to something. For all the grief I give her fellow filibuster fan, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., his state is so conservative some of the stunts he pulls have at least some logic behind them. If he didn’t hold that seat, an even more intransigent Republican likely would.
Sinema has no such argument on her side. Multiple Democrats, including Biden, have recently won statewide election in Arizona. And a recent poll of Arizona voters commissioned by the AARP shows that, remarkably, Sinema has a net unfavorable rating with basically every demographic in the state. As Slate’s Dan Kois succinctly put it, “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.”
By attempting to appease the imaginary middle ground, she has illustrated the biblical adage that “no man can serve two masters.” That line from the Sermon on the Mount comes as part of a denunciation of attempting to hold onto both worldly riches and spiritual well-being. In Sinema’s case, she claims to be willing to serve the Democrats who elected her while also seeking praise and glory from corporations and Republicans, like McConnell, who didn’t. That same verse says a person attempting to serve two masters will “hate the one, and love the other.” In Sinema’s case, the party that put her in the Senate is not the one that she loves.