Sinema defends filibuster, sparking progressive fury

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is sparking a new round of progressive fury with her defense this week of the legislative filibuster.

Sinema, speaking to reporters alongside GOP Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) in Arizona, indicated that she hadn’t shifted from her opposition to changing the Senate’s rules, arguing that it “protects the democracy of our nation rather than allowing our country to ricochet wildly every two to four years.”

“To those who say that we must make a choice between the filibuster and ‘X,’ I say, this is a false choice. 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 said.

She added that she thought the filibuster was designed to “create comity and to encourage senators to find bipartisanship and work together.” When a reporter followed up on if Sinema was going to budge on the filibuster, she added: “No.”

Sinema’s comments from Tuesday, while aligned with her previous position on the filibuster, sparked a fierce rebuke from progressives on Wednesday, who argued that she was out of touch with how the procedural roadblock has been used in recent years.

“Sen. Sinema is simply wrong about the history of the filibuster. Its current abuse by Sen. McConnell has turned the Senate into a cesspool of partisanship, gridlock and dysfunction. … The only way Democrats can pass any meaningful legislation to protect voters and our democracy is to eliminate the filibuster,” said Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for Fix Our Senate, referring to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“Changing the behavior of the entire Republican caucus — or even just 10 members — is a pipe dream,” he added.

Dan Pfeiffer, a former Obama aide, accused Sinema of “telling every Democratic activist and grassroots donor that helped get her elected to go screw themelves.” 

MSNBC host Joy Reid called Sinema’s comments “absurd.”

“Just say you don’t care about these bills and all you care about is that Republicans get to control the agenda,” she tweeted.

Stephany Spaulding — a coalition member of Just Democracy, a collection of civil rights and social justice groups, added that Sinema “is absolutely making a choice between the future of our democracy and the filibuster, and failing to realize that choice is an abdication of her duty to the constituents who elected her.”

Sinema’s comments come after Republicans mounted their first successful filibuster of the 117th Congress against a bill to that would form a commission to probe the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Cornyn, who stood next to Sinema as she fielded the filibuster question, voted against the bill.

Sinema also sparked backlash over the vote last week because she was one of two Democrats who missed it. She told reporters on Tuesday that she had a family matter.

Last week’s vote appears poised to be the first of several bills likely to be blocked by Republicans via the filibuster, which requires 60 votes for most legislation to pass through the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is teeing up bills for June that spark fierce GOP opposition, including a paycheck fairness bill and a sweeping election overhaul known as the For the People Act. He’s also mulling bringing up LGBTQ legislation and gun reforms.

Democrats view voting rights as a top priority and outside groups and a number of senators are pushing to nix the 60-vote legislative filibuster to get it through the Senate without GOP support.

Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are both staunchly opposed to gutting the filibuster. Manchin also doesn’t support the For the People Act, while Sinema is a co-sponsor.

President Biden also leaned into the voting fight on Tuesday, with comments widely viewed as veiled criticism of Sinema and Manchin.

“I hear all the folks on TV saying, ‘Why doesn’t Biden get this done?'” he said Tuesday. “Well, because Biden only has a majority of effectively four votes in the House and a tie in the Senate, with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki characterized Biden as riffing on TV pundits rather than criticizing two members of his own party, who he needs to get his agenda through the Senate.

“That’s not exactly what he said,” Psaki told a reporter, who characterized Biden as accusing the two of getting in the way of his agenda.

“He’s not — he was not giving a specific commentary on a policy. He was conveying, again, that sometimes that’s the summary — shorthand version that he sees on cable news at times. Again, it’s not always the forum that’s easy to provide guidance on how a bill becomes a law,” she added.

Tags Charles Schumer Jen Psaki Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Cornyn Kyrsten Sinema Mitch McConnell
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