Attacks on Sinema turn increasingly personal
Attacks on Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) are becoming increasingly personal as she faces blowback for refusing to support the massive $3.5 trillion budget that progressives are demanding pass alongside the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal.
On Sunday, video surfaced of protesters following Sinema into a bathroom at Arizona State University, where one activist stood outside of the stall the senator was in.
The incident prompted Sinema to issue a statement saying the “behavior was not legitimate protest.”
“It is unacceptable for activist organizations to instruct their members to jeopardize themselves by engaging in unlawful activities such as gaining entry to closed university buildings, disrupting learning environments, and filming students in a restroom,” she said.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters on Monday that while he supports the right to a peaceful protest, it was “over the line” for the protesters to follow Sinema into the bathroom and record her.
Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) also defended Sinema on Monday, condemning the actions of the protesters in a tweet.
“Senator Sinema works hard on behalf of Arizonans every day and this is not the way to handle disagreements,” Kelly said. “These actions were completely inappropriate.”
President Biden said at a press conference that he did not think the actions of the protesters were appropriate but added “it happens to everybody.”
“The only people it doesn’t happen to are people who have Secret Service standing around. It’s part of the process,” the president said.
Over the weekend, the Sunrise Movement and other progressive groups demonstrated outside of a private fundraiser for Sinema on Saturday in Phoenix, demanding that she support the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package along with provisions to combat climate change.
Sinema was also the subject of a scathing “Saturday Night Live” intro in which she was portrayed by Cecily Strong as unserious and out of touch.
“I want no roads,” said Strong’s Sinema.
“Why?” asked James Austin Johnson, playing President Biden.
“Chaos,” Strong’s Sinema replied.
The real Sinema played a key role in the negotiation process for the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that addresses U.S. roads.
Later on Monday, a video surfaced of Sinema being confronted by a small group of protesters at Reagan National Airport.
Progressives argue Sinema is one of the biggest players in the battle over the reconciliation package that is stalling that infrastructure bill in the House.
“We’re talking about a budget bill that’s a part of the president’s platform, the Democratic platform, the stuff that they ran on in 2020, and the fact that there’s a Democrat blocking it is bad enough,” said Paco Fabian, the director of campaigns at the progressive group Our Revolution.
Critics also point to Sinema’s limited interaction with the public and press as an explanation for the ramped-up criticism against her.
“The reality is that they’ve tried literally every single legitimate avenue to get a hold of her, to communicate with her, to dialogue with her and they’ve been flat-out rejected at every turn,” said Arizona state Sen. Martín Quezada (D), referring to activists like the ones who cornered her in the bathroom over the weekend. “And so it makes sense that they would feel like that’s their only option at that point.”
The activist group involved in the bathroom incident, Living United for Change in Arizona, echoed that sentiment in an email to The Hill on Monday.
“No one wants to meet with their senator in the restroom. But it seems like there’s a price tag of several hundred thousand dollars to meet with her anywhere else,” the group’s communications director, César Fierros, said.
Sinema’s fellow moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) has also faced blowback for his opposition to the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. Last week, progressive activists gathered in kayaks outside of his houseboat in Washington, urging him to support the $3.5 trillion spending package.
But Manchin and Sinema’s critics say the criticism against her male colleague has been less scathing because he has been more transparent. The West Virginia senator met Monday with the activists who gathered in kayaks outside of his houseboat last week.
“There’s something to be said about that,” Fabian said.
But Sinema is also facing what could be real threats to her future in the upper chamber. Last week Arizona Democrats rolled out the Primary Sinema PAC, while Nuestro PAC launched an effort dubbed “Run Ruben Run” to persuade progressive Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) into challenging Sinema.
“If Kyrsten Sinema won’t vote to protect voting rights, raise the minimum wage, support President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda or eliminate the filibuster, we need to replace her with someone who will,” Nuestro PAC President Chuck Rocha said in a statement on Thursday.
A survey from OH Predictive Insights released last week found that just 56 percent of Democrats said they had a favorable view of the Arizona senator.
Progressives say Sinema should expect more pressure from progressive activists going forward.
“People have questions, she’s not answering those questions and as a result, people are going to start relying on more and more confrontational tactics in order to get answers to some of those questions,” Fabian said.
Other Democrats also worry that her stance is contributing to the deepening divide within the party.
“We want to support Sen. Sinema. We want her to be successful,” Quezada said. “She may be considering the red side of the political calculation, but I don’t think she’s giving enough credibility to the blue side of that calculation as well.”
“She’s leaving a lot of support on the table in acting in the way that she’s been acting lately,” he added.
Jordain Carney contributed.