When it was announced that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) would deliver a speech in Kentucky at an institution created by Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, the move seemed perfectly calibrated to troll fellow Democrats.
As the Arizona senator descended from the McConnell Center stage on Monday — and thanked a cheering audience that included McConnell himself — she could safely say: mission accomplished.
In her remarks, Sinema doubled down on the most high-profile areas where she broke with her fellow Democrats, defended her bipartisan negotiating style, attacked what she called partisanship and extremism in both parties and warmly describes his personal relationship with his host. that day – the man who was his party’s most hated enemy for decades.
This is precisely the kind of trick that made Sinema persona non grata among Democrats from Arizona to Washington as she emerged as a decisive obstacle to much of the party’s agenda under President Joe Biden and House and Senate majorities.
Indeed, during her speech, Sinema’s many critics slammed her on social media, including Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), the Phoenix progressive who openly envisions a main challenge for her in 2024.
But in his speech, Sinema presented this backlash as proof of the correctness of his approach to politics. “If you don’t adapt to today’s Washington, believe me, they want to kick you out,” Sinema said. “But I never really wanted to fit in, in Washington or anywhere else.”
The tone of the show was set by McConnell, who introduced Sinema. The longtime GOP leader, not particularly known for his warmth or talkativeness in public, was enthusiastic about the Arizona Democrat, calling her “the most effective first-term senator I’ve seen in my life.” my time in the Senate”.
McConnell went on to praise Sinema as a “true moderate and negotiator” in a Democratic party he says has “too few” of them and almost credited her with saving the Senate because she s is opposed to the Democratic caucus’ push to eliminate the 60 from the House. -voting threshold for the adoption of bills.
“As you can see,” McConnell said, “I have a very high opinion of the Arizona senator.”
At the start of his remarks, Sinema returned the favor. “Despite our apparent differences, Senator McConnell and I have forged a friendship,” she said, rooted in commonalities she listed as a “pragmatic approach to legislation” and “respect for the Senate.” .
McConnell, of course, is hardly known as a champion of bipartisan compromise and civility. One of the fiercest partisan warriors of the modern era, the GOP leader is accused by Democrats of inventing the ruthless political war that Sinema decried in his speech.
Much of Sinema’s remarks were devoted to extolling the merits of two major bipartisan bills she has been closely involved with this year: the $1 trillion Infrastructure Act and the Weapons Safety Compromise. fire.
Criticizing the “all-or-nothing purity tests” that she says define contemporary politics, Sinema focused on the group of senators who shaped the infrastructure bill. “The 10 of us shut out the noise of extremes, refused to demonize one another,” she said, “and focused on identifying creative solutions and common-sense compromises. “
While Democrats appreciate those accomplishments, for many, Sinema’s — and Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) — opposition to the filibuster amendment remains one of the session’s most sore spots. elsewhere productive in Congress. The Arizona senator also left her mark on sweeping climate change, tax and health care legislation that Democrats passed in August along partisan lines, and her resistance to tax reforms — often along the lines of favorite of deep-pocketed financial interests – still annoys many.
On Monday, Sinema unsurprisingly reiterated her opposition to scrapping the 60-vote rule, and went further. She expressed her belief – something she had already done in 2019 – that the Senate should reinstate the 60-vote threshold for everythingjudicial appointments and administrative appointments included.
The senator acknowledged that such a move would make it more difficult to fill key positions, but would help ensure that more candidates have broad support from both sides. The irony of Sinema championing this idea in a center named for McConnell was lost on a few Democrats. As minority leader during the Obama era, McConnell blocked so many candidates for the Obama bench that then-majority leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) was instigated the controversial decision to end the filibuster of judicial candidates.
To underscore his larger point about the filibuster, Sinema noted that control of Congress changes “every two years” and “is likely to change again in a few weeks” – a rare explicit acknowledgment by a Democrat that the party can lose either the House, Senate or both. The remark sparked Gallego, who tweeted that Sinema “would actually prefer the Dems to lose control of the Senate and the House.”
Notably, Sinema expressed no preference as to who could control Congress next year. “I will work with Chief McConnell, Chief Schumer, Republicans, Democrats,” Sinema said. “Anyone willing to roll up their sleeves.”