During the Joe Biden era, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona has been a frequent source of frustration to the more progressive Democrats — who often find themselves wondering what her end game is in stalling the Build Back Better agenda. But in an article published by Politico on October 27, Phoenix-based journalist Hank Stephenson (who co-founded the Arizona Agenda newsletter) emphasizes that Sinema isn't all that hard to figure out: She views herself as an "independent" and is pushing her own brand rather than a Democratic Party brand.
Stephenson explains, "Chaos isn't a bad way to describe her impact in Washington right now; she's not only holding up her own party's biggest national priority, but she's famously unclear about her reasons why. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), the other most-intransigent Democrat, can't stop talking about his motives. Sinema isn't even calling her friends. She's rocketed into the national zeitgeist as an enigma, one of the least understood politicians in Washington."
The journalist goes on to say that in Arizona, however, political figures who have known Sinema for a long time have a better understanding of her motives.
"Back home, some of her oldest allies — as well as critics — have an insight for the Democrats who are trying to corral her," Stephenson reports, "and it's not necessarily a comfortable one: Get used to it…. For them, Sinema is better understood in terms of pure ambition, and the constant triangulation needed to hold office in a purple state that fancies itself charting an independent course, whatever that requires in the moment. Sinema declined to comment for this report."
Sinema has made it abundantly clear that she believes the Build Back Better Act of 2021's $3.5 price tag is too high, and prominent Democrats — from President Joe Biden to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — have been trying to figure out what cuts it will take to get her on board.
"Progressive activists are furious, with local groups already threatening to fund a primary challenge against (Sinema) in 2024," Stephenson notes. "Some of her old comrades say Sinema would be better off dropping the 'D' next to her name altogether and returning to her roots as an independent. But for those still perplexed about Sinema, her rise offers an object lesson in how to get ahead by flagrantly eschewing loyalty to one's own party."
According to Stephenson, it is "impossible to talk about Sinema without mentioning John McCain, the 'maverick' Republican who represented Arizona in the Senate for more than 30 years and was frequently at war with his own party."
Indeed, Sinema has often praised McCain as her political idol. And she is on very friendly terms with the late senator's daughter, conservative activist Meghan McCain.
Stephenson writes, "Sinema is said to be eager to inherit McCain's mantle as an Arizonan with an independent streak; whether intentionally or not, her ostentatious thumbs down on Democrats' minimum wage boost earlier this year instantly conjured memories of McCain's own rejection of the GOP Obamacare repeal bill…. (But) their temperaments couldn't be more different. Unlike Sinema, McCain would talk to the press for hours at a time. And Sinema doesn't have the fiery, confrontation-loving spirit that leads one to hold court with critics. Agree with him or not, McCain had a way of making people feel heard, even if not convinced. Sinema has always been a woman apart from her party."