Senator Kyrsten Sinema spoke at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville on Monday. She said she is committed to the reinstatement of the 60-vote threshold for all judicial and executive branch nominees in the Senate. Chuck Schumer, call your office.
It came up during a question and answer session after her speech.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced her to the audience. McConnell lavished her with some praise by calling Sinema the “most effective first-term senator” he’s seen during his 37 years in the Senate. Well, she certainly has made her mark in the Senate. I find it interesting that she was asked to speak at the McConnell Center and made this news there. No, I don’t think she is considering switching parties, she’s a solid Democrat, but she acts as though she has more common sense than most of her party. She doesn’t just talk the talk about working with the other side, she walks the walk and takes the flak for her more moderate views.
Her speech was on bipartisanship, something almost impossible right now with such a divided political atmosphere. Joe Biden divides Americans as he tries to convince everyone that he works with both sides of the aisle. His lead encourages Democrats in Congress to act as partisan as they like. President Unity has failed us all.
“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,” the Republican leader said. “She is, today, what we have too few of in the Democratic Party: a genuine moderate, and a dealmaker.”
McConnell went on to commend Sinema for her opposition to ending the so-called filibuster in the Senate, which requires 60 affirmative votes to advance legislation. In recent years, both the Democratic and Republican parties have used the tool to block legislation favored by the other party.
As President Joe Biden took office last year and Democrats won a slim majority in the Senate, Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia were the only two Democratic senators who vowed not to eliminate the filibuster to approve legislation put forward by their party.
They broke from their party and voted against ending the filibuster amid a push to enact voting rights legislation in January, a fact that McConnell noted in his introductory remarks.
“That was not fashionable in the Democratic Party in the last year and a half,” he said. “It took one hell of a lot of guts for Kyrsten Sinema to stand up and say, ‘I’m not gonna break the institution in order to achieve a short term goal.’”
“If you break the institution, you fundamentally change the country,” he added. “And I can tell you, the institution might well have been broken, but for our guest today.”
Senator Sinema explained her answer. She knows it isn’t popular but it’s necessary to bring more people to the center.
“Not only am I committed to the 60-vote threshold, I have an incredibly unpopular view. I actually think we should restore the 60-vote threshold for the areas in which it has been eliminated already. We should restore it,” Sinema said to cheers from some attendees.
“Not everyone likes that,” Sinema continued to laughs, “because it would make it harder for us to confirm judges and it would make it harder for us to confirm executive appointments in each administration, but I believe that if we did restore it, we would see more of that middle ground in all parts of our governance, which is what, I believe, our forefathers intended.”
It was former Nevada Senator Harry Reid who ended the 60-vote threshold for non-Supreme Court judicial nominations and executive branch nominees. Reid was Senate Majority Leader in 2013 and invoked the nuclear option. Then, in 2017, McConnell and Republicans took it a step further and included Supreme Court nominees in order to get Justice Neil Gorsuch confirmed.
She pointed out that majorities frequently change in Congress, especially in the House, and noted that the majority in the House will likely change again in November. It’s frustrating to be in the minority but it’s also frustrating for the majority because they would still have to reach 60 votes to move forward. She said this gives time for cooler heads to prevail. Sinema is saying this at a time when Democrats are having trouble getting organized to codify Roe v Wade and as Democrats are trying to hold on to control of their Senate majority.
Sinema refuses to vote to eliminate the filibuster. She will likely draw a primary challenge in 2024 from the progressive wing of the party. Though Joe Manchin usually gets the credit for slowing down the Democrats’ progressive agenda, it was Sinema who refused to support the first Build Back Better bill. As noted above, she is a Democrat, though, and she voted for the Inflation Reduction Act last month.
Sinema, in her remarks, thanked McConnell and acknowledged that she’s forged an unlikely friendship with the Republican leader since she joined the Senate four years ago.
“In today’s partisan Washington, it might shock some that a Democratic senator would consider the Republican leader of the Senate her friend. But back home in Arizona, we don’t view life through a partisan lens,” Sinema said.
Throughout her speech, Sinema stressed the importance of bipartisan dealmaking, touted her efforts on bipartisan legislation, and defended her approach to maintaining the Senate filibuster.
“The Senate was designed to be a place that moves more slowly, to cool down those passions, to think more strategically and long-term about the legislation before us. And most importantly, it was designed to require comity, to require people to compromise and work together so the legislation we pass represents the viewpoints of a broad spectrum of the country, not just the passion of the moment,” Sinema said.
Hyper-partisan Chuck Schumer will not like all this reasonableness at all. Here’s hoping he loses his position as Senate Majority Leader in November. Then we can watch McConnell duke it out with any other Republicans eager to get his job. I don’t think there is any appetite for putting the genie back in the 60-vote threshold bottle but her responses today reminded me that I like her as a politician.