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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema speaks on the Senate floor

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) speaks on the Senate floor on January 13, 2021. (Photo: C-SPAN/Screengrab)

'Shame on Her': Sinema Sparks Fury by Choosing Filibuster Over Democracy

The Arizona Democrat's continued opposition to filibuster reform puts her squarely "in McConnell's anti-democracy camp," said one progressive activist.

Jake Johnson

Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema was met with a torrent of outrage on Thursday after she delivered a floor speech reiterating her opposition to weakening the Senate's 60-vote threshold, striking a major blow to her party's plan to finally overcome Republican obstruction of voting rights legislation.

"If Democrats re-elect her in Arizona in 2024, shame on them."

"While I continue to support these bills, I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country," Sinema (D-Ariz.) said, referring to the Democratic leadership's plan to pursue changes to the 60-vote filibuster if GOP senators continue to block the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Sinema, long a vocal defender of the filibuster, claimed to be alarmed by the voter suppression legislation that Republicans are advancing along party lines at the state level nationwide, but she adamantly rejected the rule changes that would allow Senate Democrats to do something about the GOP's assault on the franchise and democratic institutions.

"Sinema says she strongly opposes state vote suppression laws and strongly supports the democracy reform laws. But she can't support those while supporting McConnell's veto of them," argued Ezra Levin, co-executive director of the progressive advocacy group Indivisible. "At the end of day, that puts you in McConnell's anti-democracy camp."

The Tempe, Arizona branch of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, for its part, slammed Sinema for prioritizing "Jim Crow relics instead of Arizonans."

Delivered to a Senate gallery consisting largely of Republican lawmakers, Sinema's speech came shortly after the House passed legislation that combines the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, part of a procedural maneuver that will allow Democrats to bring the measure to the Senate floor for debate without needing 60 votes.

In order to cut off debate and proceed to a final vote, though, Democrats will still need 60 votes or a change to Senate rules, which can be accomplished with a simple majority.

"Once again, we in the House have done our job—the fate of our democracy now rests in the United States Senate," Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) tweeted following the vote. "Time is running out. Reform the filibuster and pass the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act."

But Sinema's opposition to changing Senate rules means Democrats will need the support of at least 10 Republicans to pass legislation, an unlikely feat given the minority party's repeated obstruction of voting rights measures in recent months.

"She says she supports the voting rights bills but won't do anything to ensure that they pass. Shame on her," said MSNBC's Mehdi Hasan. "And if Democrats re-elect her in Arizona in 2024, shame on them."

Tré Easton, deputy director of the Battle Born Collective, said in a statement that "Sinema cannot credibly claim in one breath to 'share the concerns of civil rights advocates' and then ostentatiously protect the filibuster—the specific impediment to addressing their concerns."

"She cannot continue to cloak herself in her 'hero' the late John Lewis' legacy while spitting in the face of efforts to advance voting rights legislation—his life's work," Easton added. "If there were any questions remaining about what she truly prioritizes, Senator Sinema answered them emphatically today. In her quest to be the next John McCain, she crowned herself the modern-day Strom Thurmond. Arizonans truly deserve better."

In an indication of who benefits from Sinema's continued opposition to filibuster reform, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was quick to praise the Arizona Democrat's speech as a "conspicuous act of political courage."

Sinema "saved the Senate as an institution," McConnell gushed.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), another Democratic opponent of filibuster reform, also applauded Sinema's remarks, noting that they hit on "the points that I've been making for an awful long time."

"We need changes to make the Senate work better, not getting rid of the filibuster," Manchin added.

Jana Morgan, director of the Declaration for American Democracy, said Thursday that "if Sen. Sinema votes against restoring the Senate to protect the freedom to vote, she will go down in history as the senator who ensured the irreversible fall of American democracy."

"It will also enshrine her legacy as empowering Sen. McConnell to destroy American democracy for his own political gain," Morgan added. "Now is the moment to be on the right side of history."

Christina Harvey, executive director of Stand Up America, added that "Arizonans overwhelmingly support the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and they are counting on Senator Sinema to do the right thing and protect the freedom to vote."

"She is running out of time," Harvey said, "but she can still show she’s on the right side of history."

This story has been updated to include comment from the Battle Born Collective.


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