Bernie Sanders: Arizona Democrats were 'exactly right' to censure Kyrsten Sinema

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on Sunday backed the Arizona Democratic Party's decision to censure Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., for her opposition to reforming filibuster rules to pass voting rights legislation.

"That was a terrible, terrible vote, and I think what the Arizona Democratic Party did was exactly right," Sanders said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Sanders added on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the state party's decision was "absolutely" appropriate.

On Saturday, the Arizona Democratic leadership voted to censure Sinema, citing “her failure to do whatever it takes to ensure the health of our democracy.″ This was in reference to Sinema's opposition to a Senate rules change to allow a federal voting rights bill to advance with a simple majority vote.

Sinema and fellow moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., dealt a significant blow to President Biden's agenda earlier this month by opposing a rules change to pass the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. The bill included a host of voting reforms, including making Election Day a national holiday, expanding early voting and voting by mail, making registering to vote easier and partisan gerrymandering more difficult, and more. It also would have made it easier for the Justice Department to intervene against states with a history of voter discrimination.

Both Sinema and Manchin said they supported the bill's reforms, which had already passed the House. But they sided with Senate Republicans in opposing changing the filibuster, which sets a 60-vote threshold for action.

The Arizona Democratic Party's censure is symbolic, but it adds to the pressure on Sinema, who is up for reelection in 2024 in a swing state that Republicans are also expected to vigorously contest.

Sanders, a former presidential candidate and one of the most prominent liberal voices in the country, told CNN on Sunday that he "would be happy" to support the right Democratic candidate against Sinema or Manchin — if that primary rival was "prepared to stand up for working families."

He also made the case for voting rights legislation as a number of Republican-controlled states, spurred on by former President Donald Trump’s false claim that he won the 2020 election, have enacted changes to make voting harder.

"On that particular vote that she and Manchin cast, we were trying to address the reality that you got 19 Republican states all over this country who are undermining the foundations of American democracy, trying to make it harder for people of color, young people, people with disabilities, to vote," Sanders said.

"Coming up with extreme gerrymandering. Taking action against independent election officials. And it is so important that we protect American democracy, that we stand up to the 'Big Lie' of Trump and his allies that he really won the election. And they [Manchin and Sinema] undermined that effort. I think what the Arizona Democrats did was exactly right."

In contrast with Sanders, Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., said she didn't "love" the Arizona Democrats' censure of Sinema.

"I just don't come from a school where you're constantly airing dirty laundry," Slotkin said Sunday on "Meet the Press." "If we disagree with someone, that's a normal part of governing," she added.

For Sinema's part, her office released a statement defending her record after the censure was announced.

“During three terms in the U.S. House, and now in the Senate, Kyrsten has always promised Arizonans she would be an independent voice for the state — not for either political party,” spokesperson Hannah Hurley said. “She’s delivered for Arizonans and has always been honest about where she stands."