Kyrsten Sinema fraternizes with Mitch McConnell. That doesn't make her a traitor

After the mass murder of teachers and students at a Texas elementary school, a small group of Republican and Democratic senators began meeting in Kyrsten Sinema’s Capitol Hill office.

They crafted a bill that would eventually become the most important gun legislation passed in a quarter-century.

Senate Democrat Chris Murphy, who had toiled to try to pass new gun regulations since the 2012 slaughter of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in his home-state Connecticut, praised Sinema for her unique ability to deliver Republican votes.

Sinema knew McConnell was the key

One of those Republicans she landed was Mitch McConnell, the U.S. Senate minority leader. When the outcome was still in doubt, McConnell signaled his support.

That was important, reported the Washington Post, because it meant bill sponsors could likely count on him bringing with him “a dozen or more Republicans,” the Washington Post reported.

Another view: Sinema's politics don't match Cheney's principles

Some Democrats complained the bill didn’t do much. But those most engaged in solving gun violence in America understood that passing gun legislation today makes it easier to do the next time.

Because Sinema, a Democrat, had put in the time to build relationships with Republicans, because she refuses to demonize her political opponents, she played a lead role in passing bipartisan bills on infrastructure, guns, semiconductor chips and postal reform.

Is a speech with him really a betrayal?

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema made remarks about bipartisanship as a guest of Sen. Mitch McConnell during an event at the McConnell Center on the campus of the University of Louisville in Louisville, Ky. on Sept. 26, 2022.
Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema made remarks about bipartisanship as a guest of Sen. Mitch McConnell during an event at the McConnell Center on the campus of the University of Louisville in Louisville, Ky. on Sept. 26, 2022.

On Monday, McConnell – now in his 37th year in Washington – called her “one of the most effective first-term senators I’ve seen in my time in the Senate.”

On the same day, Democrats and liberals called her “a dogs--- Senator,” “a dark-money shill selling out her country,” and an “(expletive deleted)”.

Many of them mistakenly believed that a speech at the McConnell Center in Louisville was a betrayal of the Democratic Party.

But Sinema follows a long line of Democrats who have spoken at the center, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sen. Tim Kaine, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Christopher Dodd, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Vice President Joe Biden.

McConnell is clearly impressed with Sinema’s eagerness to reach across the aisle in the most divided time in our generation. He also appreciates her willingness to defend the legislative filibuster that ensures the minority will have a voice in Senate lawmaking.

“It took one hell of a lot of guts for Kyrsten Sinema to stand up and say, ‘I’m not going to break the institution in order to achieve a short-term goal,’ ” he said.

Sinema spoke powerfully on American unity

Sinema’s speech at the McConnell Center was a thoughtful exposition of her political philosophy, which amounts to simply this:

We get more done working together than we do apart.

That idea once seemed basic to American life, but today it makes Sinema one of the most reviled political figures in the country.

How voters view Sinema: 1 in 5 aren't sure what to make of her

Those who scorn her are probably unreachable. They’re religionists whose pastors are the talking heads on MSNBC. To them, working with Republicans is an act of heresy. A deal with the devil.

But most Americans aren’t coiled that tightly. They’re not fanatics. They would probably find themselves nodding in agreement with Sinema’s words at the McConnell Center. The audience there gave her a standing ovation.

She's right: Most of us aren't that political

If you have not watched her speech, you should.

She doesn’t lecture or pontificate. She doesn’t speak with a booming voice. She speaks as if she just ran into you at the grocery store.

She’s real.

“More and more it seems like Americans are being told that in order to be a member of either political party you must adhere to a strict, set list of policy viewpoints. But I don’t think that’s how a majority of Arizonans, or Kentuckians or everyday Americans think,” she said.

“We use our own judgment from lived experiences to form our honestly held beliefs. And we just don’t have the time or energy to think about politics every waking moment.

“I certainly don’t.”

The Senate wasn't meant to be radicalized

Sinema explained that she ran for the Senate because it was designed to take the longer view than the House, which is driven by passion and angst and hyper-partisanship.

America’s Founding Fathers designed the Senate to cool our jets, to look further out, to quell the passions that lead to impulsive decisions and unintended consequences.

If we ever needed a cooling element it’s in this present moment.

“In Washington our politics have become increasingly radicalized, spiraling steadily downward into bitter and tribal extremism,” Sinema said.

“Cable news pundits, outside groups and some political leaders on both sides of the aisle have let the loudest and most extreme voices in each party dominate the discourse and set the agenda because it stokes anger, because it gets tweets ... views ... clicks.

“But it doesn’t solve problems.”

Why Sinema holds tight to the filibuster

Problems are solved by sitting down with all of our particular competing interests and working toward a solution that, while not perfect for all, serves all, she explained.

In that vein, the legislative filibuster “is a tool that requires that new federal policy be broadly supported by senators representing a broader cross-section of Americans,” Sinema said. “(It’s) a guardrail ensuring that the millions of Americans not represented by the majority party in the moment have a voice in the process.”

The problem with the filibuster is that there are not enough, she said. “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.”

“Demands to eliminate this threshold by both political parties, amounts to a group of people standing on two sides of a canyon shouting to their colleagues that the solutions to their shared challenges is to make that rift both wider and deeper.”

Still offended? What that might say about you

We cannot keep going the way we are, said Sinema. Our partisan divide not only stops us from solving problems, it ensures that every time either party retakes control of the Senate it jams the chamber into reverse.

“In recent years, nearly every party line response and reaction to the problems we have faced have led us to more division, not less. The impact is clear for all to see.

“The steady escalation of tit for tat, the weakening of our guardrails and the exclusion of input from the other party furthers the resentment and anger amongst elected leaders and our constituents at home.”

Over months now, we’ve seen angry partisans throwing bricks at Sinema. She never throws them back.

Political name-calling distracts from the more important mission – problem-solving.

This is not a defect exclusive to Democrats. The Democrats who hate Sinema, who hate those who would compromise, can see their mirror image on the political right. There they go by the names Gaetz and Gosar and Taylor Greene.

In fact, think of Sinema’s speech as a mirror.

If you watch it and still think of her as self-serving and disgusting, then you’ll know something about yourself.

You’re part of the problem.

Phil Boas is an editorial columnist with The Arizona Republic. He can be reached at 602-444-8292 or phil.boas@arizonarepublic.com.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Kyrsten Sinema is no traitor to work with Mitch McConnell