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Tensions between Democrats and Sinema continue to simmer

·Senior Editor
·3 min read
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Tensions between Washington Democrats and Kyrsten Sinema came to a boil late Tuesday with the Arizona senator lashing out at Majority Leader Chuck Schumer over the slow pace of voting in the chamber.

“Could we have some discipline in the votes, ever?” Sinema was overheard by a Bloomberg reporter in the press gallery challenging Schumer. “You're in charge!”

While Schumer's response to Sinema was not captured on tape or relayed to reporters by Senate colleagues, Sinema's outburst caught the attention of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

Ocasio-Cortez is one of many progressives incensed at Sinema over her opposition to the Build Back Better bill and changes to the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation.

Last month, Schumer scheduled a vote on bypassing a Republican filibuster on the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, a top priority for the Biden administration and the Democratic Party, despite the fact that Sinema and fellow centrist Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia had gone on record saying they would not support the legislative maneuver.

From left, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz
From left, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. on Nov. 15, 2021.(Mandel Ngan//AFP via Getty Images)

“The American people deserve to see their senators go on record and whether they will support these bills or oppose them,” Schumer said ahead of the failed vote. “Indeed, that may be the only way to make progress on this issue for now: for the public to see where each of us in this chamber stands.”

Both Manchin and Sinema said they supported the substance of the bill itself. But, saying that eliminating the filibuster "would deepen our divisions and risk repeated radical reversals in federal policy," Sinema voted against changing filibuster rules. In response, the Arizona Democratic Party voted on Jan. 22 to censure her.

“While we take no pleasure in this announcement, the ADP Executive Board has decided to formally censure Senator Sinema as a result of her failure to do whatever it takes to ensure the health of our democracy,” Raquel Terán, the chair of the ADP, said in a statement.

And one of the country's leading progressives, Sen. Bernie Sanders, applauded the move.

“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.”

With the Senate evenly divided, Democrats know they can't afford to lose votes from Manchin and Sinema if they have any chance of passing Biden's stalled agenda. With progressive lawmakers fuming that the two senators have blocked voting rights and the president's Build Back Better spending bill, the question remains what Democrats can do about it.

On Wednesday, Schumer was asked whether he planned to support Manchin and Sinema in 2024 if they faced a primary challenge from another Democrat.

“I am focused on 2022, getting things done, and winning the election in 2022,” Schumer said, according to CNN. “I’m not at all focused on 2024 right now, and neither should anyone else be. That’s just how you lose in 2022.”

Sinema is more likely to face a serious primary challenge than Manchin, who represents a deeply conservative state that any other Democratic candidate would struggle to win a general election in. Some progressive activists are hoping that Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., steps forward to challenge Sinema in 2024.

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