Kyrsten Sinema Narrowly Escapes Progressive Censure

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) on Capitol Hill, July 16, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)
Arizona Democrats declined to formally rebuke one of the national party’s few moderates over the weekend. They’d be wise to keep protecting her going forward.

Politicians willing to exhibit bipartisanship aren’t particularly en vogue at the moment. Just ask Senator Kyrsten Sinema, the Arizona Democrat elected last November to fill the open seat vacated by retiring Republican Jeff Flake.

Late last week, news broke that the progressive caucus of Arizona’s Democratic party was mulling plans to formally censure Sinema for “failing to uphold tenets of [the] Democratic party platform.”

Dan O’Neal, Arizona state coordinator for Progressive Democrats of America, told ABC 15 Arizona that the progressive caucus is “very concerned” with Sinema’s voting record in Congress. “We want her to vote like a Democrat rather than supporting Trump half the time,” O’Neal said.

It’s true that Sinema has voted in line with President Trump’s position a little more than half the time over the last two Congresses, the first of which she spent in the House representing Arizona’s ninth congressional district. But according to FiveThirtyEight, her propensity to support the president’s preferred policies has drastically declined since she moved to the upper chamber. Thus far this Congress, Sinema has voted with Trump just 19 percent of the time, after having done so more than 62 percent of the time as a member of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition in the House.

The anti-Sinema resolution that the Arizona progressive caucus floated took particular issue with her votes in favor of two Trump nominees: William Barr to serve as attorney general and David Bernhardt to serve as secretary of the interior. It also castigated Sinema for being the sole Democratic senator not to sponsor the Save the Internet Act, which would’ve reinstated net-neutrality rules rolled back by the Federal Communications Commission.

Luckily for Sinema, she has managed to avoid any formal censure, at least for now. At a meeting of the state Democratic party over the weekend, the party’s Resolutions Committee voted unanimously to table the progressive caucus’s resolution, though the caucus has left open the possibility of mounting another push for it early next year.

Democrats in Arizona, and across the nation, should be glad of that. If the party hopes to gain ground in red and purple spots on the map next election cycle, as it did in last year’s midterms, it would do well to embrace candidates such as Sinema and reject efforts to push all of its politicians into one progressive mold — especially when that mold is defined solely by constant and mindless opposition to Trump.

In part because she shifted markedly and skillfully to the center as she rose from the state legislature to the House, Sinema became the first Democrat elected to the Senate from Arizona in more than three decades, narrowly defeating Republican congresswoman Martha McSally by a little more than two points in last November’s midterms. The outcome wasn’t an indication that Arizonans had rejected Trump and his party. In fact, the race was so close that Sinema wasn’t formally declared the winner for nearly a week as mail-in and early ballots were counted. (McSally ended up in the Senate this term anyway, after Republican senator Jon Kyl, who was serving as an interim replacement for the late senator John McCain, resigned, and Arizona governor Doug Ducey appointed McSally in his stead.)

Sinema’s victory over McSally was heartening for Democrats, who would very much like to turn Arizona purple and then, just maybe, blue, overcoming its long history of support for Republicans. In the 2012 presidential contest, Mitt Romney defeated incumbent president Barack Obama in the state by nearly ten points, and in 2016, Trump managed to snag its eleven Electoral College votes when he beat Hillary Clinton by less than three points. But in 2018, along with Sinema’s win, Democrats came within two seats of Republicans in the state house, the party’s best showing since the 1960s. Some political observers suggested just after the midterm results rolled in that Arizona ought to be considered a swing state heading into 2020.

If that’s the case, state Democrats should be prepared to stifle efforts such as those mounted by the progressive caucus last week. While Sinema won’t be up for reelection until 2024, the state will have a Senate race next year in addition to the presidential contest: a special election for McSally’s seat. In a place such as Arizona, Republicans have more to fear from Democrats willing to moderate than they do from those bullied into progressivism by the party’s far-left activists.


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