Politics & Policy

Sanders Refused to Condemn Harassment of Sinema

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (D., Vt.) attends a hearing to discuss President Biden’s budget request for FY 2022, at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., June 8, 2021. (Greg Nash/Reuters)

Adding to Democratic infighting over the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package pending in Congress, progressive Senator Bernie Sanders refused to sign onto a joint statement condemning the harassment of moderate Senator Kyrsten Sinema unless it included a provision urging her to support the bill.

The joint statement, obtained by Axios, calls the episode in which activists cornered Sinema in a university bathroom, filming her while shouting questions, “plainly inappropriate and unacceptable.”

As a condition for Sanders including his signature, however, his communications director Mike Casca asked, in email correspondence acquired by Axios, that the letter be revised with the introduction:  “While we hope Senator Sinema will change her position on prescription drug reform and support a major [budget] reconciliation bill, …”

When Senator Cory Booker, whose aid coordinated the statement, rejected the addition, Casca confirmed Sanders would not sign off on the statement.

“Sanders will not be signing, so please cut ‘Senate Democratic Leadership Team’ from headline,” Casca wrote.

Other members of Senate Democratic leadership, such as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, as well as Senators Dick Durbin, Mark Warner, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Manchin, Amy Klobuchar, and Catherine Cortez-Masto, all signed the letter.

While these prominent Democrats formally denounced the intimidation against Sinema, saying it “crossed a clear line,” President Biden downplayed the incident during an address recently, calling such aggressive tactics a “part of the process.”

To pass the reconciliation plan, Democrats must secure a simple majority in an evenly-divided Senate, making Sinema and Senator Joe Manchin’s votes particularly valuable. To pressure her into supporting the bill, activists have confronted and harangued Sinema in a number of locations, most recently on board a flight in the Washington, D.C. airport.

While Manchin suggested Wednesday that he might capitulate to Democratic demands and support a reconciliation bill with a price tag closer to progressives’ multi-trillion dollar ballpark, which was his qualm with the original bill, Sinema has  held her ground, citing concerns with inflation and an expanding welfare state.

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