How (Another) Rogue Senator from Arizona May Singlehandedly Derail the Biden Presidency.
Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ)
Article Written by Jett James Pruitt
Although it's rare for there to be consensus among political pundits in the Golden Age of American Divisiveness, there's one thing most can agree upon: the first two weeks of 2022 have been problematic for President Joe Biden.
With tensions flaring in Europe over a looming Russian invasion of Ukraine, American inflation hitting its highest point in forty years, and the U.S. Supreme Court delivering a heavy blow to the OSHA vaccine mandate, the President’s offensive line appears to be cracking.
To compound external pressures, tensions in the Democratic Party are stalling legislative progress, undermining the President’s credibility in the court of public opinion.
In fact, a Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday shows that only 33 percent of Americans approve of the job the President is doing.
Needless to say, Biden is having a rough start to the new year.
President Joe Biden (L) with Senator Sinema (R)
While the aforementioned topics may be temporary headaches for the President, one person may have the power to permanently derail Biden’s legacy: Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).
Widely considered a moderate Democrat, Sinema wields tremendous power in an evenly-divided Senate.
As Democrats have worked assiduously to pass voting rights legislation for several months, they have recently advocated to remove the 60-vote threshold to end debate on a bill. Doing this will allow them to pass landmark legislation that they believe will radically change national elections.
On Thursday, Sinema delivered a fiery speech on the Senate floor in defense of the 60-vote supermajority to end debate on legislation:
“There’s no need for me to restate my longstanding support for the 60-vote threshold to pass legislation. There’s no need for me to restate its role in protecting our country from wild reversals of federal policy . . . This week’s harried discussions about Senate rules are but a poor substitute for what I believe could have and should have been a thoughtful public debate at any time over the past year.”
In response, many of her colleagues are frustrated at her for bucking the party’s agenda. While Sinema has expressed support for the two bills, Democrats feel Sinema imploded any chances of the Senate passing the Freedom to Vote Act and The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
Senator Angus King (I-ME), who caucuses with the Democrats, spoke to reporters at the Capitol Building soon after Sinema concluded her speech.
“Well, it looks like the path forward is very difficult, particularly based upon Senator Sinema’s statement today,” he said. “She believes that the risks of changing the filibuster is greater than the risk of what’s going on in the states. I hope profoundly that she’s right. I fear that she’s wrong.”
According to Business Insider, The Freedom to Vote Act would standardize voting election laws and expand voter access across the country.
Among other things, the bill would make election day a federal holiday, permit same-day voter registration, institute a minimum of 15 days of early voting, prohibit partisan gerrymandering, and create a federal obligation for campaigns to report cases of foreign interference.
Former President Obama With The Late Rep. John Lewis (D-GA)
The John Lewis Voting Rights Act aims to strengthen components of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The two bills have been touted by congressional Democrats as necessary to combat restrictive voting laws in Republican-ruled states. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has repeatedly vowed to bring the two bills to a vote, despite ardent GOP opposition.
In short, Senator Sinema has received fire from progressive circles after making her stance clear in the past. In December 2021, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) went so far as to call Sienma and Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) 'arrogant' in an MSNBC interview with Chris Hayes.
“I respect other people’s points of view, but I do not respect the arrogance of any member of the Senate who says ‘You know what?’ I’m going to torpedo this entire bill, supported overwhelming by the American people,’” he said rhetorically. “You got two people saying, ‘You know what? Hey, if you don’t do it my way — I don’t care what the President wants, I don’t care what 48 of my colleagues want — it’s my way or the highway.’ And that is arrogance.”
Senator Kyrsten Sinema (L) and Senator Joe Manchin (R)
To clarify, Senator Machin is another moderate Democrat who frequently receives heat for his centrist viewpoints. Manchin played an instrumental role in blocking the For the People Act, which many considered to be a much more radical version of the Freedom to Vote Act.
After Thursday’s speech, Sinema has been viciously attacked on social media by members of her own party. Former Representative Abby Finkenaur, who is challenging incumbent Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in November 2022, called Sinema a “sellout” on Twitter.
MSNBC anchor Lawrence O’ Donnell tweeted “Sinema delivers the Senate’s stupidest speech by a Democrat in an edge-of-tears-voice to give childish words a melodramatic effect.”
Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman — who is running for the Senate — told Axios in a statement that “Now more than ever, Democrats need to vote like Democrats. Protecting the right to vote [is more important than protecting the] Filibuster.”
And that just scratches the surface.
For historical context, a filibuster is an attempt by a Senator (or multiple Senators) to delay a vote on a piece of legislation through prolonged speeches. They are typically deployed by members of the minority party.
As of this writing, while Senate bills only need a simple majority to pass (51 votes), it takes a supermajority (60 votes) to end debate on a bill. Especially when the Senate is split down the middle, it is extremely difficult for a party to overcome this hurdle.
For this reason, the filibuster effectively stalls most major legislation.
Over the past few centuries, the filibuster has been used by numerous Senators to kill bills on a variety of important issues — including civil rights.
During the Trump administration, Democratic Senators used the filibuster to impede Republican legislation on multiple occasions. Among other things, they utilized it to block funding for the construction of a border wall along the Southern border, federal distribution of Coronavirus relief, and Senator Tim Scott’s (R-SC) police reform bill.
Ironically, this is not the first time a Senator from Arizona has singlehandedly thwarted the wishes of their party. In 2017, the late Senator John McCain (R-AZ) was the most powerful Republican who voted against scrapping the Affordable Care Act in a dramatic act on the Senate Floor.
Could McCain be the inspiration for Sinema's bold stance against her own party? Only she can answer that question.
So, what are the implications of Senator Sinema bucking her colleagues? How will this affect President Biden’s ability to effectuate his legislative goals?
Will the Democratic Party finally boot her out?
Regardless of her political affiliation, Senator Sinema arguably poses the biggest obstacle to the Biden presidency than any other government official, law, or agency.
To begin with, her current term expires on January 3, 2025. That means, all things being equal, she has another three years to block any constructive or significant pieces of progressive legislation.
With prospects looking dim for the 2022 mid-term elections, this can prove to be catastrophic for the Democratic Party.
Three years is indubitably a long time within the realm of politics. If things continue as they are, President Biden may be left empty-handed if he decides to run for reelection in 2024.
Even if he and congressional Democrats are able to pass major voting rights legislation in 2025 or later, it may be too little, too late.
The truth is that Biden's presidential legacy lies within the hands of Sinema and Manchin. Just how long can they withstand the enormous pressure from their own party? Only time will tell.
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