At the tail end of Wednesday’s Newshour segment, it fell to PBS’s Judy Woodruff to ask an otherwise ebullient Sen. Jon Tester about the fate of this far more comprehensive infrastructure bill:
Last question, Senator.
The fate of this so-called companion $3.5 trillion social infrastructure bill, money for home health care, for education, for the environment, what does its fate look like, and now that you have Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema saying she’s not going to vote for it? And you need Democrats on board.
Sen. Tester, somewhat deflated by the question, sputtered for a moment, then admitted he had only been focused on the bipartisan bill, but assured Woodruff that “When I go home, I hear about housing, I hear about child care, I hear about senior care all the time.”
Well, yeah, those issues are pretty important. So, it’s not surprising that many Democrats were more than a little alarmed when Sen. Sinema said “she’s not going to vote for it,” particularly as she timed this announcement of hers on Wednesday to practically coincide with the purported agreement on the bipartisan deal.
As Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo shrewdly reminds us, that’s exactly what Sen. Sinema wants us to feel: alarmed. Or more specifically, to feel as if she’s our only hope. In fact, these are just the kind of antics that she lives for. As Marshall notes, here is what Sinema actually said:
“I have also made clear that while I will support beginning this process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion — and in the coming months, I will work in good faith to develop this legislation with my colleagues and the administration to strengthen Arizona’s economy and help Arizona’s everyday families get ahead,” Sinema said in a written statement.
Marshall says this is par for the course for Sinema’s “Preening 101” approach to her job:
I think this is best interpreted as Sinema throwing up a flag that she’s going to continue to preen and create drama for the purpose of building a reputation as an uber-‘moderate’ and generally have everyone kiss up to her. She wants to come out of this as the person who wasn’t totally down with Democratic priorities and shaved the numbers down, at least a bit. If she really wanted to stop the process she wouldn’t vote to let it begin, which she is. That tells you the story.
The key point here, from Marshall’s point of view, is that the Democrats’ other deficit scold, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, by all appearances thus far isn’t with Sinema on this one.
And here’s why that’s important. Manchin is from a very red state. He’s got his own politics and set of concerns that seems to work for him in his state but he rarely actually shuts his party down on critical stuff. None of this is new for Manchin. His vote is just more pivotal. Sinema meanwhile is a preening phony. She started out as a member of the Green party. Then she was progressive Democrat. Now she’s an uber ‘centrist’. She’s a total phony and I doubt very much that she will be able to pull any of this off if she’s there alone without Manchin. Without Manchin, she’ll fold.
In Marshall’s opinion (and it seems reasonable), this is just more “look-at-me” drama from Sinema who doesn’t seem to realize that unlike Manchin (who miraculously manages to survive and thrive in an ultra-red state whose residents simply salivate for reasons to oppose Democrats and Joe Biden) her haughty, iconoclastic approach doesn’t resonate with her own constituents. As Marshall points out, there’s nothing—including its price tag—in the Reconciliation infrastructure package that is likely to bother Sinema’s constituent base. Rather, this appears to be strictly an ego-trip for Sinema, just like her infamous opposition to raising the minimum wage.
And for that reason, as Marshall opines, Sinema probably warrants a primary challenge: “She’s a destructive force in the Democratic caucus and Democratic politics generally.” Marshall makes a very good argument that these attention-grabbing antics by Sinema make it all the much harder for Arizona’s other Democratic senator, Mark Kelly, since Kelly is up for reelection in 2022 and in theory would like to be able to point to some type of achievements by a Democratic senate. The longer Sinema plays the prima donna for her own ego gratification, the more ammunition Republicans have against all Democrats, including Kelly.
However, the problem Democrats have to face, as Marshall acknowledges, is that in practice, primary challenges usually weaken the Democratic party structure, particularly in states that aren’t reliably blue to begin with, like Arizona. So that while “ideally” the best result would be to primary Sinema in 2024, we risk fracturing the Democratic electorate in Arizona that voted her into office in the first place. As Marshall sees it, the more important focus is to add more Democrats to the Senate in 2022, so her penchant for preening is rendered irrelevant.