The New Republic - October 6, 2021
What does Kyrsten Sinema want? Nobody knows; she won’t say. The Arizona senator is known for living out loud in plenty of other ways—she favors patterned dresses, gaudy accessories, and profane jewelry (literally); her identity is bound up in attention-seeking hobbies (fancy wine, triathlons). But when it comes to her actual job, which is being a United States senator, she says next to nothing—most notably about her decision to hold up the progress of two important bills that constitute the Biden agenda. No one really seems to understand why. She has raised no specific objections over a proposed $3.5 trillion budget that has the support of the president. She has pilloried House Democratic leadership for not passing a related $1 trillion infrastructure bill, writing that failing to pass that bill “is inexcusable, and deeply disappointing for communities across our country,” without noting that her refusal to negotiate on the budget was a key reason why progress wasn’t being made on that front.
Compare her, if you like, to Joe Manchin, the Democratic Party’s other well-known stick in the mud. We know a great deal more about what Manchin wants—he, unlike the hermetic Sinema, talks to the press and to his constituents. Manchin isn’t comfortable with the $3.5 trillion figure and wants there to be more focus on debt reduction. He, moreover, has provided a figure he is comfortable with—$1.5 trillion—which is clearly the starting point of a negotiation that should conceivably end somewhere in the middle. Many of Manchin’s objections are silly and self-defeating—this is very much a time when it makes sense politically for the Democrats to go big, and they may not have another chance to for more than a decade. But at the very least, we have some idea about where he stands and why.
Sinema seems to relish playing the Pynchon-esque recluse to everyone but her donors. President Joe Biden has attempted to engage directly with her, seemingly to no avail. She has treated a bathroom confrontation with her constituents as a moral outrage, and yet it’s hard to blame them, considering their senator has offered so little about what she is up to and why. Those who want these answers have little choice but to seek her out in unconventional spaces. ...
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