To: Interested Parties
From: Adam Jentleson, Battle Born Collective; and The Primary Sinema Project, 
Date: January 13, 2022
Re: There’s no excuse for Sinema’s obstruction 

Today in a speech littered with factual lapses and illogical reasoning, Senator Kyrsten Sinema doubled down on her opposition to filibuster reform in the most public way to date. 

Wielding a trifecta, Democrats stand poised to deliver on President Biden’s big, bold policy proposals. But they don’t have much time. Unfortunately, instead of getting things done, Senator Kyrsten Sinema has decided to use her power in the Senate to obstruct much of Biden’s agenda—including on the crucial issue of voting rights, which she claims to support. More importantly, by taking this stance, Sinema is defying the will of the people of Arizona, shifting power to Mitch McConnell, and significantly weakening Democrats’ chances of retaining their majorities in the House and Senate. 

As this memo shows, there is simply no excuse for Sinema’s obstruction. Arizonans deserve a senator who will stand up for their priorities—like free and fair elections, a living wage, equal protection under the law, and freedom from the scourge of gun violence. Arizonans deserve a senator who will put in the work, and represent their views on the big issues. In Sinema, they currently have a senator who is doing neither. 

Sinema is out of step with Arizonans—and not just Democrats. Sinema is opposing bills and reforms supported by broad, bipartisan majorities of Arizonans. According to a  Data for Progress survey, 62% of Arizona voters support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour (which Senator Sinema opposed in controversial fashion), while 61% of the state’s voters agree that it is “more important to you that your Senators pass major legislation to address the problems we face as a nation” versus 26% who believe it more important “that they preserve traditional Senate procedures and rules like the filibuster.” Just 36% of independents in a March poll viewing her favorably; meanwhile, Senator Sinema’s most prominent Republican backer from her 2018 election, former Arizona Attorney General (and McCain family confidante) Grant Woods,  declared that Sinema does not belong in the U.S. Senate if she fails to come around on filibuster removal. Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s Secretary of State who has championed voting rights and called for abolishing the filibuster, is currently the most popular politician in Arizona.

Sinema is blocking President Biden’s agenda. Sinema is not blocking a wave of far-left priorities – rather, she is blocking President Biden’s agenda. Biden ran and won on an ambitious agenda that included democracy reforms and aggressive steps to stop climate change, among many other issues. By supporting Republican efforts to gut Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, and by defending the filibuster that blocks a wide range of Democratic priorities, Sinema is blocking much of Biden’s agenda from passing. 

Sinema is empowering Mitch McConnell at Biden’s expense. In an evenly divided Senate, no one benefits from Sinema’s obstruction more than Senator Mitch McConnell. McConnell knows this and has instructed Senate Republicans to praise her. At a closed-door meeting of Senate Republicans last April, he urged his conference to “say nice things” about Sinema. He dispatched his top lieutenant, Senator John Thune, who frequently “chats up” Sinema, according to Politico. The manipulation is transparent and transactional, but that has not stopped Sinema from playing along, and empowering McConnell in the process. As Punchbowl reported, “This is what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republicans are hoping to exploit all year,” and Sinema is playing right into their hands. 

Sinema is undermining Senator Mark Kelly. Senator Kelly is up for re-election this year, a cycle in which Democrats face historic headwinds and a political playing field tilted dramatically towards Republicans. To have any chance of holding their majorities, Democrats must be able to present voters with a robust set of accomplishments that improved Americans’ daily lives. The window to deliver this agenda is rapidly closing.. By obstructing Biden’s agenda and shifting power to McConnell, Sinema is undermining Kelly’s ability to deliver for Arizonans, hurting his chances at re-election – as well as Democrats’ chances of holding their majorities. 

Arizona is not West Virginia. Trump won West Virginia by 39 points, and Manchin is the only Democrat in statewide office or the West Virginia Congressional delegation. By contrast, Biden won Arizona, and Democrats hold both Senate seats, as well as a majority of the seats in Arizona’s Congressional delegation (5 out of 9 seats). Sinema is placing herself further to the right than Democratic senators who represent red states, like Senator Jon Tester, who has expressed openness to filibuster reform, rather than defending the Jim Crow relic, as Sinema has done. 

Sinema only works for herself. A senator’s job is to represent their constituents, but Sinema only seems interested in working for herself. Despite all her talk of the importance of the Senate as an institution, Sinema has failed to show up when it matters most. When the Senate voted on whether to establish a commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection, Sinema missed the vote. Sinema is inaccessible to the press and her constituents. The New York Times noted that Sinema is known as “a senator who rarely appears at unscripted events or takes questions from reporters.” Even her supporters find it hard to communicate with her. Trish Muir, the chair of the Pima Area Labor Federation, a local council of the AFL-CIO in the Tucson area, recently lamented, “Outside of calling her general office number, I don’t know how to get ahold of this woman,” noting that she is in regular contact with Arizona’s other Democratic senator, Mark Kelly, who ‘has my cell phone number.” Muir continued, “I follow her on Facebook, I follow her on Twitter, to kind of keep an eye on what’s happening, and I see a lot of her focus, and a lot of her energy, being spent on behalf of corporate interests [and not workers].”

Sinema’s defense of the filibuster is characterized by falsehoods and misleading statements. In her defense of the filibuster, Sinema consistently peddles misleading and outright false statements. For example, looking at an op-ed she wrote a few months ago: 

Sinema: “When you think about our founding fathers, when they created the was designed to be a place where you cool the passions of the House, where you work together to find the compromise, and, importantly, where you protect the rights of the minority from the majority regardless of which party is in the majority at the time.” 

FACT: In creating the Senate, the Framers were very clear that they did not want the filibuster or anything like it to exist. They were also clear that there should be no supermajority thresholds in the Senate for regular Senate business. Furthermore, they predicted that if a supermajority threshold existed, it would create gridlock. They were attuned to this because the Articles of Confederation imposed a supermajority threshold on the Continental Congress, and it proved to be a disaster. 

  • James Madison called majority rule “the republican principle,” explaining, “If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote.” [Federalist 10]
  • Madison explained that requiring “more than a majority” for decisions would mean that, “In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority.” Requiring a supermajority would mean “an interested minority might take advantage of it to screen themselves from equitable sacrifices to the general weal, or, in particular emergencies, to extort unreasonable indulgences,” Madison wrote. [Federalist 58]
  • Alexander Hamilton wrote that a supermajority threshold, “is one of those refinements which, in practice, has an effect the reverse of what is expected from it in theory… Its real operation is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of the government, and to substitute the pleasure, caprice, or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent, or corrupt junto, to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority.” [Federalist 22]
  • Hamilton rebutted the idea that supermajority thresholds promote compromise, writing: “what at first sight may seem a remedy, is, in reality, a poison.” It would be wrong “to subject the sense of the greater number to that of the lesser,” because if “a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority,” the result would be “tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good,” Hamilton wrote. [Federalist 22]

Sinema: “[The filibuster] is a tool that protects the democracy of our nation, rather than allowing our nation to ricochet wildly every two to four years back and forth between policies.”

FACT: The filibuster was not designed to prevent our nation from “ricochet[ing] wildly,” since the Senate operated as a majority-rule institution for most of its existence. Prior to the 1960s, the filibuster was used rarely, and the only bills defeated by a supermajority threshold were civil rights bills. Without the filibuster, our system of government will still have more checks and balances than any other modern democracy. The filibuster is what tilts our system from thoughtful deliberation into gridlock. 

During the height of the voting rights movement in the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. presciently noted that the filibuster was a “tragedy” used by “misguided senators” to block “people from even voting.” Those words are as true today as they were then.

Sinema: “To those who want to eliminate the legislative filibuster to expand health-care access or retirement benefits: Would it be good for our country if we did, only to later see that legislation replaced by legislation dividing Medicaid into block grants, slashing earned Social Security and Medicare benefits, or defunding women’s reproductive health services?”

FACT: The filibuster is not protecting these programs because Republicans can already do all the things Sinema lays out through reconciliation. As Bloomberg reporter Steven Dennis explains, “Kyrsten Sinema’s op-ed seems to forget that Medicare, Medicaid and other spending programs can be completely eliminated with 50+VP via budget reconciliation.” As is her pattern, Sinema uses straw men to make her case.

The bottom line: Arizona deserves a senator who will work for them. Arizona deserves better.