PHOENIX – Jade Duran once spent her weekends knocking on doors to campaign for Senator Kyrsten Sinema, the stubbornly centrist Democrat whose vote could seal the fate of a vast Democratic effort to remake America’s social safety net. But no more.
When Mrs. Sinema gave a thumbs down to a Minimum salary of $ 15 And refused to remove obstructionism to pass new voting rights laws this year, Duran, a Democrat and biomedical engineer from Phoenix, decided she was fed up. She joined dozens of liberal voters and civil rights activists in an ongoing series of protests outside Ms. Sinema’s offices in Phoenix, which have taken place since the summer. About 50 people have been arrested.
“It really feels like she doesn’t care about her voters,” said Duran, 33, who was arrested in July at a protest. “I will never vote for her again.”
Ms. Sinema, a former school social worker and activist aligned with the Green Party, leapt through the ranks of Arizona politics by presenting herself as a jealous bipartisan willing to break away from her fellow Democrats. He regards John McCain, the Republican senator who died in 2018, as a hero, and has found the support of independent voters and moderate suburban women in a state where Maverick is practically his own party.
But now, Sinema faces a growing political revolt at the home of voters who were once among his most devoted supporters. Many of the state’s most ardent Democrats now view her as an obstructionist whose refusal to sign with a major draft law on social policy and climate change it has contributed to jeopardizing the party’s agenda.
Little can move forward without the approval of Ms. Sinema, one of the top two Democratic moderates in an evenly divided Senate. While he has resisted the $ 3.5 trillion price tag and some of the bill’s tax increase provisions, which are opposed by all Republicans in Congress, Democrats in Washington and Arizona have been exasperated.
While Senate Democrats’ other high-profile opponent, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin III, has publicly voiced his concerns with key elements of the Democratic agenda in remarks to swarms of reporters, Sinema has been far more enigmatic and has refused. largely to issue public comments.
Biden, White House officials and Democrats have pleaded with the two senators to publicly issue a price tag and key provisions of the legislation that they can accept. But there is little indication that Ms Sinema was willing to offer that, even privately to management.
On Wednesday afternoon, she and a team from the White House huddled in her office for more than two hours on another day for what a Sinema spokesperson called good faith negotiations.
“Kyrsten has always promised Arizonans that he would be an independent voice for the state, not for any of the political parties,” John LaBombard, the senator’s spokesman, wrote in an email responding to the senator’s questions about his situation at home. “She has kept that promise and has always been honest about her position.”
That stance helped her win the 2018 Senate election in a state whose voters are roughly 35 percent Republicans, 32 percent Democrats and 33 percent “other.” And despite all the passions of the moment, Ms Sinema will not be elected again until 2024.
A breakthrough in legislation could quell much of the criticism and polish Sinema’s image as a negotiator who led a related bipartisan infrastructure bill in the Senate. But the Liberals on Capitol Hill don’t trust her to be really willing to support the broader spending package.
“This discussion has been going on for months, for months,” Senator Bernie Sanders, the independent in charge of the Vermont Senate Budget Committee, said in an interview. He added: “We need some definitive results.”
Democrats familiar with the discussions with Sinema and his staff say they are deeply concerned about current proposals around certain tax increases, which could shape the scope of the package.
In the narrowly divided Phoenix suburbs that were crucial to the Democrats’ recent victories in Arizona, some exhausted voters said they were deliberately ignoring the contentious negotiations in Washington and threats of a government shutdown.
But others said they had been calling and writing Ms. Sinema for months and now worried that the Democrats’ best chance to advance important policies was slipping away because of their senator.
Over the weekend, the state Democratic Party threatened a token vote of no confidence against Ms. Sinema. Dissatisfied donors and activists are starting a Primary Sinema political action committee to raise money to fund top challengers in 2024 if he blocks the Democratic agenda in Washington.
At the same time, House Democrats are now threatening to derail Ms. Sinema’s billion-dollar bipartisan infrastructure bill that has already passed the Senate.
The confusion is not only testing Ms. Sinema’s strategy of staying in center lane, but also Arizona’s changing political trajectory.
Democratic activists believe that Sinema’s political future, and that of Arizona, lies in the growing number of Latino voters and left-wing youth in Phoenix and the rapidly growing cities around Maricopa County, home to around the 60 percent of Arizona’s 7.3 million residents. They point to some polls that show support for Democratic proposals to expand Medicare, provide more child care, or extend tax cuts to working-class people.
But even though President Biden became the first Democrat in 25 years to win Arizona, his margin was just 10,500 votes, and the Arizona governor and state legislature are still controlled by Republicans.
“She is a Democratic senator elected in a center-right state,” said Kirk Adams, a former Republican speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives. “She is purposely taking advantage of that independent streak that a large chunk of Arizona voters have always had.”
Ms. Sinema’s position with Democrats has suffered as she is criticized for defending Senate obstructionism as a security barrier to democracy. About 56 percent of Democrats in the state viewed Sinema favorably, compared with 80 percent of Sen. Mark Kelly, a fellow Democrat, according to a September poll from Predictive prospects for OH, a Phoenix political research firm.
In the sprawling valley east of Phoenix, Augie Gastelum, an independent voter who once considered Ms. Sinema too liberal, said he believed her positions on bipartisan cooperation. He worried that removing obstructionism would spark an arms race of increasingly extreme laws and further tear apart a divided country.
But his support for incremental change is now straining because he yearns to see immigration reform. Mr. Gastélum, 40, who is from Mexico, became a citizen last year after decades of living undocumented.
“There’s a part of me that says, blow it up and get it taken care of,” he said. “But the long-term consequences could be devastating.”
While left-wing Democrats may be frustrated with Manchin, he hasn’t faced even the same level of backlash at home in the Trump-backed state of West Virginia, where he served as governor and has been a political fixture for decades.
But in Phoenix, Ms. Sinema’s office building overlooking the bluffs of Piestewa Peak in the affluent Biltmore neighborhood has become a magnet for her frustrated fans.
Some days people crowd into the building pressuring Ms. Sinema to support voter rights laws and immigration reform. Other days, student-led groups arrive with banners telling you to do more to curb fossil fuel emissions and climate change.
She was criticized for conducting a fundraiser with business lobbyists opposing the tax increases on the Democrats’ top spending bill.
Many of the younger activists now agitating louder against Ms. Sinema said they felt betrayed because she was so much like them. At 45, she’s practically a teenager by Senate octogenarian standards. She is a Ironman triathlete, the first openly bisexual member of Congress and, as someone who claims to have no religion, he swore on the Constitution instead of a Bible.
“I believed in what it would mean to have a queer representative who believes in the climate crisis,” said Casey Clowes, 29, who has demonstrated outside Sinema offices with the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led group focused on change. climate. “I knocked on doors for her. I was an intern for your campaign. I really believed it. “
Mary Kay Yearin, a longtime Democrat living in Scottsdale, said she and her wife were frustrated because they believed Sinema had not done enough to change policies affecting abortion rights, voter rights, and, above all, climate change.
Yearin was concerned that a rapidly warming climate could soon dry up the Lake Powell and Lake Mead reservoirs that irrigate the west, rendering the state nearly uninhabitable in the coming summers. He said the environmental catastrophes facing the country were too severe for a cautious and incremental approach.
“Your vote is very important,” Yearin said. “She looks like a Republican in Democrat clothes.”
While most conservatives widely disapprove of Arizona’s two Democratic senators, Sinema’s stubborn centrism has earned him some Republican support. Older voters, rural Arizonans and voters who watch Fox News approved of Ms. Sinema in a recent public poll and also said they did not favor her Democratic colleague, Senator Kelly.
Ms. Sinema’s defense of obstructionism sparked approval complaints one recent afternoon from conservative members of the Rusty Nuts classic car club who gathered around a table in the American Legion room in Chandler, a Phoenix suburb where many Voters split their ballots in 2018 to vote for Ms. Sinema for Senate and Doug Ducey, a conservative Republican, for governor.
“I appreciate that she doesn’t lean to the left like the rest of them,” said Pat Odell, a retired conservative clerk. Ms. Odell said she wanted to see a total closure of the southwest border and wanted Sinema to outright reject the $ 3.5 trillion Democratic social spending bill.
But even if that happened, would Ms. Odell really vote for Ms. Sinema or someone with a D next to her name?
Probably not, he said.