Sinema lauded by Mitch McConnell as "effective" -- which tells you everything
Ten years ago today, I interviewed her. It was the first warning sign of what was to come.
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Arizona Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema, known as a turncoat who has blocked President Biden and Democrats from getting so much more done, was — surprise, surprise! — celebrated by Mitch McConnell yesterday.
He called her a“genuine moderate” and “extraordinarily effective.” And of course, he’s right. She is effective for him.
This all happened at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville, McConnell’s alma mater, where McConnell invited Sinema to speak, an invitation she lapped up quickly.
In her speech, Sinema doubled down on her opposition to ending the Senate filibuster, even calling for it to be expanded, reinstated for federal judges and Supreme Court justices.
“Not only am I committed to the 60-vote threshold, I have an incredibly unpopular view: I actually think we should restore the 60-vote threshold for the areas in which it has been eliminated already,” she said. “We should restore it.”
It’s grotesque seeing any Democrat being used by McConnell for his far-right agenda that is all about stripping women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, hurting the poor and emboldening white supremacists. Seeing a woman who rose to power as the first openly bisexual U.S. senator, and did so by running as a progressive in her early career with the support of marginalized groups, was particularly enraging.
Sinema, as we all know by now, began as an Arizona legislator who was decidedly on the left, fighting for immigrant rights and marriage equality, even famously publicly coming out as bisexual on the floor of the Arizona legislature. Many of us remember her in the years prior to 2010 when she attended Netroots Nation, the progressive activist conference, where she was known as a queer activist and a former Green Party member (who worked on Ralph Nader’s 2000 campaign) who headed campaigns against anti-LGBTQ legislation and had organized anti-Iraq war rallies.
That was before she ran for a U.S. House seat in 2012 in Arizona in a then-purple district, and ran a remarkably conservative campaign. In a book she wrote in 2009 Sinema attributes any change more to style rather than a shift in positions — saying that she didn’t accomplish much as a “bomb-thrower” when she began in the Arizona legislature, so she decided to work with Republicans.
But Sinema’s shift was about strategic political maneuvering, a shift that wasn’t just in style but in persona. She would shamelessly deny her own past, trampling on the hard work of those who previously elevated her as she ambitiously courted conservatives.
And that became first evident when I interviewed Sinema on my SiriusXM radio program ten years ago today, on September 27th, 2012. It wasn't the first time we’d spoken. I’d interviewed her at Netroots Nation, and I looked forward to speaking with her as she pursued the U.S. House seat that year.
But as I’ve noted previously, this time she bizarrely couldn’t recall her own coming out experience. That’s a seminal moment for all queer people, but for her it was even bigger than for most people because it had been very public. I’ve recounted this story several times now in pieces I’ve written — and each time it still astounds me.
A colleague on the floor of the state legislature in 2005 made an insulting remark against LGBTQ people, to which Sinema replied, “'We're simply people like everyone else who want and deserve respect.” Later, reporters asked her to whom she was referring and she replied, “Duh, I’m bisexual,” making news in the Arizona media and across the country.
“I gotta be honest, I’m not sure I remember it,” Sinema actually responded when I asked her about that moment — yes, about her very public coming out — in our 2012 interview. “You know, in the early days of the legislature there were a lot of disparaging remarks about the LGBT community, and other communities.”
I was floored that she couldn’t remember this event, as well as by the fact that she refused to discuss how ground-breaking it would be to have an openly bisexual House member, shifting the discussion continually — though she was endorsed by the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which is all about promoting candidates who are out and proud to talk about it.
Since I’m a gay talk show host with a large national LGBTQ listenership, I knew listeners would be excited to hear about her candidacy and would want to help her get elected if she addressed the issue thoughtfully. But as the discussion went nowhere, I ended the interview.
Sinema won that seat in 2012, and went on to be a conservative Democratic House member. She voted with Republicans in the House often, including on shutting down the government while harming Obamacare, and, most hypocritically, barring LGBTQ Syrian refugees — though she’d formerly been an attorney for Iraqi refugees.
And then she’d go on to become one of two Democratic U.S. senators who would block the ability of a Democratic president to bring the country back from the grip of authoritarianism — and keep it from sliding once again into the hands of far-right extremists.
That isn’t an exaggeration, as ending the filibuster would have allowed a path — a path to which President Biden and Democratic leaders were committed —to codifying Roe v. Wade into law and passing critical voting rights legislation that would have stopped voter suppression and kept the GOP from stealing elections qs they promote the Big Lie. It also would have opened the door to expanding the Supreme Court and possibly even granting statehood to Washington DC and Puerto Rico, expanding the U.S. Senate and allowing representation.
But not only did Sinema block Biden from accomplishing those vital goals; now here she is being feted by McConnell, a man who’s aided and abetted white supremacists and has done nothing to stop Donald Trump from once again seizing power, who refused to convict Trump in both impeachment trials, allowed him to choose extremists Senate candidates this year and is ready to back Trump for president again if he runs and gets the nomination.
It’s hard to imagine what Sinema’s game is because recent polling shows she’s unpopular with everyone in Arizona. Democrats can’t stand her. Independents don’t trust her. Republicans don’t want her.
Maybe her goal is to just get a job with the billionaires she’s fought for, after helping to preserve their tax breaks in the Inflation-Reduction Act. Or maybe she’s deluded and thinks this will work for her in her re-election, current polls be damned.
Whatever the case, let it be said that the first warning signs of her political opportunism and narcissism came in that interview ten years ago today. She might have been useful to Democrats at that moment — and to LGBTQ leaders, who held her up as historic, even as she refused to discuss the issue. But by turning a blind eye from then on, they helped create a monster.