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Jan. 22, 2022, 6:45 p.m. EST

Arizona Democrats censure Sinema for blocking voting-rights bill with filibuster inflexibility

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“We are quite literally doing everything we physically, possibly can in terms of putting our bodies on the line and trying to plead for this action because the consequences [of inaction] are far worse than starving or going to jail or both,” said Shana Gallagher, one of about three dozen young people holding a hunger strike to protest Sinema and Manchin. Gallagher is co-founder of Un-PAC, launched last year to organize young people in favor of passing voting rights legislation.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent whose fundraising and mobilization abilities are virtually unmatched on the left, suggested he’d support primary challengers to Sinema and Manchin.

Sinema says the filibuster forces bipartisanship on Capitol Hill and ensures that the millions of Americans represented by the minority party have a voice. Repealing it would lead to wild swings in legislation depending on the party in power, she says.

“When one party need only negotiate with itself, policy will inextricably be pushed from the middle towards the extremes,” she said in a floor speech last week, her most expansive explanation of her views on the issue.

From the archives (March 2021):   Voting rights intensify as partisan battleground, with Democrats pushing H.R. 1 and Republicans altering election procedures at state level

Antagonizing the left shores up her standing among the independent women who decide close races in Arizona, said Brian Murray, a GOP consultant in Phoenix and former executive director of the Arizona Republican Party.

Sinema has shown the “maverick” sensibilities that made the late GOP Sen. John McCain a favorite son in Arizona, and with her appeal to independents, “she’s going to be nearly impossible to beat,” he said. “Bernie Sanders is attacking an Arizona senator?” Murray said. “I’d say: ‘Hey, thank you. You’re helping me get reelected.'”

Even Republican Gov. Doug Ducey gave Sinema “credit for standing up and protecting a Senate rule that she believes in.”

“I’m glad that she’s trying to bring people together,” Ducey told reporters. Sinema was one of Ducey’s fiercest critics in 2020, when she relentlessly lambasted his light-touch response to the pandemic.

Sinema’s fight with the left has overshadowed the 2022 reelection bid of Mark Kelly, Arizona’s other Democratic senator, who will be trying to hold on to the seat he won in a special election.

With Sinema taking most of the attention, Kelly managed to avoid taking a position on the filibuster throughout his 2020 campaign and his first year in office. Hours before he had to vote Wednesday, Kelly came out in favor of a one-time workaround to pass the voting-rights bill.

Arizona Democratic Party leaders took the highly unusual step Saturday of formally censuring Sinema. A larger group of leaders voted in September to put Sinema “on notice” that her votes on the filibuster and other Democratic priorities, including Biden’s big increase in social services spending, will be closely scrutinized.

The move has no practical consequences but demonstrates the frustration of key Democratic activists. Whether the party pulls its support for Sinema’s 2024 bid would be up to the leaders elected after the 2022 midterms.

The Arizona Democratic Party is a diverse coalition that tolerates disagreements, but protecting voter rights is too important, said Raquel Terán, a state senator and chair of the Arizona Democratic Party. On that issue, Sinema has “fallen short,” she said.

“She has an incredible ability to work across the aisle,” Terán said. “Let’s see that ability put to work for voting rights.”

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