Sinema censure effort stalls; progressives say they made their point

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., declined to comment on a move by some in the Democratic Party to censure her over her voting record. But experts say such a move would likely have little effect on the freshman senator, even if it does manage to move forward. (Photo by Keerthi Vedantam/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – An intraparty threat to censure Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is on hold for now, but progressives who called for the vote said they achieved their goal of putting the freshman Democrat on notice over her voting record.

A censure vote could have come up as early as this weekend’s meeting of the Arizona Democratic Party, but party officials said Thursday that it is on hold until at least January because of miscommunication by the Progressive Caucus members who called for the vote.

Caucus member Dan O’Neal said the group is OK with that. They are more concerned with holding Sinema accountable for her votes than shaming her, he said.

“We love Kyrsten Sinema. We want her to be very successful,” O’Neal said, “but we want her to start voting like a Democrat.”

Sinema’s office declined to comment on the issue. But political analysts called the censure attempt “a new definition of shooting yourself in the political foot,” and said they do not expect a change from Sinema, who regularly invokes her bipartisan credentials in a state that is more red than blue.

“Arizona is not San Francisco,” said Jason Rose, a Republican political consultant in the state. “The reason Sinema won is because she ran a campaign and is governing in recognition of that.”

Sinema was a three-term House member from Phoenix when she ran last year for the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Jeff Flake. She beat fellow House member, Martha McSally, a Republican from Tucson, to become the first Democrat elected to the Senate from Arizona in 30 years.

The progressives calling for censure were upset by Sinema votes they say fall in line with positions held by President Donald Trump, and conflict with planks in the Democratic National Committee’s 2016 platform.

The FiveThirtyEight vote tracker said Sinema has voted in line with Trump nearly 55% of the time, during her tenure in both the House and now the Senate. Since winning her Senate seat in 2018, it said she has voted with Trump just 19 percent of the time.

Those votes included what Jenise Porter, a co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, called “troublesome” votes to confirm Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Attorney General William Barr. The resolution calling for Sinema’s censure also noted that she failed to back a bill protecting net neutrality.

Porter said caucus members still support Sinema, but expected her to vote more in line with her roots in anti-war activism and her previous affiliation with the Green Party.

“We worked our hearts out here for her,” Porter said. “I carried her literature, we had a big voter turnout, we were pushing for the whole Democratic slate, and she is not paying attention to us.”

But Rose said the caucus resolution could misfire and upset party moderates. Mike Noble, a political consultant with Scottsdale-based MBQF Consulting, agreed that Sinema could end up gaining support among Republicans and independents if censured.

Rose recalled the 2014 censure of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that started with the state tea party and ended up as an official GOP action. That vote accused the late senator of amassing “a long and terrible record of drafting, co-sponsoring and voting for legislation” such as the Affordable Care Act, gun rights and immigration amnesty.

“It was equally inappropriate and stupid then as it is now, no matter which party is doing it,” Rose said.

Torunn Sinclair, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, went further, saying in an email that the censure proposal shows “that Democrats have become so triggered and in need of safe spaces that Kyrsten Sinema is now considered a far-right fascist.”

Porter, aware of comparisons to the censure of McCain, said caucus menbers will use the extra time before any vote to explain their rationale.

“We want people to understand what her votes mean to those of us who are just regular people,” she said.

But Matt Grodsky, the Arizona Democratic Party’s communications director, said in an email that while the censure motion is currently scheduled for debate in January, there is no guarantee the resolution “will even move to full consideration on a floor vote.”

Sustainability Reporter, Washington, D.C.