Progressive activists confront Sinema on plane, in airport

This isn’t as objectionable as the restroom confrontation that played out over the weekend, which took place in a spot where she’d naturally expect privacy and where no one could quickly come to her aid if things turned ugly.

But there’s a common thread in that protesters in all three cases seemed intent on invading her personal space to show that they meant business, a tactic cheered by some in lefty media. In two, the restroom and the plane, she was a captive audience.

Pretty baller move for her to leave her earbuds in while the activist on the plane was chattering at her and filming, though. Maybe Matt Lewis is right about her.

Joe Biden made clear publicly yesterday that he doesn’t have much use for Sinema by only tepidly criticizing the restroom incident. According to Politico, he made it clear privately too in a conference call with House progressives:

Biden spent a lot of time trying to explain how difficult it’s been to deal with Sens. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.) and KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-Ariz.). “It was a blunt conversation,” said one House Democrat who was in the meeting. Biden is “getting more and more frustrated.”

The source familiar with the discussion added that Biden said things like, “‘I hear your frustration. You don’t have to talk to them as much as I have to talk to them’ — but then using it as a dash of realism to get progressives to come down, like, ‘This is as far as these folks will go.’”

The fireworks between Sinema and Joe Manchin on the one hand and lefty Democrats on the other have worked some unlikely magic on their approval ratings in their home states. In an era of intense partisan polarization, the two are roughly as popular with the other party now as they are with their own:

Being 19 points underwater among independents in a state as red as West Virginia is perilous for Manchin. But Sinema is only at -3 in that group in Arizona and may well end up back in positive territory once something on infrastructure passes. She can probably count on lefties to grumble and ultimately suck it up in 2024 by re-nominating her in the belief that a moderate incumbent is more likely to hold that seat in a purple state than a diehard progressive nominee would be. After all, assuming reconciliation passes in the end, what would the argument against her be? She voted for Biden’s COVID relief bill *and* Biden’s nominees *and* for the roads-and-bridges infrastructure bill *and* for a ~$2 trillion social-welfare spending mega-bill that just wasn’t quite the $3.5 trillion valentine the left wanted?

Spending $2 trillion on reconciliation would be well more than twice the cost of Obama’s 2009 mega-stimulus, stark evidence of what now passes for unacceptably “centrist” in Democratic politics. C’mon.

Given that the odds of Sinema walking away entirely from reconciliation are low as a matter of basic electoral self-interest, there’s a strong argument that the GOP should be doing everything it can to embolden her to do so. The obvious way to do that would be to pledge that they’ll help pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill if Pelosi puts it on the floor, which would cause chaos in the Democratic ranks in two different ways. First, it would reignite the feud between progressives and Dem moderates about whether they should vote on the bill immediately, now knowing that the bill would pass if the vote were held. That would leave Pelosi torn. Second, if the bipartisan bill passed, Sinema and Manchin would suddenly face no legislative pressure to do a deal on reconciliation. They could give up on that bill in the belief that America has spent too much money over the past 18 months, secure in the knowledge that the bipartisan bill they helped negotiate had already become law thanks to Republicans.

Instead, by blocking the bipartisan bill, the GOP has strengthened progressives’ hand by giving them more leverage over the infrastructure package. More from Susan Crabtree:

There are nearly 100 members of the progressive caucus, but it’s unclear exactly how many would follow Jayapal’s directive to sink a popular spending bill that all Democrats back on the merits. Before the progressive revolt, the BIF was poised to pass alone, untethered to the BBB measure and with support from a large group of House Republican moderates. Pelosi, having secured a major accomplishment to tout in next year’s midterms, would likely have later deemed the sweeping BBB bill as too heavy of a lift and eventually let it die on the vine with little in the way of a public eulogy…

If Democrats can’t reach an agreement and both bills fail, the House GOP strategy [to vote no on the bipartisan bill] was a stroke of genius. But if Democrats end up passing the BIF and a more narrowly tailored BBB, it will amount to trillions in new spending that will be difficult to reverse in the years ahead. Under that very plausible scenario, House Republicans will be at least partly responsible for both empowering progressives and helping to transform their aspirational agenda into reality — together a big win for the Biden presidency.

The punchline is that the bipartisan bill is all but certain to pass anyway, as it’s unthinkable that Democrats would relegate themselves to total failure on infrastructure while enjoying unified control of government. If Manchin and Sinema told Pelosi tomorrow that the reconciliation bill is dead, she’d eventually pivot to getting the bipartisan bill passed at least. But it’s harder for the two to say that right now, when nothing has passed, than it would have been if Republicans had already dragged the bipartisan bill over the finish line. I hope it doesn’t come back to haunt them. And that Manchin and Sinema don’t hold it against them going forward in gauging whether bipartisan negotiations are actually worth it.