Hardball: Sinema tells House Dems she won't vote for reconciliation until Pelosi passes the bipartisan infrastructure bill

Hardball: Sinema tells House Dems she won't vote for reconciliation until Pelosi passes the bipartisan infrastructure bill
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

If this sounds familiar, it’s because she allegedly once told Joe Biden the same thing.

House progressives have insisted from the start that they won’t vote for the bipartisan infrastructure bill that’s already passed the Senate until the Senate gives them *something* on reconciliation. Some lefties like Ro Khanna are willing to accept an agreed-to “framework” in lieu of the Senate passing a reconciliation bill. Others, like Pramila Jayapal, are sticking to their position that nothing short of a bill will lead them to act. Sinema’s warning to Biden was big news because it created a Catch-22. If she won’t move on reconciliation until the House progs pass the bipartisan bill and if House progs won’t pass the bipartisan bill until she moves on reconciliation, well, then Dems have an obvious problem.

That was nearly a month ago, though. And as far as I know, Sinema never made her ultimatum public, leaving us to wonder if she ever made an ultimatum to Biden at all. Now here comes Reuters with a new report that she repeated her ultimatum in a meeting with centrist House Democrats just this week. If Jayapal, Khanna, and the other progressives in their chamber don’t blink by passing the bipartisan bill first, reconciliation is dead on arrival in the Senate.

Reminder: Dems have all of 17 days to sort this out before we reach Pelosi’s October 31 deadline. And all of 19 days before Virginians go to the polls to decide whether to hand Terry McAuliffe a second term as governor.

U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a key moderate, told fellow Democrats in the House of Representatives this week that she will not vote for a multitrillion-dollar package that is a top priority for President Joe Biden before Congress approves a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, according to a source briefed on the meeting…

In an online meeting, Sinema and fellow Senate moderate Joe Manchin said they would not abide by any deadlines adopted by leadership to force votes on the package.

Congress already faces a pair of critical deadlines around Dec. 3, when the government faces the risk of shutdown and a historic debt default without congressional action. Democrats’ razor-thin majorities are also at stake in next year’s midterm elections.

A month ago, Sinema’s ultimatum was a headache for Pelosi. Now, a month on, I wonder if she’s quietly grateful for it. That’s because, as I wrote earlier this afternoon, party leaders are frantic to help McAuliffe across the finish line in Virginia. If Glenn Youngkin pulls the upset there, centrist House Dems will panic about a red wave crashing down on them next fall and may refuse to agree to any more big spending. Passing the bipartisan bill now thus might serve two purposes: It’ll hand McAuliffe a political victory before the election and a McAuliffe electoral victory might in turn reassure moderate Dems about 2022 and embolden them to go big on reconciliation. Wwith the results in Virginia casting a shadow over the midterms, it may be that McAuliffe prevailing is the only way to keep a big reconciliation package viable.

And so, in a way, passing the bipartisan bill ASAP to help him may end up helping lefties in the end by keeping reconciliation alive. Having Sinema deliver an ultimatum gives Pelosi an excuse to twist progressives’ arms to make that happen while blaming Sinema for the arm-twisting.

The biggest question in politics now (apart from whether Dems can get their act together before getting wiped out next fall) is what exactly is going on with Kyrsten Sinema. Why is she, a former Green Party voter from a purplish state like Arizona, driving a harder bargain on reconciliation than red-state Democrats like Jon Tester? Lefties have given Manchin a pass because he’s the only Democrat left in West Virginia who can still win statewide but their rage at Sinema is incandescent. They thought they were getting a left-liberal when they sent her to the Senate, someone roughly in line ideologically with Elizabeth Warren. Instead they got someone who increasingly appears to be to Manchin’s right on spending. Conservatives are used to being unpleasantly surprised by a newbie turning out to be more moderate than hoped but their unpleasant surprises usually happen on the Supreme Court. Dems are getting their own unpleasant surprise in the Senate at a moment when the stakes are impossibly high.

Is there some strategy Sinema’s following here, believing that threatening to tank her party’s agenda will help her get reelected in Arizona? Because, er…

That poll comes from a progressive outfit, for what it’s worth. Sinema had better hope the numbers aren’t accurate because the bottom line looks gruesome for her: “Seventy percent of prospective 2024 primary voters have a negative opinion of Sinema, with just 24% expressing a positive view of the first-term senator,” per HuffPost. Democrat Mark Kelly has an 85 percent favorable rating among Dems by comparison. HuffPost also points out that the Green Party did notably well in Sinema’s last race in Arizona, taking 2.4 percent of the vote in 2018. That wasn’t enough to hurt her in a Democrat-friendly midterm environment against a weak candidate like Martha McSally. But her next turn on the ballot is 2024, a presidential election year. With Republicans out in force and disgruntled progressives presumably more open to voting Green, Sinema will find it difficult to maneuver through a primary and a general election.

Even the pros are scratching their heads at what she’s up to. Nathaniel Rakich of FiveThirtyEight notes that Sinema voted with Trump 50.4 percent of the time during his presidency while typically a Democrat from a state as blue as Arizona would be expected to vote with him only 39.8 percent of the time. “That made her the only Democratic senator who voted with Trump significantly more often than expected based on the politics of senators’ states,” he writes. Maybe Sinema’s been captured by her donors to some degree? (Members of her old donor and political networks complain that she’s hardly ever in touch anymore.) Or maybe she’s genuinely moved towards the right in her politics and doesn’t care about the electoral consequences? I don’t know. She’s a fascinating politician. But maybe not one who’ll be around for long.

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