Ruh-roh: Sinema won't commit to voting for Build Back Better

CNN conducted an exclusive interview with Sen. Sinema today and, though you have to read between the lines a bit, the headline here is that Sinema isn’t completely satisfied with the BBB bill as it currently exists. Here’s the relevant exchange:

Lauren Fox: Schumer has said he wants to vote on Build Back Better, that broader social safety net bill before Christmas break. Are you prepared to vote yes when that comes to the floor?

Sen. Sinema: Well, I don’t set the schedule for the Senate floor and I’m always prepared to vote and to vote for what’s right for the interests of Arizona. I personally believe that the best way to create legislation is to be thoughtful and careful so that we’re crafting legislation that truly represents the interests that we want to achieve and that creates a benefit and helps people all across Arizona and the country. So that’s what I’m working on right now.

Fox: So it doesn’t sound like you’re quite a yes yet on the version that just passed the House of Representatives. What changes do you want to make?

Sinema: Well, folks know I don’t negotiate in the press so I’m not going to do that with you.

And that’s really it. She’s asked if she’ll vote yes and instead of saying she will, she talks about “working on” and “crafting” legislation. Those obviously aren’t things you say about something that’s already a finished product. As far as what it is she wants in or out of the bill, she’s saving that for Biden and fellow Senate Democrats.

In the rest of the interview, Sinema responds to some of the complaints about her from progressives on her left. She suggested part of the problem is leaders who overpromising on what they can actually deliver:

“I would never promise something to the American people that I can’t deliver and I think it’s not responsible for elected leaders to do that,” she said.

“Being honest is the most appropriate way to engage in any interaction, whether it’s in a political setting or in a personal setting, but I also believe that when elected leaders on either side of the political aisle promise things that cannot be delivered it actually exacerbates the political problems we face in our country,” she said, “and people become more angry or even apathetic and want to turn away from the political process, because they feel like no one is telling them the truth or being honest with them.”

In other words, don’t tell people you’re going to pass a $3.5 trillion bill before rounding up the votes for it. There were quite a few outraged columns from progressives published just a few weeks ago, most of them complaining Sinema wouldn’t tell Democrats what she wanted. For example:

Part of what is driving Democrats so crazy is her inscrutability. It’s not simply that she refuses to publicly discuss her specific objections to the Build Back Better plan; people just don’t have a clear sense of what matters to her — of what her core principles are. Absent that, her critics have increasingly ascribed her behavior to a slurry of narcissism, opportunism and obeisance to corporate interests.

But it turns out the White House sees it very differently. As the Washington Post reported, Sinema is only an enigma if you’re not one of the people in the room where the real negotiations are happening:

“Sen. Sinema is and always has been clear with us,” one White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the talks candidly. The official added that those who say otherwise “are telling on themselves. They’re saying they aren’t close enough to the process to know what they’re talking about.”

The Hamilton reference above wasn’t accidental. CNN’s story on the interview with Sinema contains this tidbit:

Before the start of the interview on Thursday, Sinema’s cellphone rang. Her ringtone is the refrain from a song in the musical “Hamilton” that includes the lyrics “you don’t have the votes.” It’s been her ringtone since 2015, the year the musical was originally released, her spokesman told CNN.

Sinema isn’t an enigma, she just isn’t telling the back bench progressives in her own party what they want to hear. Ultimately, it sounds like she is on board with some version of the scaled-back BBB bill but because that will be different from the initial House version, this will have to go back to the House for another vote. Here’s the interview with Sen. Sinema: