Democrats control the US Senate with a single vote. President Biden has made bipartisanship a top priority. Republican senators are pushing for deals, including on Covid-19 during a meeting Monday with the president. On the economy, on immigration, on health care – the Biden administration will need the votes of every senator it can get.
This is where Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly come in.
The two Democratic senators from Arizona, both moderate, have assumed an unusual stature amid all the talk of bipartisanship. Ms Sinema made waves and frustrated progressives last month when she aligned with Republicans to maintain the filibuster, which gives power to the minority party. Mr Kelly was part of a bipartisan group of 16 senators who recently met with White House officials to discuss Covid relief. The pair represent a state Mr. Biden narrowly reversed in November; Pleasing Arizona is a new Democratic priority.
But if Ms. Sinema and Mr. Kelly emerge as actors in Washington, politics here is more complicated. Arizona Democratic Party officials and activists have jumped into the two senators’ race, despite the fact that many of those Democrats are more progressive than Ms. Sinema or Mr. Kelly. Now, they are eager for their senators not only to embrace the middle, but also to embrace the policies the left is pushing for. Many view senators’ openness to Republicans with skepticism.
“There was so much in Kelly and Sinema’s victory that no effort can take the credit, but also everything was needed so nothing can be sacrificed,” said Ian Danley, Executive Director of Arizona Wins, who helped coordinate voter education among dozens of liberal organizations last year. “They are both in a difficult situation. These different strategies from a political point of view can be in conflict. “
Ms Sinema, who was elected in 2018, and Mr Kelly, who won last year, both ran for office on bipartisan approaches from the government. And given the tight democratic control in the Senate, the two senators are likely to prove essential to Biden’s agenda as well as any major legislative agreement on issues central to the state, including immigration, health care. health and Covid relief.
Their importance was made clear last week when Vice President Kamala Harris included Phoenix ABC affiliate and The Arizona Republic editorial board in a series of interviews as she promoted the Covid relief program. administration. Although Ms Harris did not mention Ms Sinema’s or Mr Kelly’s name, she left no doubt that their loyalty was paramount.
“If we do not pass this bill, I will be very frank with you: we know that more people are going to die in our country,” Ms. Harris said in the interview with The Republic. “More people will lose their jobs and our children will miss more school. We have to be here collectively to say that is not an option in America. “
On the same day, Ms Harris made similar comments to a West Virginia television station and newspaper. Later, Senator Joe Manchin III, a Democrat who has represented the state since 2010 and enjoys his reputation as an independent, expressed his own frustration, saying his interview was “no way of working together.”
Ms Sinema and Mr Kelly made no such comment and some progressives viewed their silence as disturbing.
“We need to be able to count on these senators we worked so hard to elect,” said Tomás Robles, executive director of LUCHA, a civil rights group that has knocked on tens of thousands of doors in Arizona for them. Democrats last year. “If they act like a moderate Republican, we will remember that at election time. We expect them to recognize that Latinos voted overwhelmingly for these two, and we expect them to repay us for our loyalty.
For many immigration activists, a feeling of pessimism has already started to set in. They fear Democrats are trying to strike a deal with Republicans who are unlikely to approve of the sweeping changes proposed by Mr. Biden – similar to the strategy that failed during the Obama administration.
Erika Andiola, a Phoenix-based immigration activist, became the first known undocumented congressional assistant when she worked for Ms Sinema in 2013, drawn by what she saw as Ms intense interest and engagement. Sinema for the question. Now Ms Andiola has said she sees her former boss as taking a more conservative stance on immigration – more often focusing on border security than creating a path to citizenship for the roughly 11 million people. undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
“There is a window of time now and there is a way for Democrats to do something about immigration – and they can do it themselves,” Ms. Andiola said. “At the time of the crisis you have to choose your battles, you have to choose what you can win. Choose the right strategy. Compromising with Republicans will get us nowhere.
Ms Sinema and Mr Kelly declined to be interviewed for this article, but statements from their offices emphasized bipartisanship and border security, as well as support for the Dreamers, who were brought to the states. -United as children of unauthorized immigrants and were threatened. sometimes with expulsion.
Mr Kelly is already part of the group of 16 senators tasked with reaching a bipartisan agreement on the relief plan. Ms Sinema has been one of the most vocal critics of Arizona’s response to the pandemic, and some Arizona Democrats believe she will back the Biden administration’s package.
Raquel Terán, newly elected president of the Arizona Democratic Party and state representative, admitted that the two senators “had not campaigned on the progressive end of the spectrum.” But she said that while there may be disagreements, she expected the two to side with Mr Biden on the relief program, health care and immigration.
“They will vote for the Democratic agenda, the agenda that Joe Biden proposed – they supported it in the election and what they put on the table, so I have high hopes,” Ms. Terán. “I hope they will do anything so that his agenda is not blocked.”
Arizona has a long history with high-profile, independent senators willing to counter party lines, and others who have amassed political power – John McCain and Jon Kyl have long been considered two of the most influential senators during their tenure, and Jeff Flake became one of the first Senate Republicans to openly criticize former President Donald J. Trump.
“There is no state in America that will play a more central role in directing congressional legislation over the next two years,” said Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce. “Every major piece of legislation is going to go through Arizona, and the role that many of us want our senators to play is that of someone crossing the aisle.”
Many Democrats point out that the state’s political atmosphere has changed dramatically since 2018, with voters reversing both Senate seats and a Democratic presidential candidate winning in Arizona in November for just the second time in five decades. And since the riot in Washington last month, more than 5,000 Republicans have abandoned party affiliation.
Still, Mr Hamer warned that the two senators were in a precarious political position, particularly Mr Kelly, who won a special election and is due for re-election in 2022. (The Chamber of Commerce has endorsed his opponent in the elections of l last year, and did not approve of Ms. Sinema’s race.)
Approving major changes like a minimum wage of $ 15 an hour or an immigration program that does not include more enforcement, Mr Hamer said, would deflect moderate voters who also helped propel the pair in Washington. .
“I don’t believe you can have unity in America without bipartisan legislation, and I truly believe that both have a role to play in that regard,” he said. “It would be much better and more lasting than trying to blow up the filibuster.”
Mr Danley, a longtime Liberal activist, also warned the two senators could not take new voters in the state for granted.
“If we want to produce voters who support you, we need ammunition, we need to have something real and legitimate,” Danley said. “We can’t keep saying they’re better than the bad guys – that’s too low of a bar. What about really being good to those people who have come forward and have expectations? “