Perhaps the best evidence for those who believe the Arizona electorate is turning purple is their extremely purple senator, Kyrsten Sinema. The freshman senator from Arizona supports Israel, wants a secure border, and votes to confirm Trump judicial nominees. She’s also a Democrat.
At a time when moderates are few and far between, and Blue Dog Democrats are nearly extinct, Sinema has so far adopted a notably pragmatic approach that other swing state representatives should take note of. Congress’ approval rating has not passed 30 percent in the last 10 years. A Gallup poll last month found that 78 percent of Americans disapprove of the gridlocked body.
In Sinema’s 2009 book, “Unite and Conquer,” Sinema describes how she evolved from a “bomb-thrower” and “patron saint for lost causes” in the Arizona state house to a centrist, deal-making congresswoman who actually got things done.
“I hadn’t gotten any of my great policies enacted into law, and I’d seen lots of stuff I didn’t like become law. It was just plain sad,” she wrote. She found that passing legislation was more rewarding than attacking her political opponents.
Since she arrived in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2013, Sinema has clung to this philosophy, bucking the progressive dogma of her party. Since taking her Senate seat in January, she has sided with conservatives on some of the biggest issues of the last seven months.
1. Pushing For a Program to Deport Migrants Without Valid Asylum Claims
Last week, Sinema was one of three Democrats who joined a group of Republicans calling for a pilot program along the U.S.-Mexico border that would quickly screen and remove migrant families who lack valid legal claims for asylum. DHS would be able to remove family units within 15 days who fail to meet the “credible fear” criteria.
“This pilot program would apply to families who aren’t claiming ‘credible fear,’ which of course is the first threshold in seeking asylum,” Sinema told The Arizona Republic. “If someone says ‘I left my country because I can’t make a living,’ (or) ‘it’s hard to take care of my family’ — that’s what we call an economic migrant.”
Senators hope the program, “Operation Safe Return,” will alleviate overcrowding at border facilities and help officials understand the drivers of migration. When a large caravan of Central American migrants made their way through Mexico last fall, Sinema said she supported sending troops to the border.
“I’ve long supported having additional support on the border because our men and women who are keeping our border safe and secure do need help and support to do that,” Sinema said on Arizona’s Morning News in October.
2. Confirming President Trump’s Nominees
So far this Congress, Sinema has voted against Democrats 26.7 percent of the time, according to ProPublica data. That puts her at No. 3 on the list of senators who break with their party most frequently.
Many of these breaks with her party are to confirm President Trump’s judicial nominees to federal courts, as well as executive branch nominees such as cabinet members Attorney General William Barr and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. So far this year, the Senate has confirmed 13 judges to the U.S. Court of Appeals and 31 judges to the U.S. District Courts. Sinema has voted for 22 of those nominees, each time at odds with her party.
“As Arizona’s senior Senator, Kyrsten will evaluate every presidential nominee based on whether he or she is professionally qualified, believes in the mission of his or her agency, and can be trusted to faithfully execute and uphold the law as it exists,” a Sinema spokeswoman told the Arizona Mirror.
3. Teaming Up to Repeal Obamacare Regulations
Sinema has said she does not support adding a government-run health insurance option to Obamacare such as “Medicare For All.”
“I’ve been laser-focused on supporting realistic proposals that help Arizonans get access to affordable coverage,” Sinema told the Huffington Post.
In January, she co-sponsored a bill with Republican senators to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s annual fee on insurance providers. As a member of the House, she also backed legislation to delay the tax and to repeal it entirely, and voted to increase the number of employees a small business must employ (from 15 to 100) before it is subject to the ACA.
4. Support For Israel
“Our support for a secure Israel as a beacon of democracy must remain unwavering,” Sinema tweeted in April. Less than a month later, when Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip fired 250 rockets across the border at Israeli citizens, prompting Israel to respond with airstrikes, Sinema condemned the attacks against innocent civilians.
I condemn the rocket attacks on innocent civilians and stand in support of Israel and peace.
— Kyrsten Sinema (@SenatorSinema) May 6, 2019
Although Sinema’s activist years included support of anti-Israel groups, since taking political office her voting record has aligned with pro-Israel Democrats. In 2014, Sinema co-sponsored the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, and is often a featured speaker at AIPAC events.
5. Support for Strong Military and Veterans
As a member of the Homeland Security Committee, Kyrsten says some of her top areas of focus are military readiness, fighting terrorism, and supporting military members and their families.
In 2015, Sinema introduced a bill in the House that required the government to develop a coordinated, national strategy to combat terrorism financing. It was passed in 2017, and in the Senate this year, she introduced a bill to strengthen the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s ability to cut off financing of illegal activity.
“As part of our national defense, we must cut off the money that fuels terrorism and transnational crime,” Sinema said.
In 2017, she signed onto a bill in the House that directs the Department of Defense to create a plan for destroying the Islamic State. In the Senate this year, she helped secure funding for Arizona’s military bases and introduced legislation to expand specially adapted housing eligibility for seriously injured or ill veterans.
6. Voted Against the Green New Deal
Breaking again with most Democrats in the Senate, Sinema voted against the Green New Deal resolution in March this year.
“We need to address a changing climate with realistic, achievable solutions,” she said in a statement. “Congress should stop the political games and work together on practical solutions that foster a healthy environment, grow our economy, and help Arizona families get ahead.”
In a political climate that feeds on tribalism, choosing productivity and compromise over partisanship may not be a winning strategy in solid red or blue states. But in the purple-leaning Arizona, Sinema has the luxury (or the burden) to stand athwart groupthink and making the most realistic, pragmatic choices for the whole country.