TUCSON, Ariz. — Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., wasn’t with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy this week when he toured the border in her own backyard. But next time, she should be.
On Thursday, the newly elected House speaker traveled with four GOP freshmen to get a firsthand look at the crisis along the southern border in Arizona. McCarthy shared in an exclusive interview with The Federalist that the Arizona senator wasn’t invited on this trip, but she’s more than welcome on the next.
“I didn’t invite any senators,” McCarthy said of his first border tour since taking his new post. When asked whether he would ever bring her, McCarthy said “gladly.”
“I’d invite her,” the speaker nodded.
A bicameral border tour with the Republican House speaker could be a political goldmine for Sinema, who is up for re-election in 2024. A Democrat senator who’s framed herself as a moderate in an upper chamber that’s dominated by far-left interests, Sinema could not only help her chances for another six-year term but also help get something done — if she actually cared about the border.
In December, Sinema publicly rebuked her own party and declared herself an independent for the remaining two years of her first term. Functionally, the announcement changed nothing on Capitol Hill. The Arizona lawmaker still caucuses with Democrats, who enjoy an expanded majority in the Senate after the November midterms. Politically, however, the move empowers Sinema to buck her own party more often in a conference where Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer still maintains his leadership status by a single vote.
Sinema knows she has a tough road to re-election next year, and she knows the state’s border with Mexico, neglected by D.C. Democrats, will be a liability. The issue even forced Sen. Mark Kelly, another Arizona Democrat, to condemn the Biden administration during a fall debate after his opponent, Republican Blake Masters, demanded that Kelly resign.
“When the president decided he was going to do something dumb on this, and change the rules,” Kelly said, “I told him he was wrong.”
A border trip with McCarthy, for which Sinema now has an open invitation, could foil potential attacks from a Republican opponent next year while harassing members in her own conference to get something passed. McCarthy also knows he’ll need an ally across the aisle to get border legislation through a divided government. The two were spotted dining together in early February.
Sinema already led a bipartisan delegation to the border at El Paso, Texas, on a multi-day, eight-member trip in January. The tour was far different from the sanitized version President Joe Biden experienced the same week.
On the Sunday following her announcement to leave the Democratic Party, Sinema blasted the federal response to the border crisis as a failure.
“The federal government has failed here. Places like Arizona, front lines of this crisis, have been paying the price every single day since then,” Sinema said on CNN, adding that she’s “frustrated with partisanship that has gripped our nation.”
A divided government over the next two years presents the Arizona lawmaker with a prime opportunity to turn a politician’s tough talk into action, starting with a border trip with McCarthy. Action on the border might also save her Senate seat.
Wyatt Forster and Carey Appolonia aren’t exactly the kind of constituents Sinema might expect to count on come election time. Six months ago, the married pair opened the “Trump Store” gift shop off highway 80 between the border and Tucson.
Both disdain President Biden, hope Trump wins again, and demand the border be secured. They’ve watched high-speed chases become routine and even had their Tucson home become the target of an attempted break-in, leading them to keep their firearms on them at all times.
“We are in a full-blown crisis,” Appolonia said, seated in a store where customers can buy toilet paper with Obama’s face and a toilet brush with Biden’s head.
But when it came to Sinema, their tone softened.
“I have a little bit of respect for her,” Appolonia told The Federalist. “Some people probably wouldn’t like me for saying that.”
“She’s bucked the Democrats. I’m pretty proud of her, honestly,” Forster added. A border trip with McCarthy “couldn’t hurt.”
In his interview with The Federalist on Thursday, McCarthy listed no shortage of legislative proposals that are in the mix after his tour with border agents, from hiring reform to appropriations funding. But he says he still has more listening to do.
“We’re going to bring the committees down here, listen to people, and then move legislation through the House,” McCarthy said.
A Republican House, however, remains just one-third of the equation.