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Unapologetically Moderate, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema Says She's Focused On Results

Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona field reporters' questions last week as Sen. Susan Collins looks on during a news conference about the bipartisan infrastructure deal.
Alex Wong
Getty Images
Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona field reporters' questions last week as Sen. Susan Collins looks on during a news conference about the bipartisan infrastructure deal.

Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is batting away criticism that her bipartisan approach to legislating is bad for her party.

To Sinema, a moderate, bipartisanship is the way Washington should work.

"We know that the American people are asking for us to take action," she told NPR's All Things Considered. "What they don't want to see is us sit on our hands, waiting until we get every single thing that we want. ... That all-or-nothing approach usually leaves you with nothing."

Sinema occupies a crucial position in a Senate divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. She and fellow moderate Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in particular have managed to wield outsize power over their party since Democrats need their support to move their agenda forward.

She has been leading Democrats in the bipartisan effort to pass infrastructure legislation, which the Senate could vote on next week. And after she helped pull together that agreement, she said that while she will "support beginning" debate on a plan to deliver other aspects of President Biden's economic agenda, she does "not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion." That almost certainly means Democrats will have to scale back their ambitions.

More progressive Democrats argue that lawmakers such as Sinema and Manchin are harming the party's chance to pass even bolder policy and potentially keeping control of Congress in next year's midterm elections.

In a tweet last week, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., accused Sinema of turning her back on her own party on key legislation.

Ocasio-Cortez accused Sinema of "tanking your own party's investment on childcare, climate action, and infrastructure" and of "choosing to exclude members of color from negotiations."

Sinema said she would not respond directly to the criticism and that instead she is "laser-focused on advancing our legislation."

She added, "It's easy to launch criticisms and political attacks. As folks know, I don't do that. But what I do do, is stay absolutely focused on getting solutions done that impact the people of our country."

To the larger consideration of whether Sinema's approach would help or hurt Democrats maintain control of Congress, Sinema said her focus is on "getting stuff done." Noting her nearly 20 years in public office, she said that in her experience, "If you do the work and deliver results for the people that you represent, they'll continue to send you back to do that job."

Still, the Arizona Democrat argued she would be able to make progress for the American people even if Republicans were in charge.

Aside from the infrastructure bill, Democrats are hoping to pass other initiatives related to climate, health care and child care as part of the planned $3.5 trillion budget resolution. For the Senate to pass that plan, they'll need every member of the caucus, including Sinema. And that's before it reaches the House of Representatives and the most progressive wing of the party, which is hoping for big change.

Although Sinema said she won't support a budget package of that size, she did not provide any response on what she thought an acceptable size would be, "and the reason's quite simple: We haven't even introduced the legislation. We haven't even started it."

Elena Burnett and Courtney Dorning produced and edited the audio interview.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dana Farrington is a digital editor coordinating online coverage on the Washington Desk — from daily stories to visual feature projects to the weekly newsletter. She has been with the NPR Politics team since President Trump's inauguration. Before that, she was among NPR's first engagement editors, managing the homepage for NPR.org and the main social accounts. Dana has also worked as a weekend web producer and editor, and has written on a wide range of topics for NPR, including tech and women's health.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.