Kyrsten Sinema, one of two centrist Democrats alongside Joe Manchin who have vocally opposed efforts to abolish the 60-vote legislative filibuster rule that jeopardises Democrats’ agenda against overwhelming Republican opposition, has argued in an op-ed that doing so would weaken “democracy’s guardrails”.
The senator’s column, published in The Washington Post on Monday, follows her White House meeting with Joe Biden and Senator Manchin as the president and Democrats rally for support around the For The People Act, which needs at least 60 votes to overcome a GOP blockade in the evenly divided Senate.
“My support for retaining the 60-vote threshold is not based on the importance of any particular policy,” she wrote. “It is based on what is best for our democracy. The filibuster compels moderation and helps protect the country from wild swings between opposing policy poles.”
The For The People Act, which Senator Sinema said she supports, would implement sweeping voting rights protections and elections ethics reforms, including automatic voter registration, at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections, prohibitions on restrictive voter ID laws, and guaranteeing mail-in voting options and drop boxes for absentee ballots.
But she argued that without the filibuster, Republicans – once they retain majority control of the Senate – could then replace the law with “nationwide voter-ID law or restrictions on voting by mail in federal elections” with a simple majority vote.
Her argument – supporting the current status quo of partisan gridlock in the hopes of achieving bipartisan support from Republicans who have resisted Democrats’ agenda – has faced a wave of criticism from filibuster opponents.
University of Denver political scientist Seth Masket said her argument amounts to “what’s the point in passing laws if some future Congress might pass different laws?”
Former Barack Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau called it a “poorly argued, fairly delusional op-ed”, and New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie said her arguments “range from being demonstrably false to disingenuous to delusional”.
MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell said “every single thing in Senator Sinema’s Washington Post op-ed piece is what just about 100 per cent of the Senate believed about 20 years ago”.
“It is an op-ed piece that as of tonight is approximately 20 years out-of-date,” he said before reviving Mr Obama’s call to abolish the 60-vote rule with “democracy on the line”.
While she opposes nuking current filibuster rules, Ms Sinema called for the Senate to publicly debate it.
“It is time for the Senate to debate the legislative filibuster, so senators and our constituents can hear and fully consider the concerns and consequences,” she wrote. “Hopefully, senators can then focus on crafting policies through open legislative processes and amendments, finding compromises that earn broad support.”
A group of progressive organisations launched a $1.5m campaign targeting the senator over her opposition to filibuster reform and her widely criticised opposition to a $15 federal minimum wage, after she gave a “thumbs down” vote on the Senate floor during passage of the latest coronavirus relief package.
More than 140 LGBT+ advocates in her home state of Arizona also demanded that she support filibuster reform to pass the Equality Act, which would amend federal civil rights protections to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.
The groups suggested they would back her primary opponent in upcoming elections, and “will have no choice but to seriously consider whether our support for you, including financial donations, may better serve our community if directed to another Democrat,” they wrote.