In a remarkable feat of unity, the Democratic Senators all hung together to vote to convict Donald Trump of abuse of power. For some senators, the vote to get rid of Trump came with real risks. Doug Jones of Alabama, who won his seat in what can be considered a fluke against creepy Roy Moore, probably sealed his electoral doom this fall. As a Democrat in West Virginia, Joe Manchin represents a state that increasingly looks like, well, Alabama.
Speculation about whether Senators such as Jones and Manchin would risk their seat to vote against Trump made some political sense – but then, there’s the case of Kyrsten Sinema.
Sinema, the first openly bisexual senator, was one of the last two Democrats to announce how she would vote (the other being Manchin.) Sinema said that the evidence was “clear” and that the president’s actions were “dangerous to the fundamental principles of American democracy.”
That’s about what you would expect from a Senator in an increasingly purple state, Arizona. But for months, Sinema was the subject of intense speculation that she might decide to vote to acquit the president. Politico described her unwillingness to throw her support for impeachment as “a bit of a mystery.”
With good reason – Sinema proved that she can win election in a state that is shedding its Republican identity. She’s not facing re-election until 2024, at which point impeachment will very likely be replaced by other, more recent issues. It’s improbable that her political future rested on the impeachment vote.
However, as Sinema’s late decision shows, she is anything but an average Democrat. She voted for Bill Barr’s appointment as attorney general, despite his anti-LGBTQ record, gave Trump a standing ovation at last week’s State of the Union address and bluntly distanced herself from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Instead preferring to hang around with Republican peers.
“She spends at least as much time on the Republican side of the chamber as the Democratic half and lists Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas as an ally atop the Commerce Committee’s Aviation and Space subcommittee,” Politico reported.
“I said to her one time: Why aren’t you a Republican?” Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer told the site, “she said: ‘I just couldn’t be.’”
Her coziness with Republicans has oft become a source of frustration — and fury — among fellow Democrats. The Arizona Democratic party previously considered a resolution to condemn her for failing to “support the tenets of the 2016 Democratic party platform.”
None of which seems to bother Sinema – her independent streak seems to be a badge of honor. Some of her decision to keep the party at arms’ length is political calculation – Arizona is becoming more friendly to Democrats, but her election broke a thirty year drought for Democratic Senate candidates in the state – but part of it seems to be her personality.
Other Democrats from even less friendly states, like Jon Tester of Montana, have toed the party line with relatively few repercussions. Moreover, Sinema reportedly doesn’t even attend party lunches in the Senate, a simple way to show your allegiance.
What Sinema’s go-it-alone stance gains her is unclear. Yes, it may help with her re-election bid, but it comes at the expense of any influence in the party. Fellow Democrats won’t feel obliged to do her any favors when the time comes for her to call some in.
Sinema’s calculus may be that the Democrats have no choice but to live with her. She delivered a Senate seat that was far from guaranteed for the party.
Now, with a vote for Barr and her tight relationships with Republicans on her record, Sen. Sinema’s independence has disproved any assumptions made about her because she was openly bisexual. People may have assumed she would be a progressive heroine, even though she gave ample indication that she was anything but. Reality has shown just how wrong those assumptions were.