Civil rights activists accuse Kyrsten Sinema of using them after holding private meeting

U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema speaking with attendees at the 2019 Update from Capitol Hill hosted by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry at the Arizona Biltmore Resort in Phoenix, Arizona.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema Photo: Gage Skidmore

In addition to the 50 Republican Senators, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) has been one of two Democrats preventing progress on most legislation supported by President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party because they refuse to reform the Senate’s filibuster rules or carve an exception that would allow them to pass the bill with 50 votes, and have Vice President Kamala Harris (D) break any ties as President of the Senate.

Now, civil rights leaders are fuming after privately meeting with Sinema earlier this week, where she “politely listened,” without telling them that the very next day, she would go on the floor of the Senate and publicly declare she would not support any reform of the filibuster rules under any circumstances. That has left them “pissed.”

Related: Is Ruben Gallego the perfect challenger to send Kyrsten Sinema packing from the Senate?

Politico first reported yesterday that Sinema had met with Rev. Al Sharpton, NAACP President Derrick Johnson, NAACP Legal Defense Fund President Sherrilyn Ifill, and National Coalition on Black Civic Participation president Melanie Campbell on January 12 via Zoom.

They told her “that time was running out for voting rights, and that they needed her to support a filibuster carveout for the issue,” according to Politico, with one person reportedly saying to the Senator, “You cannot say you ‘fought’ [for the bills], and not change the rules to make it happen.”

Sinema told the leaders in attendance that she understood their point, but she “believes that a filibuster carveout would be bad for the country.” She didn’t tell them that she would put her foot down publicly the very next day, merely minutes before President Biden would attend lunch with members of Congress in an attempt to convince Sinema and others to support Senate reform.

While Sinema did not comment about the report, her office confirmed that it took place. Some of the leaders in attendance, though, did not hesitate to sound off to Politico about it.

“The timing of her speech … showed an insensitivity, at best, and contempt, at worst, of our efforts and the efforts of the president,” Sharpton told Politico‘s Eugene Daniels, co-author of the “Playbook” newsletter.

Another attendee stated afterward, ““It was almost like she said that she wanted to be able to tick off the box that she ‘talked to major civil rights leaders’ before she did what she did.”

Civil rights leaders have spent the days since publicly condemning Sinema for her decision.

“History will remember Senator Sinema unkindly,” Martin Luther King III, the son of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said bluntly in a statement. “While Sen. Sinema remains stubborn in her ‘optimism,’ Black and Brown Americans are losing their right to vote. She’s siding with the legacy of Bull Connor and George Wallace instead of the legacy of my father and all those who fought to make real our democracy.”

Sharpton, King, and other activists also held rallies in Phoenix, Arizona, this week.

By withholding her support for overturning the filibuster – a Senate procedural maneuver historically used to thwart civil rights legislation that is currently being used to block voting rights, immigration, and LGBTQ equality legislation – Sinema has doomed several priorities for her own voters.

While a bill only requires 51 votes to pass, a procedural maneuver can require 60 votes to advance the bill to an actual vote. With the chamber evenly divided 50-50 between the parties, reaching 60 votes during a time of hyper-partisanship (and with Donald Trump leading the GOP by default) is almost an impossibility.

“Senator Sinema is grateful for the chance to hear from these leaders — and as she said in her remarks [Thursday], she believes that different people of good faith can have honest disagreements about policy and strategy, and that honest disagreements are normal and do not reflect a lack of dialogue,” Sinema’s office said in a statement.

Despite her efforts, Sinema’s already falling approval rating — which fell from 48 percent to 42 percent among registered voters in Arizona between the first and third quarters of 2021 — took a further hit, and organizers planning to primary her reported record fundraising numbers this week.

It’s not just Sinema’s betrayal of her party’s priorities that are irritating Arizona Democrats. Sinema has rightly earned a reputation as someone who doesn’t even talk to her constituents. She doesn’t host town halls or hold press conferences. She goes to such lengths to avoid talking to voters that she locked herself in a bathroom when activists tried to confront her.

She has begun receiving criticism from LGBTQ activists and other out legislators, such as Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY). Five military veterans who advise Sinema on policy issues sent her a scathing letter a few months ago to say they were quitting. They accused her of using them as “window dressing” while ignoring their recommendations and reneging on her campaign promises.

Further, she’s been accepting donations from conservative billionaires and Trump supporters, and silently taking support from anti-gay Republicans such as Rick Santorum and Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ).

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