Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) has a branding problem. She infuriates Democrats and her voting record is repulsive to most Republicans. So what can a nominal independent seeking re-election do to set herself apart from everyone else?
In Sinema’s case, she’s decided that she’s the Senate’s King Solomon.
Senate Democrats haven’t officially started their 2024 campaign against Sinema… and that could help Republicans win.
Appearing before the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce – Sinema only appears at closed-door meetings, generally with business groups and lobbyists – Sinema graciously volunteered to find a “middle ground” between Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) and President Joe Biden over a dispute about military promotions.
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Tuberville, who was previously a football coach at Auburn University, has put a hold on every military promotion requiring Senate confirmation since February. He is doing so to protest a Pentagon policy to pay for military personnel to travel for abortions if they are stationed in a state with abortion restrictions.
The nominations on hold now number in the hundreds, including members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have been pushing hard for Tuberville to remove the holds, since officers in acting positions lack full authority to carry out certain actions. For his part, Tuberville refuses, saying last week, “I don’t care if they promote anybody.”
Because of the Senate’s arcane rules, Tuberville can hold up the nominations. The only way around them is to have a series of procedural votes for each and every nomination, which would grind the rest of the Senate’s work to a halt. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer could bring a batch of nominations together for consideration but that would require unanimous consent, which means a single senator could threaten a filibuster, effectively killing any consideration of the group’s promotions.
As a reminder, self-appointed mediator Sinema voted against lifting the filibuster, earning her the undying thanks of Republicans.
So what exactly would the middle ground be in this debate? Would it be preventing women in the military from receiving medical care if they happened to be stationed in the wrong state? Would it be giving a rogue senator carte blanche to hold the military hostage to his whims in the future? Would it be forcing the Pentagon to cave on another part of its policy, say regarding trans personnel, as a sop to Tuberville?
Sinema wouldn’t say. Instead, she wants to protect the rights of a senator to misuse power in any way they see fit. In remarks that show a remarkable coziness with Tuberville, she even refers to him by his football title.
“Coach wants something the military and the administration is not willing to give him,” Sinema said. “But it would be a mistake to take away that tool from a United States senator because it is an important tool to address unmet needs.”
If this sounds as if Sinema is talking more about herself than Tuberville, that’s probably right. As with so much else about Sinema, she seems to revel in having the attention on her, so she probably envies how much is currently on Tuberville.
That said, Sinema absolutely believes that a brilliant compromise is at hand, if only the Pentagon would ask her.
“There is always a solution to be had. It may not be everything the Coach wants. And it may not be everything that the United States military or the administration wants. But there is a solution to be found. And so what I have offered to both Coach and to the administration is to help in any way that I can to help find that solution, because it does exist. It always exists.”
Except when it doesn’t.
The Pentagon has said flatly that it will not compromise on its policy. “We’re not going to change our policy on ensuring that every single service member has equitable access to reproductive health care,” a spokesperson said.
Sinema instead is advocating negotiating with a right-wing Republican who is willing to take the nation’s security hostage for his own political gain. She is rewarding Tuberville for his bad actions. Even McConnell has been pressuring Tuberville to lift his hold on the promotions. Only Sinema thinks that there’s a win-win available here.
But that’s because Sinema is thinking about herself. She imagines herself the brilliant negotiator who finds middle ground. It’s always possible to find middle ground when all your looking for is to boost your ego and you don’t have to worry about principles.
As for how this will help Sinema’s already bleak re-election chances… probably by not much. She’s running third in polling in a three-person race with Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego and Trump-loving Republican Kari Lake. No surprise, given how much Democrats hate Sinema, is that Sinema’s appearance on the ballot would seem to hurt the Republican candidate more than the Democratic one. Maybe getting an endorsement from Tuberville would boost her chances.