“I would say, ‘it is unacceptable for us to give up here,'” she told CNN. “Have a glass of wine.”
The agreement is the crest of Sinema’s eight-year career in Congress. As the lead Senate Democratic negotiator, she has been in regular contact with Biden by phone or seated across from him in the Oval Office.
Steven Slugocki, the former Democratic Party chairman for Arizona’s Phoenix-based Maricopa County, said that while Sinema promised to “get stuff done,” she “has so far not held up to those promises” and said the bill “doesn’t go far enough for what this historic opportunity calls for.”
“Her constituents are frustrated, disappointed and angry — and rightfully so,” Slugocki said. “Voters are looking for leadership and action, not upholding old unnecessary Senate traditions. The time for real results has come.”
Garrick Taylor, a top official at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, told CNN that the bill included a number of wins: expanding access to high-speed internet, upgrading border stations along the US-Mexico border and improving technology to aid water management. The state Chamber tweeted a “thank you” to Sinema, noting that the bill doesn’t increase taxes on “job creators.”
Sinema’s relationships with Republicans proved to be a crucial when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced he would force a vote to get on the bill last week, before they had written it or even struck an agreement.
Republicans blasted the decision, saying the group wasn’t ready. Without the support from 10 Republicans, the bill was stuck. Asked by reporters what she was going to do, Sinema said she simply was going to keep working as if nothing had really changed.
“What other people do is less important than what we do,” she said.
Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a member of the bipartisan group said that Sinema played a vital role in advancing the talks.
“There were several times when we got bogged down and started relitigating things that had been resolved a long time ago — and she basically just said ‘stop,'” said Murkowski. “She called it out.”
The White House also came to appreciate Sinema’s approach. In the first weeks of the administration, Biden’s team worked to get a read of the first term senator, according to multiple officials. She simply wasn’t as well-known of a commodity as West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, another critical, centrist Democrat in the 50-50 Senate, they said. But her role in the Democratic caucus was no mystery.
“It’s been pretty clear from Day One that we always need to make sure we know where Sen. Sinema is, no matter the issue,” said one administration official.
A test came in January, when Vice President Kamala Harris conducted local television interviews in West Virginia and Arizona to tout the emerging Covid relief legislation. It was perceived by Democrats on Capitol Hill to be a deliberate effort to press Sinema and Manchin to support the legislation. Manchin quickly voiced his displeasure with the administration for failing to reach out to him in advance. Sinema, notably, said nothing in public.
That decision was noted inside the White House, and served as a window into what has been a key piece of her relationship with Biden: she will share her views and, critically, ensure the White House won’t be surprised by her position on an issue. It just won’t show up in the press first.
The President reached out in person or on the phone to her at key points throughout the infrastructure negotiations: when Biden’s initial talks with Republicans broke down, when a framework was about to be struck in June and when Biden appeared to throw that agreement into doubt by tying its passage to a separate, sweeping $3.5 trillion bill.
When the negotiations floundered this week, Sinema was once again in the Oval Office. The deal was reached on Wednesday
While Sinema, 45, is now reaping plaudits from the right, her career began two decades ago working for the Green Party during Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential run. She then became a pink tutu-wearing anti-war activist, and lost her first bid for the Arizona House as an independent in 2002. She then ran as a Democrat in 2004 — and won — and served there until 2010 before jumping up to the state Senate.
Alejandra Gomez, a progressive activist at the Arizona Center for Empowerment, told CNN that she remembered when Sinema brought her pizza in 2010 as she was organizing a protest against a state bill that let police check a person’s immigration status if there was a “reasonable suspicion” that the person was illegally in the United States. Critics said the bill led to racial profiling.
In 2012, Sinema ran for a competitive House district in suburban Phoenix, won and joined centrist committees in Congress. She voted against California Rep. Nancy Pelosi as House Democratic leader and built a reputation of working across the aisle on the Financial Services Committee.
But she also had a background that appealed to the Left, as she rose from her impoverished roots, and in 2018, Sinema became the first Democrat in Arizona to be elected senator since Dennis DeConcini was reelected in 1988. She’s also the state’s first senator to be a woman, to be openly bisexual and to describe her religion as “none.”
In some ways, Sinema’s blunt style and propensity to take on her own party emulates McCain.
But her centrist positions have infuriated some Democrats, who say the state faces a series of crises — water shortages, climate change, evictions—that she’s not up to facing.
And she’s come out swinging against passing a $3.5 trillion bill that would fund climate initiatives, universal prekindergarten and community college, establish paid family and medical leave, expand the child tax credit, and add dental, vision and hearing benefits to Medicare, among many other proposals. She is open to passing the budget but not a bill that costs that much.
“I thought there was agreement among Democrats, but evidently not,” said Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Some Democrats are looking for someone to run a campaign against Sinema when she runs for reelection in 2024.
“If we need to find a new candidate, we are prepared to do so as Arizonans,” Gomez said.
A few strategists who helped launch New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s 2018 upset campaign have already set their sights on the senator through a new PAC called No Excuses. Corbin Trent told CNN that the PAC plans on airing radio and digital ads next week.
“We’re going to start ramping up and making sure folks are aware of just how little she gives a damn to not just Arizona, but this country,” Trent said.