Kirsten Cinema faces growing rebellion from its former supporters
PHOENIX — Jade Duran once spent her weekend knocking on doors to campaign for Senator Kirsten Cinema, a stubbornly centrist Democrat whose vote seals the fate of a massive Democratic effort to remake America’s social safety net. could do but no more.
When Ms. Cinema famously gave a thumbs-up to the $15 minimum wage and refused to eliminate the filibuster to pass new voting rights laws this year, Ms. Duran, a Democrat from Phoenix and a biomedical engineer, decided that She’s fed up. She joined dozens of liberal voters and civil rights activists in a series of protests outside Ms. Cinema’s Phoenix offices that have been taking place since the summer. About 50 people have been arrested.
“It really doesn’t seem like he cares about his voters,” said Ms Duran, 33, who was arrested in July at a protest. “I’ll never vote for him again.”
Ms. Cinema, a lifelong school social worker and Green Party-aligned activist, was willing to break with her fellow Democrats by running as a spirited bipartisan through the ranks of Arizona politics. She counts John McCain, the Republican senator who died in 2018, as a hero, and has found the support of independent voters and moderate suburban women in a state where the maverick is practically his party.
But now, Ms. Cinema is facing a growing political rebellion from voters who once counted themselves among her most devoted supporters. Many of the state’s most ardent Democrats now see him as a detractor, whose refusal to sign a major social policy and climate change bill has helped jeopardize the party’s agenda.
As one of two prominent Democratic moderates in an evenly divided Senate, little can go on without Ms. Cinema’s approval. While he has stressed a $3.5 trillion price tag and some tax-raising provisions of the bill, all Republicans in Congress, Democrats in Washington and back home in Arizona have been furious.
While the other high-profile holdout of the Senate Democrat, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, has publicly outlined his concerns with key elements of the Democratic agenda in statements from a bunch of journalists, Ms. Cinema has been far more enigmatic and larger. Has declined to release public comments.
Mr Biden, White House officials and Democrats have urged the two senators to publicly release the price tags and key provisions of the law that they can accept. But so far there is little indication that Ms. Cinema is willing to make the offer to the administration in person.
On Wednesday afternoon, she and a White House team worked in her office for more than two hours in what a Ms. Cinema spokeswoman called goodwill talks.
“Kirsten has always promised Arizonans that she will be an independent voice for the state – not for any political party,” Senator spokesman John LaBombard wrote in an email to the senator’s questions about standing at home. ” “She has delivered on that promise and has always been honest about where she stands.”
That posture helped him win election to the Senate in 2018 from a state whose voters are about 35 percent Republican, 32 percent Democratic and 33 percent “other.” And for all the obsession at the moment, Ms. Cinema is not up for re-election until 2024.
A breakthrough on the legislation could quell much criticism and burnish the image of Ms. Sinima as a deal-maker, who followed a related bipartisan infrastructure bill through the Senate. But the liberals on Capitol Hill are not confident that they are actually prepared to support a comprehensive spending package.
“This discussion has been going on for months — for months,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, Vermont’s independent charge of the Senate Budget Committee, in an interview. “We need certain results,” he said.
Democrats familiar with ongoing discussions with Ms. Cinema and her staff say they are deeply concerned by current proposals for some tax hikes, which could shape the package’s scope.
In the Phoenix suburbs, critically divided by the Democrats’ recent victory in Arizona, some weary voters said they were deliberately watching the dangers of catastrophic talks and government shutdowns in Washington.
But others said they had been calling and writing to Ms. Cinema for months and are now concerned that the best chance for Democrats to pursue key policies was slipping because of their senator.
Over the weekend, the state’s Democratic Party threatened a symbolic vote of no confidence against Ms. Disgruntled Democratic donors and activists are launching a primary CINEMA political action committee to raise money to fund primary challengers in 2024 if it blocks the Democratic agenda in Washington.
At the same time, House Democrats are now threatening to derail the trillion-dollar bipartisan infrastructure bill drafted by Ms. Cinema, which has already passed the Senate.
The turmoil is testing not only Ms. Sinema’s strategy to stay in the middle lane, but Arizona’s changing political trajectory as well.
Democratic activists believe that Ms. Sinima’s political future – and Arizona’s – lies in the growing number of left-leaning Latino and youth voters in Phoenix and the fast-growing cities of nearby Maricopa County, which accounts for Arizona’s 7.3 million residents. It is home to about 60 percent. They point to some polls that show support for Democratic proposals to expand Medicare, provide more child care, or extend tax cuts to working-class people.
But when President Biden became the first Democrat to win Arizona in 25 years, his margin was 10,500 votes, and Arizona’s governor and state legislature are still controlled by Republicans.
“He’s a Democratic senator elected in a center-right state,” said Kirk Adams, a former Republican speaker of the Arizona House. “She’s purposely tapping into the independent streak that a large segment of Arizona voters have always had.”
Ms. Cinema has had to stand with Democrats as she came under fire for defending the Senate filibuster as the railing of democracy. According to a September poll by Phoenix political research firm OH Predictive Insights, nearly 56 percent of Democrats in the state viewed Ms. Cinema favorably, compared to 80 percent for Senator Mark Kelly, a fellow Democrat.
In the sprawling valley east of Phoenix, Augie Gastelum, an independent voter who once considered Ms. Cinema too liberal, said he believed in her positions on bipartisan cooperation. He worried that eliminating the filibuster would start an arms race of increasingly extreme laws and further tear a divided country apart.
But Mr Gastelum, 40, who is from Mexico, became a citizen last year after decades of being undocumented. His support for incremental change is now under pressure as he seeks to see immigration reform.
“There’s a part of me that says, blow it up and take care of it,” he said. “But the long-term consequences can be so devastating.”
While left-wing Democrats may be disappointed with Mr Manchin, he has not faced nearly the same level of backlash at home in his pro-Trump state of West Virginia, where he served as governor and has been a political fixture for decades.
But in Phoenix, Ms. Cinema’s office building overlooking the cliffs of Piestewa Peak in the affluent Biltmore neighborhood has become a new magnet for her frustrated supporters.
On some days, people crowd the building, pushing Ms. Cinema to support voter-rights laws and immigration reform. Other days, student-led groups come up with banners asking her to do more to stop fossil fuel emissions and climate change.
He criticized them for holding a fund-raiser with business lobbying groups opposing a tax increase in the Democrats’ main spending bill.
Many of the youngest activists, now the sharpest agitators against Ms. Cinema, said they felt betrayed because she looked like him. At 45, she’s practically a teenager by the octagonal standards of the Senate. She is an Ironman triathlete, the first openly bisexual member of Congress and, as someone who professes no religion, she was sworn into the Constitution rather than the Bible.
KC Claus, 29, who demonstrated outside the offices of Ms. Cinema with the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led group focused on climate change, said: “I was convinced of what it would mean to have a queer representative who believed in the climate crisis. ” “I knocked on the door for him. I was a trainee for his campaign. I really believed it.”
Mary Kay Earin, a lifelong Democrat who lives in Scottsdale, said both she and her wife were disappointed that Ms. Cinema had not accepted proposals to address abortion rights, voter rights and, above all, climate change.
Ms Earin worried that a rapidly warming climate could soon dry up the Lake Powell and Lake Mead reservoirs that water the west, leaving the state virtually uninhabited in the coming summer. He said the environmental disasters facing the country were too serious for a cautious, incremental approach.
“Their vote matters a lot,” Ms Earin said. “She looks like a Republican in the clothes of a Democrat.”
While most conservatives widely disapprove of both Democratic senators from Arizona, Ms. Cinema’s stubborn centralism has garnered her some Republican support. Older voters, rural Arizonans and Fox News-watching voters approved of Ms. Cinema in a recent public poll, while also saying she did not favor Senator Kelly, her Democratic ally.
Ms. Sinema’s defense of the filibuster recently brought an outcry of approval from conservative members of the Rusty Nuts Classic Car Club, who gathered around a table at American Legion Hall in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, where several voters cast their ballots in 2018. was divided. Cinema for the Senate and Doug Ducey, a conservative Republican, for governor.
Pat Odell, a retired court clerk and conservative, said, “I appreciate that he is not as left-wing as the rest of the people.” Ms Odell said she wants to see the southern border closed completely and wants Ms Cinema to outright reject the $3.5 trillion Democratic social-spending bill.
But even if it did, would Ms. Odell actually vote for Ms. Cinema or someone with a D next to her name?
Maybe not, she said.
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