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Kyrsten Sinema’s Arguments Defending the Filibuster Make No Sense

Kyrsten Sinema wears a mask and a coat with the word "love" printed on it

Since Joe Biden took office, Democrats have been getting closer to the possibility of ending the filibuster. Republicans in the Senate have made it clear that their #1 priority is blocking any Democratic legislation and the filibuster—a somewhat broad term for attempts to block or delay a vote—allows them to do that whenever they want.

This week Republicans filibustered their way out of even having to debate the For the People Act, Democrats’ voting rights bill that would have introduced absolutely essential election reforms. To push through the Republicans’ filibuster, Democrats need 60 votes but to abolish or reform the filibuster, they only need 50. That would require every single Democrat to get on board, which is not happening. Right now there are two holdouts essentially holding their party hostage: Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

Both Manchin and Sinema have defended the filibuster as a tool to facilitate bipartisanship, which is simply false. And in a new op-ed published this week in the Washington Post, Sinema doubles down on the bipartisanship issue and takes things a step further by insisting the filibuster is unnecessary because when Republicans inevitably eventually take back the majority in Congress, they’ll just undo everything Democrats did while in power.

Sinema writes: “To those who want to eliminate the legislative filibuster to pass the For the People Act (voting-rights legislation I support and have co-sponsored), I would ask: Would it be good for our country if we did, only to see that legislation rescinded a few years from now and replaced by a nationwide voter-ID law or restrictions on voting by mail in federal elections, over the objections of the minority?”

Sinema lays out other examples of legislation that could be overturned once Republicans take back power, whenever that may be, including environmental protections and Medicare expansion. What’s the point of making progress in these or any areas, she argues, if Republicans can just change things back at some point in the future?

Except they already can. Setting aside the fact that Sinema is demanding giving the minority party an amount of control that discredits the decisions American voters made when they voted Democrats into power, Republicans have ways to change or eliminate spending programs with a simple majority and we know that they will when they’re able.

Sinema even addresses this possibility, writing, “And to those who fear that Senate rules will change anyway as soon as the Senate majority changes: I will not support an action that damages our democracy because someone else did so previously or might do so in the future. I do not accept a new standard by which important legislation can only pass on party-line votes — and when my party is again in the Senate minority, I will work just as hard to preserve the right to shape legislation.”

Her hard work will mean absolutely nothing when Republicans have the 51 votes necessary to steamroll their way through any legislative acts they feel like. We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again and while the filibuster has been a problem for a long time, there is an urgency to the issue right now, with this voting rights bill on the line. Republicans are set on doing all they can to gain power through gerrymandering, racist voter ID laws, and other suppressive tactics, and Sinema’s insistence that we respect the minority opinion will have absolutely no benefit whatsoever when Democrats are that minority.

As Sen. Raphael Warnock said from the Senate floor Tuesday, “What could be more hypocritical and cynical than invoking minority rights in the Senate as a pretext for preventing debate about how to preserve minority rights in the society?”

In her op-ed, Sinema wrote that “Everyday Arizonans are focused on questions that matter most in their daily lives.”

“Is my job secure? Can I expand my business? Can we afford college? What about health care? When can I retire? Is my community safe?” she writes. “Meanwhile, much of Washington’s focus is on a Senate rule requiring 60 votes to advance most legislation.”

Does Sinema legitimately not understand that Republican stonewalling behind that 60 vote requirement is a major reason why those questions continue to remain unanswered? Of course she does. She’s just hoping the rest of us don’t.

In a fantastic analysis on The New Republic, writer Matt Ford sums it up:

By defending the filibuster, Sinema is not defending some enlightened system where groups of moderate senators often reach broad consensus on pressing national issues. If that system existed, this debate wouldn’t. What she’s propping up right now is a system where the majority doesn’t get to actually govern the country. It must instead beg for the assent of a small, geographically disproportionate minority to do anything other than approve a budget or confirm an ambassador—a minority in whose electoral interests it is for the majority to fail. If Sinema really wants to defend American democracy, she’ll help remove one of its most visible constraints. If not, she’ll keep doing exactly what she’s doing right now.

Also in summation:

(image: Joshua Roberts-Pool/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.