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Is Kyrsten Sinema a Self-Indulgent Dilettante, or a Trojan Horse?

I have been thinking about this, and about Sinema, who may turn out to be the person who sinks the entire Build Back Better plan. As we know, there are the votes in the Senate to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill. But the House “Progressives” do not want to vote for it until they are guaranteed that the rest of the plan, the Reconciliation package containing many important things, including legislation to help deal with climate change, will pass the Senate.

But Biden and Pelosi and Schumer cannot guarantee that the package will pass the Senate. We have 50 Democrats in the Senate, but do we have 50 votes? Probably not, with Manchin and Sinema being the barriers to that number.

I wanted to see a little bit about the negotiation yesterday, so I turned on Chris Hayes’ show, and coincidentally, he had a segment on Sinema, with former Democratic Congressperson Donna Edwards, who used to get on TV a good deal years ago, because she was a bit of a maverick Democrat, and then after leaving Congress, managed to parlay that into a regular guesting spot on panels.

Hayes did say something I had also felt, that while Manchin can be frustrating, at least he talks about what differences and objections he has regarding the bill, and he seems as if he is at least trying to get something done. Sinema has not voiced any specific objection or demand, so how does anyone know how to negotiate with her? He also mentioned that after meeting with President Biden today, she also held a meeting with several representatives of a business lobby which wants to defeat the bill. They have given money to her campaigns as well.

I wonder if there is anyone well versed in Arizona politics who can actually figure Sinema out? I read her Wikipedia page (not at all my preferred reference site, but useful for a quick review), and it is hard to know what to think. She started her political career as a member of the Green Party, and she decried capitalism. But later she turned into a Democratic candidate, who won elections that way, and yet now is considered one of the most “moderate,” pro-business, Democratic senators.

She recently very visibly voted against raising the minimum wage to $15, Manchin was the other Democrat voting against it. She did a little pirouette step before she put her finger down to signal a no vote. While doing it, she was carrying a cake in a bag which she was going to present to House staff. When asked recently about the possibility of getting rid of the filibuster, she laughed dismissively.

She had sided with the bogus “Problem Solvers Caucus” and the “Blue Dog Democrats” group when she was in the House. A very conservative rating group gave her something like a 35% rating there, which is almost certainly a good deal higher than most House Democrats

She has cast some positive votes; she voted for impeachment of Trump, and against Kavanaugh and Barrett on the Supreme Court. But those votes were guaranteed not to actually accomplish anything, since Republicans had enough votes to get their way; so was all this for show, like the movies where the corrupt cop in the pay of the mob, makes a few meaningless arrests? Maybe that is unfair, but it would fit into a possible theory. She does seem to be rather favorable toward corporate America, vastly different from her earlier statements when she was in the Green Party, and could not win elections.

None of us can read minds or psyches with certainty. But that doesn’t stop anyone from making an educated guess. I would agree with Hayes and Edwards that Sinema is the major impediment. I don’t know what her goal is here. If she wants reductions in some aspects of the Reconciliation bill, why doesn’t she voice them? She wants to keep it private? Possibly, but since she is a major focus on the vote, it would be helpful to everybody, to explain what it is she wants and doesn’t want.

Does she want to do what she did with the minimum wage bill, wait until the last minute to do a little dance to make her vote? People’s livelihoods, and the fate of the planet are at stake. Also, a defeat for the Democrats, or anything resembling one, would be spun by the Republicans and their media friends so as to seriously damage the Biden Presidency. Oh, I should note that in 2016, Sinema voted against Nancy Pelosi to be Speaker; and more recently, was against Charles Schumer being Majority Leader.

So that inclines one to perhaps not see Sinema as a serious-minded senator interested in helping the lives of her constituents, who are by a large majority in favor of the bill. Nor perhaps is she just a self-indulgent dilettante who likes to be the center of attention, and to be politically wined and dined by both sides.

Maybe she is a metaphorical Trojan Horse. We all know that term, and most know the story, which comes from Virgil’s Aeneid. The Greeks were being defeated in the Trojan War. (I rooted for the Trojans when I read that saga, even though I and my parents were UCLA fans). So they came up with a last-ditch plan to trick the Trojans, by appearing to leave by their boats. They had constructed a large wooden horse, which they left outside the gates. The Trojans thought it was an offering to them, the victors. But hidden inside the horse were Greek warriors.

The Trojan priest Laocoon warned against the Trojans letting the horse into the gates. He said, essentially, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” But he was killed by serpents who came out of the sea, and the Trojans took this as a sign that the gods were displeased with him, and they let the horse inside. That night, the soldiers came out of the horse, and along with the Greeks who sailed back, killed the Trojans, and won the war,

So the term “Trojan Horse” stands for that image and story. We all have seen movies or shows where somehow the idealistic people running the state or city government, or the police force, keep getting thwarted; and we start to realize that there might be a defector, a traitor, or a Trojan Horse, in their midst, who is working with the enemy. And the story gradually unearths who that person is.

Is it unfair to wonder if Sinema has been bought, or at least effectively appealed to, by the corporate elements who want to defeat the legislation? I read somewhere a few weeks ago that Sinema’s major goal is to move into a very remunerative lobbying position. That was just somebody’s opinion, but it is not inconceivable. Does she want to stay in the Senate? Her term ends in 2025. Is this stop just part of her saga, where she becomes a lobbyist, or a TV political talk host, well funded by the grateful corporations which manage to somehow always get their way?

Hayes and Edwards agreed that since the bill is very popular in Arizona, the voters of that state will react very negatively toward Sinema killing it. But they somehow did not realize that Sinema may not care, she has a much more lucrative career coming up. What good does it do us to defeat her in a primary in 2024, or if she does not run then; with this crucial bill, maybe the last chance to make such major accomplishments, having been defeated in 2021?

This whole story is becoming stranger, and more frustrating, as Bernie Sanders urges the House Progressive Caucus, headed by Pramilla Jayapal, to vote against the original infrastructure bill, until and if the Senate passes the Reconciliation bill. It is possible that Sanders, who cost the Democrats the election in 2016, with all the resultant and still occurring calamities, is going to ruin the Biden Administration, with the assistance of the Progressive Caucus, which wants to show that they are tired of being pushed around, as they see it.

And of course with the significant help of Sinema, whose political career is rather strange, who didn’t want Pelosi or Schumer in charge, who regularly meets with business lobbyists whose major goal is to defeat any Democratic bill which raises taxes on corporations or does anything to keep them from complete laissez-faire, “do whatever you want to do, we won’t stop you.” Is that why Sinema is in office, because some powerful interests put her there? Why won’t she speak up and state her positions on the bill? Today, I saw a quote from Congressman Ro Khanna: “The President keeps begging her, ‘tell us what you want. Put a proposal forward.’ One Senator, Kyrsten Sinema, is holding up the will of the entire Democratic Party.”

And would it be unlikely, that the Republicans, who plot out everything, who carefully construct barriers and land mines to keep themselves from losing power, would not have created, at least at some point, a Trojan Horse, someone who says they are a Democrat, and yet will seek to destroy the entire Democratic Administration, in a way that Republicans escape blame for it? Is that too fanciful a thought about what is going on here? One hopes so, but it increasingly seems possible that it is what we are seeing play out, just as planned by the villains of this particular non-fiction piece.

If that is not what is going on, then all this pressure from Sanders and the Progressive Caucus may not be helping. Somebody may be bluffing, but bluffers sometimes get called, and lose all their money. And moving away from the poker metaphor, people in powerful positions do not like to feel that they are being intimidated or forced into a vote, which is what it appears that Sanders and Jayapal seem to be trying to do.

If this all falls apart, Sinema and Manchin can blame the Progressives, and Sanders and Jayapal can blame Sinema and Manchin, and we all lose, as the Republicans take over the country, and the Democratic Left and Right endlessly complain about each other.

Over the 230 years or so of the America republic, there have usually been enough sober-minded and concerned people in office to keep the proverbial train from going off the tracks. But do we have enough of those now, when the margins are so slim, that a few self-indulgent, or doctrinaire, or bought, people have the power to wreck it all by themselves?

17 Responses

  1. Well, I think I’ve suffered from the same “can’t post links in replies to William’s posts” issue that has plagued IBW. Sinema is easy to understand: just assume she’s corrupt and in thrall to her corporate donors. I won’t post the links this time, but they’re easy enough to find, A search on “Sinema donors”: should prove enlightening.

    • Propertius, I just got home and saw your comments, and WordPress ostensibly wanted me to “approve,” which I of course did, but then said I could not do. So perhaps RD can help with this little glitch. I agree with your comments about Sinema appearing to be a corporate sellout. If she indeed is, she will sink us, since we cannot get one Republican vote in the Senate on the larger House bill. The only possibility is to somehow explain this to Jayapal and the Progressive Caucus, and say that there is no chance to pass your bill, unless we grudgingly accede to Sinema, pass the Senate bill,and then see what we can work out with her and Manchin to get some of the House bill through.

      This is not fair. It is also very possibly, as the Progressives fear, a tactic to get the Senate Bill passed, and bury the other one. But I don’t see how we can get the House bill passed, unless the Progressive Caucus’ part bluff, part understandable outrage, somehow forces Sinema and the Republicans to accept at least some of the House bill, to get their bill passed. If not, our bill is defeated by Sinema, and to a lesser extent, Manchin. We can always hope to keep the House and win a couple of Senate seats in 2022, at which time we could pass this. Republicans and their corporate handlers are of course betting that we will not.

    • And I agree that Sinema is turning out to be the biggest disappointment in American political history–except that I never quite trusted her, she seemed to be so taken with herself that she was not going to listen to anyone. I guess you can afford a maverick or two if you have 55 seats, as Obama had in 2009, but we have 50 at the very best. Maybe that’s why McConnell did not fight for power sharing in the Senate, because he would rather work with the stealth 51 seats he has?

      • One of the advantages of being the “minority leader” even if you really have 51-52 votes is that you can still obstruct absolutely everything, bring the country and economy to near collapse, and blame Biden for it in the midterms.

  2. The New Republic had a good article about Sinema a week ago, calling her the corporate donors’ “Million Dollar Woman”. Common Dreams has articles nearly every day about Sinema and her donors. The information is widely available. Sinema might as well be driving a U-Haul truck through the halls of the Senate, filled with the corporate cash she has collected. She flaunts it.

    • Okay, this is ridiculous. Another reply disappeared and it contained no links.

    • I am glad that some publication is calling attention to this. It seems pretty obvious that she has no intention of running as a Democrat for the Senate in 2024. This is her one-term performance, and then she’ll go into something else, with all the capital and platform that she will ever need. Democrats have no influence on her, they can’t take away anything that she wants. And imagine that she started her performance career attacking capitalism.

      • I think she plans on running for President in 2024. If she doesn’t, and still claims to be a Democrat when she runs for reelection, someone should primary the living hell out of her.

  3. The natives are getting restless. The Arizona Democratic Party says they will censure Sinema and withhold their support for her reelection in 2024 if she continues to obstruct Biden’s agenda. They pledge to on record with a vote of no confidence against her. Furthermore, Arizona Democratic activists who helped elect Sinema to the Senate by fundraising and registering voters have launched a crowdfund campaign to support a primary challenge to Sinema if she votes against Biden’s key legislation. Good tries but I suspect Sinema doesn’t give a flying fig about these initiatives. In fact, I hear she keeps bags of flying figs in her purse just to throw around for fun.

  4. The bipartisan infrastructure bill is small (I think it’s down to about $500 billion now) and full of corporate welfare. One progressive Democratic senator (can’t remember who but I know it was not Sanders) said the bipartisan infrastructure bill was basically written by the fossil fuel industry. So if it falls, no big loss. The reconciliation bill has the real game changing policy and programs in it. That is the one corporations are working $o hard to kill. That is the one that needs to pass if we want to save the country and the planet.

    • I don’t know why I continue to care. I have no children or grandchildren whose futures I need to worry about. I’m receiving palliative care for an incurable illness which causes severe chronic pain among other things. If I survive the winter, it will be surprising. Paying so much attention to politics, especially when my party seems bound and determined to screw up a once in a lifetime chance to make people’s lives better, cannot be good for me as my own life comes to an end.

  5. Conventional political analysis doesn’t apply to Manchin or Sinema. Think instead about how much money they stand to make, personally, if Biden’s agenda tanks. Manchin has personal interests in a coal company; Sinema has raised funds from donors who are against Build Back Better and she most likely eyes a plush K Street perch after her term is up. And then there is the notorious video in which Exxon’s chief DC lobbyist bragged of having Manchin, Sinema, Biden BFF Chris Coons, and 8 other senators in his pocket…

    If either of them were acting like conventional politicians they’d have sold their vote for some huge “pork” appropriation to benefit their respective home states. As Digby points out, Manchin’s late WVA colleague Robert Byrd was a master of that game. But Manchin and Sinema are just saying no to the whole bill. Which tells you all you need to know.

    It’s past time for the Dems to quit begging these two jokers to name their price, they agreed to a deal regarding the reconciliation bill and are now appearing to break it in a show of blatant bad faith. Even Dick Durbin has publicly shown his exasperation, because this sort of thing is just not done on the Hill — or didn’t used to be. Tell Sinema to get on board or get primaried. Time for Biden to show some spine on this one. Of course Biden has less leverage with Manchin but he should do what he can rather than act like a complete wuss.

    • Very well said. I do think that Sinema is not susceptible to political pressure, because she can indeed get that lobbying job. I think that that her whole political career has been an ego trip. Who would vote no on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and then do a little dance step about it? Someone who does not care about the effects of her votes, except for her ambitions.

    • In fact, the Executive Branch (and DOJ in particular) has some leverage over Manchin regarding his daughter, Heather Bresch (the woman who gave us the $650 EpiPen). She’s under investigation for racketeering charges.

      Nice family.

  6. Thanks for the kudos wlp. Propertius — you are right in theory, good point, but who knows, given that Biden has made such a big deal about keeping DOJ free of political interference…

    Maybe Sinema is a Trojan Whorse….

  7. On June 7th of this year, I wrote a rather long comment here about Mylan’s EpiPen price gouging and the involvement of Manchin’s daughter Heather and his wife Gayle (yeah, she was part of it too). I suggested that Biden might use this as leverage over Manchin.

    The Manchin family has made millions from Mylan (based in WV) over the years. In 2015 alone, while Heather was CEO of Mylan, she received $19 million in compensation from the company (in 2007, her compensation was a measly $2 million – really, how does a gal survive on that pittance?). During Heather’s time as CEO at Mylan, people with serious life-threatening allergic conditions found that life-saving EpiPens (made by Mylan) were suddenly too expensive to purchase. EpiPens used to cost around $50. But under Heather’s reign at Mylan, they went up to $600-700, where they remain today.

    I seriously doubt that Biden or his administration care.

    • Manchin:”You got a problem [with my corruption]? You’d do best to change the subject.”

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