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Sinema's Independence Day
Be careful what you wish for...
Quick note: I’m heading off to France to visit family, so this will be my last “live” newsletter for a bit. But be of stout heart: over the next few days, I’ll be sharing the “Best Of” Morning Shots from a tumultuous, consequential, and often mind-blowing year. In the meantime, have a wonderful holiday season!
Quote of the week: “Herschel was like a plane crash into a train wreck that rolled into a dumpster fire,” Republican operative Dan McLagan told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And an orphanage. Then an animal shelter. You kind of had to watch it squinting between one eye between your fingers.”
This feels like a flashback: Kyrsten Sinema is blowing everyone’s mind by doing what everyone feared/hoped a few years ago. Via Axios: “Kyrsten Sinema goes independent, scrambles Senate.”
So maybe censuring her, and harassing, berating, and chasing her into bathrooms wasn’t a great idea after all?
But wait… Before we get to the I-told-you-so part of today’s Morning Shots (which is coming), we have to slow the roll a bit on the hair-on-fire punditry.
Sinema’s decision to leave the Democratic party and register as an independent is a big deal, but it’s not immediately clear how big it actually is, because the one overriding question is: Will this actually change the balance of power in the senate? Does it mean that a 51-49 majority will become a 50-49-1 majority?
As of this morning, it seems that she will continue to caucus with the Democrats, along with the two other independents, Bernie Sanders and Angus King.
Sinema’s move away from the Democratic Party is unlikely to change the power balance in the next Senate. Democrats will have a narrow 51-49 majority that includes two independents who caucus with them….
While Sanders and King formally caucus with Democrats, Sinema declined to explicitly say that she would do the same. She did note, however, that she expects to keep her committee assignments – a signal that she doesn’t plan to upend the Senate composition, since Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer controls committee rosters for Democrats.
Sinema tells Politico that she doesn’t plan to join the Republicans.
“I don’t anticipate that anything will change about the Senate structure,” she said. “I intend to show up to work, do the same work that I always do. I just intend to show up to work as an independent.”
Unlike independent [Sanders and King] , Sinema won’t attend weekly Democratic Caucus meetings, but she rarely does that now. She isn’t sure whether her desk will remain on the Democratic side of the Senate floor.
Her decision has far more implication for 2024, when she’s up for re-election. She didn’t say whether she’s running, but now avoids a bruising primary fight (which she would almost certainly lose).
If she runs as an Indy, that raises the possibly of a fractured field that would divide Democratic and Independent voters, and could lead to all sorts of bizarre possibilities.
Senator Kari Lake, anybody?
Sinema explains her decision in an op-ed in the Arizona Republic.
In catering to the fringes, neither party has demonstrated much tolerance for diversity of thought. Bipartisan compromise is seen as a rarely acceptable last resort, rather than the best way to achieve lasting progress. Payback against the opposition party has replaced thoughtful legislating.
Americans are told that we have only two choices – Democrat or Republican – and that we must subscribe wholesale to policy views the parties hold, views that have been pulled further and further toward the extremes.
Most Arizonans believe this is a false choice, and when I ran for the U.S. House and the Senate, I promised Arizonans something different. I pledged to be independent and work with anyone to achieve lasting results. I committed I would not demonize people I disagreed with, engage in name-calling, or get distracted by political drama…
Arizonans – including many registered as Democrats or Republicans – are eager for leaders who focus on common-sense solutions rather than party doctrine.
But if the loudest, most extreme voices continue to drive each party toward the fringes – and if party leaders stay more focused on energizing their bases than delivering for all Americans – these kinds of lasting legislative successes will become rarer.
And, lordy, there’s a video:
Let’s review a few things, shall we? For progressives who might be apoplectic about all of this, here’s a flashback to last October:
The highlight of the anti-Sinema campaign, of course, was the videotaped scene of her trying to go to the bathroom. “Actually, I am heading out,” she said after teaching a class at Arizona State University, heading to the bathroom.
Activists followed her inside, videotaping her as she entered one of the stalls. Some of the other stalls were already occupied.
On the tape, a male protester loudly demanded that she approve the social spending plan as well as immigration reforms. Toilets were flushing. The activists continued taping as a woman — apparently an innocent civilian — exited a stall.
There was another flush, and they continued taping as Sinema came out and began washing her hands.
The video has been viewed more than 4 million times and won raves from some progressive journos. “Absolutely Confront Kyrsten Sinema Outside Of Her Bathroom Stall,” Jezebel declared.
“It’s no wonder her constituents—who don’t understand what the f--- she’s doing any better than the rest of us—are piping mad,” the website insisted. Plus, what was the alternative?
Some of us warned that was, perhaps, a suboptimal strategy. At the time I wrote:
[This] seems like a good time to remind everyone that irritation is not a strategy, and tactically performative jerkitude is a poor approach to changing hearts, minds or critical legislative votes.
To be clear: Sinema did not leave the Democratic party because of the bathroom incident; there’s obviously a lot more at work here. But it sure as hell didn’t help… and many of the media cheerleaders refused to see that such tactics were both stupid and counterproductive.
For the moment, [I wrote last October] let’s leave aside the questions of taste and decency.
The activists who made the video need to ask themselves two questions: Is their behavior likely to persuade Sinema? And second, will the tactic win more public support for their cause?
Even in our polarized times, there is something distinctly offensive about crossing boundaries of privacy. It is a tactic far more likely to repel public support even as it wins plaudits from the online punditocracy.
And, a reminder how fragile the majority was back then… and how crucial every single vote continues to be.
So here is the reality check. There are only two ways for progressives to achieve their ends: elect more Democrats or progressives so they have a working majority in both the House and the Senate or persuade each and every current Democratic senator to support bills they deem crucial to their agenda.
That includes Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.
Sinema’s sphinx-like approach may be maddening, but her presence in the Senate is what gives Democrats control. Take her out and you have Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Here is a quick history lesson: In May 2001, Vermont’s Republican senator, Jim Jeffords, fed up with being called a RINO, or "Republican in name only," announced that he would join the Democrats, giving them control of the upper chamber.
There is no indication that Sinema would consider such a move, but it’s a reminder that every single Democratic senator personally holds control of the Senate — and with it control of every committee and the entire legislative agenda — in their hands.
So Sinema is not merely a swing vote; she is the absolutely essential vote. As they debate how much they want to harass and pummel her, activists need to consider that they don’t just need her vote for reconciliation: They need it for everything.
Without her, nothing gets done.
Exit Take: Imagine what the senate would look like if we had a independent caucus that might include Sinema, Romney, King, Manchin, Murkowski, and (?) that would hold the balance of power.. Discuss among yourselves.
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The right answer
Thank you, Dr. Russell Moore.
1. Remember When Republicans Called Themselves the Pro-Constitution Party?
2. The Lesson of Trump: Character Matters
Writes Robert Tracinski: The events of the past few weeks validate a core Never Trump claim—that character and intellect are important.
Among a certain contingent of Never Trump types—of which I was one—the objection to Donald Trump was not really about specific policies (though there were many we disagreed with). Anyone who has actively followed politics for a while has at some point had to hold his nose and vote for a candidate whose policies you don’t like. This is normal politics. Our objection was that Trump was not part of normal politics.
Nor was this primarily because of the ideological forces of authoritarian nationalism that Trump encouraged and unleashed, because we knew that Trump wasn’t an ideologue. He may sympathize with the nationalists’ rhetoric and goals and serve many of their purposes, but he is no ideological fanatic.
No, our basic warning about Trump was about the kind of man he was. It was about how he thinks, or fails to think, and what he values, or fails to value.
This concern was dismissed as merely an aesthetic objection to Trump, as if we opposed him because we found his style too down-market, his manners too crude.
Yet can we really call Trump’s current behavior an aesthetic blemish? The glaring faults of Trump’s moral character—notable even when measured against the low bar set by other politicians—clearly made this unfolding disaster inevitable.
3. The Torn Loyalties of Russian Liberals
In the past week, a media controversy tangentially related to Russia’s war in Ukraine has pitted people who broadly belong to the same side of the issue—that is, the pro-Ukraine, anti-Putin’s-invasion side—against each other in often-bitter debates. The dispute is over a Russian TV station in exile and the Latvian government’s decision to take away its broadcasting license because of comments deemed too sympathetic to Russian soldiers. But it also raises broader and often uncomfortable questions about Russia and the free world. Are Ukraine and its allies at war with the Putin regime or with Russia itself? Should Russia’s liberal opposition be treated as friend, foe, or ambivalent sometime ally? Should our vision for the postwar future include a free, modernized, democratic (and strong) Russia or a weakened and defanged Russia, perhaps reduced to a rump state shorn of its autonomous republics populated by ethnic minorities?