Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) conceded that the U.S. Senate is dysfunctional, but she thinks that’s a reason not to change the body’s rules for passing legislation.
“When you have a place that’s broken and not working, and many would say that’s the Senate today, I don’t think the solution is to erode the rules,” Sinema told the Wall Street Journal this week. “I think the solution is for senators to change their behavior and begin to work together, which is what the country wants us to do.”
Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are the only two Democrats who have said this year that they oppose changing Senate rules, which require at least 60 of the chamber’s 100 members to vote yes in order to advance most legislation. Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) has not stated a position this year, but said in 2019 that he was opposed to changing filibuster rules.
Since Democrats control only 50 seats, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) would need unanimous support from his party for a change in the rules.
Democrats can use a special process called budget reconciliation in order to pass tax-and-spend legislation, but they can’t use the process for policies without significant budgetary effects. This leaves a wide range of policies that make up the Biden administration’s agenda vulnerable to Republican-led filibusters.
The House has already passed a raft of legislation to impose new gun background check regulations, increase protections for transgender people, make it easier for workers to form unions, expand voting rights and reform campaign finance laws. All of these bills can, and likely will, be blocked by Republicans using the Senate’s filibuster rules.
Democrats face increasing pressure from party-aligned interest groups to change or do away with the Senate’s filibuster rules. Last month, Schumer stated that “failure is not an option” when it comes to the voting rights and campaign finance reform package known as the For the People Act. The bill would block ongoing efforts by Republicans in state legislatures to enact new voter restrictions based on ex-President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.
“Everything is on the table,” Schumer said at a press conference when asked whether he would support changing the filibuster rules in order to pass the bill.
Sinema’s opposition to changing the filibuster is not new. A spokesperson for the senator told The Washington Post in January that she’s not only against it, but that also she’s “not open to changing her mind” about it.
She reiterated this position in a letter to constituents who asked for her position in February.
“I have long said that I oppose eliminating the filibuster for votes on legislation,” Sinema wrote in the letter. “Retaining the legislative filibuster is not meant to impede the things we want to get done. Rather, it’s meant to protect what the Senate was designed to be. I believe the Senate has a responsibility to put politics aside and fully consider, debate, and reach compromise on legislative issues that will affect all Americans.”
Sinema’s willingness to buck to her party, such as when she voted against raising the minimum wage earlier this year, has endeared her to Republicans. Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who has partnered with Sinema on Senate banking committee legislation, considers her a friend and ally.
“She’s fiercely independent,” Cramer told HuffPost last month. “I think she’s legitimately moderate on many issues, and I think probably a pretty good reflection of the people of Arizona would be my guess.”