Sanders Doesn't Rule Out Supporting Manchin, Sinema Primary Challengers

The Vermont senator expressed frustration about the two Democrats joining Republicans in blocking major legislation.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said on Sunday that he’s open to the idea of supporting Democratic primary challengers to Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), the two Democrats who have joined Senate Republicans in blocking major legislation.

“You have, sadly enough, two Democrats who choose to work with Republicans, rather than the president, and who have sabotaged the president’s effort to address the needs of working families in this country,” Sanders told host Dana Bash, echoing frustrations he has expressed about Manchin and Sinema, who refuse to vote to change Senate rules that would allow Democratic-backed bills — such as voting rights and social spending — to pass.

Asked if he would help campaign against Manchin and Sinema in their next Democratic primaries, Sanders did not oppose the idea.

“Well, that’s a long way coming. They’re not up until 2024,” Sanders said. “But if there were strong candidates in those states who were prepared to stand up for working families, who understand that the Democratic Party has got to be the party of working people taking on big money interests — if those candidates were there in Arizona and West Virginia, yes, I would be happy to support them.”

Manchin is unlikely to face a progressive challenger who would gain traction; Donald Trump carried West Virginia by nearly 39 percentage points in 2020. But Sinema faces different political dynamics, with several groups already raising money for her eventual primary challenger. Donors are threatening to abandon her, and youth activists are holding a second hunger strike to protest Sinema’s legislative inaction.

On Saturday, leaders of the Arizona Democratic Party responded to her unwillingness to advance legislation by voting to censure Sinema, a symbolic condemnation of the woman who three years ago won Democrats’ first Arizona Senate election in a generation. After repeatedly blocking voting rights legislation Democrats consider necessary to preserve democracy, Sinema has grown increasingly isolated from many of her party’s most influential officials and donors.

Sanders on Sunday called the censure “absolutely” appropriate, especially in the context of her role in preventing the Senate from passing voting rights legislation.

Sanders blasted the two senators last week after they joined Republicans in voting against changing Senate filibuster rules, slamming the door on Democrats’ latest effort to pass a voting rights bill. On Sunday, he repeated his exhaustion at the party’s nearly six months of negotiating with Manchin and Sinema, which has resulted in virtually no progress.

“We need to bring important pieces of legislation that impact the lives of working families right onto the floor of the Senate,” the Vermont senator said. “And if the Republicans want to vote against lowering the cost of prescription drugs, climate change, home health care, whatever it may be — and if the Democrats, two Democrats, want to join them, let the American people see what’s happening.”

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