Sinema faces Democratic Party backlash after blocking voting rights legislation

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Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is facing new heat from those who helped elect her after she and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia this week were the only two Democrats to vote against filibuster reform, effectively derailing passage of voting rights legislation.

The slim Democratic majority in the Senate meant filibuster reform was seen as crucial for passing the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act — a top priority for Democrats and President Joe Biden.

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Arizona Democrats organized heavily to elect Sinema to the Senate — she previously served in the U.S. House — helping give her a narrow victory. They lobbied Sinema for months to change her stance on the filibuster, but many were unable to get a meeting with the senator.

(MORE: Sinema, Manchin reject Biden push to change filibuster for voting rights

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With her refusal to change the filibuster rule — siding with Republicans — and voting rights dead for now in the Senate, Democrats in Arizona are fundraising to support Sinema’s primary challenger in 2024. Influential Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders said this week that he’d support a challenge to Sinema.

Sinema faces Democratic Party backlash after blocking voting rights legislation
© Pool/Getty Images President Joe Biden speaks to reporters after attending an event in Statuary Hall on the first anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Jan. 6, 2022.

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Over the summer, the Arizona Democratic Party promised to give Sinema a vote of “no confidence” if she didn’t change her stance to clear the way voting reform. The state executive committee meets on Saturday to discuss a possible “no confidence” vote.

MORE: Senate fails to change filibuster rule for passage of voting rights legislation

“This should not be a partisan issue — the duty to protect our most fundamental right to vote is one that we all share,” Arizona Democratic Party Chairwoman Raquel Teran said in a statement. “We were counting on Sen. Sinema to fight for Arizona, find a path forward, and protect our democracy, but on this issue she has fallen short. Right now, Arizona is ground-zero for the modern-day fight for voting rights, and we don’t have any time to waste.”

The Grand Canyon state is a hotspot for Republican-led changes on voting. After the 2020 election, the state Senate ordered a partisan review of millions of the state’s ballots, which unfolded while the Republican-controlled state legislature expressed focus on restrictive voting bills. Republicans all but eliminated the state’s permanent early voting list, making it so ballots are no longer automatically sent to voters who haven’t used the system. The bills were a cornerstone of GOP lawmaking in 2021, and the 2022 session continues to focus on election reform.

Activists and voters at home point to these Republican-led efforts as a backdrop for Sinema’s refusal to budge.

Sinema faces Democratic Party backlash after blocking voting rights legislation
© Carlos Barria/Reuters Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of the late civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. and family hold a banner during a demonstration to press for voting rights in Phoenix, Jan. 15, 2022.

Sinema lost a major endorsement this week from Emily’s List, a large political organization that bankrolls campaigns they endorse, including those who support abortion rights.

A coalition of groups — made up of Democrats in the state — wrote to the group asking for it to act on the issue. Before the vote, Emily’s List announced it would not endorse Sinema again if she didn’t change her position.

“If Sen. Sinema can not support a path forward for the passage of this legislation, we believe she undermines the foundations of our democracy, her own path to victory and also the mission of EMILY’s List, and we will be unable to endorse her moving forward,” Emily’s List President Laphonza Butler said in a statement.

Those same activists have written to other big political donor groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, which focuses on LGBTQ+ issues.

Groups looking to fund a primary challenger have raised at least $455,000. Two groups have yet to single out a candidate, but other Democrats are lobbying Rep. Ruben Gallego to challenge Sinema. One political action committee, dubbed “Run Ruben Run,” will funnel money in his direction should he choose to enter the race.

MORE: Democrats’ infighting worsens at Biden’s 1-year mark: The Note

Gallego hasn’t ruled out a run at Sinema’s seat, and he tweeted a veiled warning after the failed Senate votes this week.

“I’m disappointed by the failure of the Senate to move the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. But I’m not giving up & neither should you. Let’s work hard to elect good Democrats who support voting rights and defeat the ones who don’t — in 22 and beyond,” Gallego tweeted.

The congressman also told CNN that his phone has been ringing with requests for him to jump in against Sinema, saying there is “a whole lot of frustration over a lot of things that have occurred in the past with Sen. Sinema, and this has kind of been the breaking point.”

Democrats vow the fight to solidify voting rights in the country is not over, but that fight will now continue for some with a focus on replacing Sinema.

“Millions of Democrats and pro-democracy independents are furious with Sinema,” one fundraising group wrote in a post after Wednesday’s vote. “Give them a chance to do something with that anger that can help turn the tide. This fight is not over. But together we will ensure that Kyrsten Sinema’s career in elected office ended tonight.”

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