Column: What are Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema doing for the Democratic Party?


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Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., are the two holdouts as Democrats and the White House try to reach a deal on a sweeping spending bill. But their policy demands may put them at odds.

Cullen Davis, Senior Staff Reporter/Writer

When the Democratic Party took control of the United States Senate, many thought progressive policies would be underway. However, hiccups and ideologies at the hand of Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema have created distrust and skepticism in their work for the Democratic Party.

Simena is a former social worker and lawyer. Being raised in a separated household, Simena experienced a hard upbringing, living in an abandoned gas station for three years and often needing government assistance. Simena’s upbringing ultimately led to her passion and prominence for progressive advocacy. Serving in the House of Representatives in 2012 for Arizona, Simena rose to prominence with her opposition to the War on Terror and high support for the LGBTQ community. Simena was the first openly bisexual and second openly gay LGBTQ woman elected to the House of Representatives. 

Simena holds an effective veto over Democratic Party priorities. She is at the center of every significant legislative battle. Many of her colleagues view her as an enigma in Washington, D.C. She appeals to suburban women, independents and unaffected Republicans.

Simena is described as a “moderate democrat.” Identified as the 47th most conservative member of the Senate. She voted with former President Donald Trump  25% of the time, second of any democratic senator. Simena opposed the $15 minimum wage increase, delivering an emphatic thumbs-down during the initial proposal. She has doubled down in support of filibusters, which Republicans have used to block voting legislation rights.

Although Simena has been high on progressive policies, she also heavily preaches bipartisanship, even when it conflicts with democratic goals. Many criticize her for changing once she made her way to Congress. One common complaint is her tendency to be too quiet and not sharing with the public. Holding things in and never talking in press conferences, interviews or sharing information. Simena declines to speak to lawmakers, and even several recent efforts to resolve the ongoing Biden budget hold out.

Her strong efforts to be tight-lipped does not help her views by the public as she is a major reason for the hold out on Biden’s massive Build Back Better domestic spending plan. To be the public face of resistance to Biden’s agenda is not just political betrayal, but a personal one, especially coming at the expense of the very people that put her in office. The Democratic Party threatened a vote of no confidence. Former vice-chair Garrick McFadden called Simena an “obstructionist” and predicted an exodus from the state party. “She has betrayed her friends and the promise she made to the Arizona people … she wants to play games, well in 2023, we will start playing games with her.”

“Our Revolution,” a Bernie Sanders-inspired grassroots and union group, has been aggressively protesting Simena and her policies. After refusing to speak, protesters followed Simena into the bathroom and filmed her. Later they then followed her to Boston, where she was to compete in a marathon. Now, they are currently planning protests outside of her Arizona office. Earlier this year, two civil rights leaders Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. William Barber, were arrested during a protest outside her office. 

Early signs show that Simena is vulnerable to return to the office when her term is over. A Phoenix, Arizona firm ran a poll that found 56% of Arizona Democrats had favorable views of Simena. Nearly one in three had an unfavorable view.

If Simena was too much for the Democratic Party, Manchin is an evident handful. Manchin is the senior United States senator from West Virginia. He has held this position since 2010 and was the governor of West Virginia from 2005-2021. Manchin is often cited as “The most conservative Democrat in the Senate.” The descriptive pronoun starts to make sense with the realization that West Virginia is one of the most heavily Republican states in the country.

During his tenure, Manchin has voted and worked with the Republican Party on gun ownership and abortion rights. He has opposed the energy policies of Barack Obama and voted against the cloture for the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Act. Manchin wants to remove federal funding for Planned Parenthood and supports Trump’s immigration policies.

Manchin is a notable opponent to progressive wing policy proposals including, Medicare for all, increasing the number of Supreme Court Justices, attempts to defund the police, and increasing the federal minimum wage.

While in office, critics say Manchin’s legislation “didn’t do very much … wanted to be seen.” He was mainly concerned with branding himself and how West Virginia citizens perceived him. The consciousness of self branding ultimately worked and continued the image of not going along with Democratic leaders and leaning on his ability to distance himself from the Democratic Party. 

West Virginia’s main capital resources are coal and fossil fuels, and because of this, Manchin is very anti-climate control. The state is also 93% white. Black and nonwhite voters are lost at the core of the voting coalition compared to other Democratic states. People are advocating Manchin to think of himself as a national leader and not be so tunnel-visioned to things only in his state. 

The main theme for both Manchin and Simena is that they are bringing more problems and situations than solutions. Both oppose the size and scope of Biden’s spending package. Sanders has grown increasingly frustrated about what he described as a lack of details from Manchin and Sinema about what programs they want to be cut for a smaller package. On a ” conference call with fellow progressive leaders, Sanders told reporters on Tuesday, “We are prepared to negotiate. We are prepared to compromise. But we are not going to negotiate with ourselves.” Biden said in early October, “I was able to close the deal on 99 percent of my party.” Laughing, the president stressed the focus on the remaining holdouts: “Two. Two people. That’s still underway.”

Their importance to the success of the agenda was evident, even on the other side of the Capitol. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters on Tuesday she was “disappointed” that the package would be smaller than the original $3.5 trillion budget resolution Democrats crafted. While Pelosi discussed possible ways Democrats could slim the measure down, what she made abundantly clear, without mentioning the two Senate moderates, is that she does not want the House to vote on any bill that cannot pass the Senate.

It is hard to see what these two are doing for the Democratic Party besides causing stress and making things more difficult. Having strong non-Democratic views, opposing Bernie Sanders, not willing to talk. And holding up proposals with no solution, citizens and officials feel more hesitant with them in office. The world of politics is confusing, but hopefully, a positive outcome will arise from two, even with questionable decisions.