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Sinema, McConnell engage in mutual admiration — and some Democrats seethe

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) speaks during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee hearing, Sept. 14, on Capitol Hill. (Alex Brandon/AP)
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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) on Monday engaged in a mutual admiration exchange with the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), expressed support for restoring elements of the filibuster and suggested that Republicans might win control of the House or Senate in the midterm elections.

Several Democrats were unhappy, criticizing not only her remarks but her timing.

Sinema made the comments during a speech at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville, speaking and answering questions at the invitation of McConnell. There, McConnell effusively praised Sinema in his introduction, saying she is the “most effective first-term senator” he’s seen during his 37 years in the Senate.

“She is, today, what we have too few of in the Democratic Party: a genuine moderate and a dealmaker,” he said.

Sinema, for her part, spoke highly of McConnell. “Despite our apparent differences, Sen. McConnell and I have forged a friendship, one that is rooted in our commonalities, including our pragmatic approach to legislating, our respect for the Senate as an institution,” she said.

Since 1993, dozens of Democrats and Republicans, diplomats and foreign leaders have spoken at the McConnell Center. Vice President Joe Biden did in February 2011; Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) spoke in April of this year. But Sinema’s appearance came just weeks before midterm elections as several of her Democratic colleagues are campaigning to help the party hold onto the House and Senate in November.

“As you all know, control changes between the House and the Senate every couple of years. It’s likely to change again in just a few weeks” Sinema said.

That angered Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a potential challenger to Sinema in 2024.

Sinema has frequently expressed interest in the kind of bipartisanship that has frustrated her progressive Democratic colleagues, particularly when Republicans used the filibuster to block them from passing climate, abortion and voting rights legislation. Democrats had called for scrapping it to enact key parts of their agenda ahead of the midterm elections, while they control the White House and Congress. The appointment of judges and key administration officials has also been slowed by Republican use of the filibuster.

“I have an incredibly unpopular view,” Sinema told the crowd in Kentucky. After saying she supported requiring 60 votes to pass legislation in the Senate — where her party controls only 50 seats — Sinema said she wanted to go even further. “I actually think we should restore the 60-vote threshold for the areas in which it has been eliminated already. We should restore it,” she said, before pausing to let the audience applaud their approval.

“It would,” she said, “make it harder for us to confirm judges. And it would make it harder for us to confirm executive appointments in each administration.” Ultimately, that would force compromises and create “more of that middle ground in all parts of our governance,” she said.

Democrats led by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) eliminated the 60-vote threshold for federal judges in 2013. McConnell, in 2017, scrapped the 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees as the Senate considered President Donald Trump’s nomination of Neil M. Gorsuch.

“Frustration” with the filibuster, Sinema said, “represents solely the short-term angst of not getting what you want. And those of you who are parents in the room know that the best thing you can do for your child is not give them everything they want.”

She argued that bad laws emerge without the kind of consensus that a filibuster can force. As proof, Sinema pointed to the House where no filibuster rule exists. “When Republicans are in control, they pass a little bit of crazy legislation,” she said. “And when the Democrats are in control, they pass a little bit of crazy legislation. And the job of the Senate is to cool that passion.”

She criticized both Trump and President Biden for talking about eliminating the filibuster as well as both parties on immigration and border security.

“For my entire lifetime,” the 46-year-old senator said, “the federal government has absolutely failed, absolutely failed in its charter to protect our border. We have not had a secure border my entire life.” But, after the election, Sinema said she would connect with “my good friend” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) to work on the issue.

“The two of us from different political parties, but sharing the same core values. We recognize the crisis that we’re in and we want to solve it.” Cornyn and Sinema were part of a bipartisan group that worked on successful gun control legislation following the deadly mass shooting at a school in Uvalde, Tex.

Sinema’s appearance crystallized what her critics have said is the freshman senator’s problematic alliance with the Republicans, whose agenda many Democrats argue is harmful to the country.

Keith Olbermann, the former ESPN “SportsCenter” and MSNBC host, went on Twitter to criticize her comments and, in so doing, said that they had a personal relationship years earlier. “When we dated, in 2010-11, Kyrsten was a legit progressive, far to my left. Now she has embraced the Political Industry where there is only process, not policy, and never people.”Later, a spokeswoman for Sinema declined to comment on Olbermann’s claim, citing a policy against addressing such issues.

During the question-and-answer session, Sinema was asked whether it was harder to run for statewide office or run a marathon. Sinema — a self-described “avid marathoner”— said they were somewhat comparable and that after completing one recent marathon she “could barely walk in the Senate for the whole following week.”

Standing from the podium, she added, “I was walking around —” then slightly gyrated her body with her hands raised into fists, as if gripped on fixtures for support. “But you know, in the Senate that’s fine.” As the crowd laughed, she added, “Most of them struggle with walking anyways.”

The 2022 Midterm Elections

Georgia runoff election: Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) won re-election in the Georgia Senate runoff, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker and giving Democrats a 51st seat in the Senate for the 118th Congress. Get live updates here and runoff results by county.

Divided government: Republicans narrowly won back control of the House, while Democrats will keep control of the Senate, creating a split Congress.

What the results mean for 2024: A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign shortly after the midterms. Here are the top 10 2024 presidential candidates for the Republicans and Democrats.