Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
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- Sen. Bernie Sanders said he agreed with Arizona Democrats’ decision to censure Kyrsten Sinema.
- On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sanders said that the state party was “exactly right.”
- Sinema has come under fire for her decision to oppose filibuster reform while backing voting rights.
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Sunday said he supported the Arizona Democratic Party’s decision to censure Sen. Kyrsten Sinema for her refusal to alter filibuster rules to enact voting-rights legislation.
During an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” the Vermont independent and former two-time presidential candidate was asked by moderator Chuck Todd if the extraordinary move taken by the state party was “appropriate” and the senator agreed with the decision.
“I think that’s exactly right,” he said, detailing how passage of voting-rights legislation would be essential in fighting back against restrictive voting bills passed by Republican-led legislatures in response to former President Donald Trump’s debunked voting claims.
“On that issue of voting rights, this is something that’s almost different than anything else,” Sanders said said. “Right now you have a Republican Party under Trump’s leadership that is perpetuating this ‘Big Lie’ that Trump actually won the election, and therefore, you have 19 Republican states that are moving very aggressively into voter suppression, into extreme gerrymandering.
“Some of these states are doing away with the powers of independent election officials. They are moving in a very, very anti-democratic way,” he added.
The Democratic-controlled House on January 13 passed the two key voting-rights bills, which have been consolidated into one piece of legislation, titled the “Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act.”
Senate Democrats sought to cut off debate on the bill once it reached the upper chamber, but 60 votes were required to move forward with the bill. While all 50 Democrats backed the legislation, the 50-member Republican caucus blocked it.
When Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York held a vote that would have changed the Senate filibuster rules to require a simple majority for passage of the party’s signature voting-rights bill, it failed, receiving the votes of 48 Democrats. The Democratic holdouts were Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sinema, who joined the bloc of 50 Republicans in opposing the rule change.
“It was absolutely imperative that we change the rules so that we could pass strong voting-rights legislation,” Sanders said. “All Republicans voted against us, two Democrats voted against us. That was a terrible, terrible vote. And I think what the Arizona Democratic Party did was exactly right.”
While Sinema backs the voting-rights legislation, she has refused to budge on the process for passing legislation, pointing to the country’s ideological divide and the need for bipartisanship as the reasoning behind her stance.
During a floor speech on January 13, Sinema denounced the wave of Republican-led voting laws, but concluded that she would only further the political divide in the country by setting aside the filibuster, which proponents say is a necessary in protecting the influence of lawmakers in the minority.
“These bills help treat the symptoms of the disease, but they do not fully address the disease itself,” she said at the time. “And while I continue to support these bills, I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country.”
Sinema’s position has incensed scores of Democratic activists in Arizona and across the country, leading to a fresh push for a primary challenger when the senator faces reelection in 2024.
In recent years, much of Sinema’s appeal has radiated from her commitment to bipartisanship, which has boosted her at the ballot box.
In 2018, she defeated then-Republican Rep. Martha McSally in a contentious race that tested the competitiveness of the onetime Republican stronghold. CNN exit polling showed that the senator won that year by maximizing the Democratic vote, edging out McSally among independents, and peeling away a significant chunk of Republicans.
However, Sanders in recent days has entertained backing progressive challengers to Democratic senators who have rejected reforming filibuster rules, pointing to Sinema and Manchin.
“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,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.