Alone among Democrats, Sinema stays silent on GOP Supreme Court push

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., waves as she departs after the impeachment acquittal of President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020 in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., waves as she departs after the impeachment acquittal of President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020 in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Almost every Senate Democrat has come out against President Trump’s plan to rush through a replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, saying the nomination should wait until after the looming elections.

Every Senate Democrat but one – Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

While other Democrats were using language like “shameful,” “brazen hypocrisy,” “horrible precedent” and “theft” of a Supreme Court seat in what they called a power grab, Sinema has only commented on Ginsburg’s legacy after the justice’s death Sept. 18.

Political analysts said Sinema’s silence is not surprising given her carefully cultivated image as bipartisan and moderate.

“If you’re going to be a Democrat that wins in a traditionally red state, you’re not going to be a super-progressive liberal democrat, you’re probably going to be more moderate,” said Frank Gonzalez, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona School of Government and Public Policy.

He said Sinema is a politician who wants to be viewed as an “independent thinker,” a posture echoed by Garrett Bess, vice president of government relations at the Heritage Foundation.

“I think it tracks with sort of her … quasi maverick-type record,” Bess said.

But it did not sit well with some progressive Democrats in Arizona.

“This is going to affect the country for another 30, 40 years,” said Signa Oliver, co-lead for Desert Progressives Indivisible. “Open your mouth.

“Those of us that knocked on doors for her to get her elected, have been very disappointed several times with her inability to, you know, step forward and represent the Democratic Party principles that we elected her to do,” Oliver said.

Sinema’s office did not respond to requests for comment on her position – or lack thereof – leaving her weekend tweet expressing “gratitude and service to our country” as her only comments on Ginsburg and the court vacancy she left behind.

Within hours of Ginsburg’s death last Friday, by contrast, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement promising a Senate vote on Ginsburg’s replacement.

“We pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary,” McConnell’s statement said. “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

Most Republicans, including Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, rushed to agree with McConnell. But Democrats were livid.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court, meets with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, not pictured, at the Capitol, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020 in Washington. (Stefani Reynolds/Pool via AP)
Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, meets with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, not pictured, at the Capitol, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020 in Washington. (Stefani Reynolds/Pool via AP)

Trump announced Sept. 25 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Amy Cooney Barrett as his nominee.

Democrats have repeatedly brought up McConnell’s refusal in 2016 to even grant a hearing to President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, because it was an election year. McConnell, who delayed action for almost the entire year, said then that voters should have a say in who makes the choice.

“Unfortunately, Sen. McConnell has decided to go against Justice Ginsburg’s dying wishes and is cementing a shameful legacy of brazen hypocrisy,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, said in a tweet the night of Ginsburg’s death. “The right thing to do here is clear, and Senate Republicans know it. We should let voters decide. Period.”

Even moderate Democrats jumped to criticize McConnell and the White House for rushing to fill the seat, an appointment that could give conservatives an unassailable 6-3 majority on the court.

“The American people deserve to choose the president who will fill this vacancy,” said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the co-chair of the Moderate Democrats Working Group. “I will oppose any Supreme Court nominee until after Inauguration Day, and I will do everything I can to fight for fairness.”

Oliver said Sinema needs to speak up.

“They stole Merrick Garland’s seat, and you’re going to be silent or possibly vote with them to give them another seat? That’s unacceptable,” she said.

But political experts say it is not surprising that Sinema is in no rush to be grouped in with the Democratic establishment.

In her 2018 campaign for Senate, Sinema ran as a middle-of-the-road independent. Since taking office she has voted in line with the Trump administration 26.3% of the time, toward the upper end of the votes by moderate Democrats, according to a FiveThirtyEight vote tracker.

But that is not necessarily a liability for Arizona politicians, analysts said, invoking the late Republican Sen. John McCain who was often at odds with his party.

Voters in Arizona do not seem to be as bound by national party ideology as voters in other states, said Samara Klar, an associate professor at the University of Arizona School of Government and Public Policy.

While she and others said they would be surprised if Sinema voted for Trump’s nominee, Klar said Sinema is probably making a safe bet by not coming out against a Republican nominee now.

“The safer play for Arizona politicians generally is to try to straddle the middle as much as they can given how voters here see themselves,” Klar said.

Gonzalez said that taking a hard stance against Senate Republicans now would not be “worth the risk of giving a Republican challenger a talking point in four years” when Sinema will be up for re-election.

And by taking her time and hearing how Arizonans are feeling about the process before making a statement, Sinema is also reinforcing her brand, Bess said.

“The advantage for holding back a statement is to continue showing that she is willing to listen, willing to hear,” Bess said.

But Oliver said the people Sinema should be listening to are “the people that put her in office” or they will find someone else to support.

“If she does the wrong thing on this important issue, I will never knock on another door, I will not have another petition signed for her, I won’t do anything else for her,” Oliver said.


Brnovich tells feds to back off on Senate audit

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

State Attorney General Mark Brnovich is warning his federal counterpart to stay out of the way of the current audit of the 2020 election returns.

In a letter Monday to Merrick Garland, Brnovich said he is displaying “an alarming disdain for state sovereignty” by suggesting that there may the need for some federal oversight of what is playing out at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. And Brnovich hinted that any intrusion will result in a lawsuit.

“Arizona will not sit back and let the Biden administration abuse its authority, refuse to uphold laws, or attempt to commandeer our state’s sovereignty,” wrote Brnovich who recently announced his bid to become the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate.

What’s causing the latest political dust-up between Brnovich and the administration is a speech that Garland made Friday suggesting that ballot reviews like the one in Arizona are “based on disinformation.” More to the point, Garland said his agency is watching — and may take action.

“The Justice Department will do everything in its power to prevent election fraud and to vigorously prosecute it,” he said of the role of his agency.

“But many of the justifications proffered in support of these post-election audits and restrictions on voting have relief on assertions on material vote fraud in the 2020 election that have been refuted by law enforcement and intelligence agencies,” Garland said.

He also announced that his agency’s Civil Rights Division would double its staff working on voting rights enforcement in the next 30 days and publish more federal guidance on post-election procedures.

Brnovich, in his Monday letter, pointed out that this isn’t the first time Garland’s agency has interceded in the audit.

On May 5, Pamela Karlan, the principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, demanded some answers from Senate President Karen Fann about how the audit, ordered by Fann, is occurring.

Karlan said her agency is concerned that the nearly 2.1 million ballots from Maricopa County are no longer under the control of state and local officials. Instead, they are at the Coliseum, which Karlan describes as an “insecure facility,” putting them at risk of being lost, stolen, altered, compromised or destroyed.

What makes that a federal concern, Karlan said, is federal law creates a duty to safeguard and preserve records of federal elections, including the presidential, Senate and nine House races conducted.

“This letter appeared more interested in supporting the hysterical outcries of leftist pundits on cable television, rather than the rule of law,” Brnovich wrote of Karlan’s letter.

And he told Garland to back off.

“My office is not amused by the DOJ’s posturing and will not tolerate any effort to undermine or interfere with our State Senate’s audit to reassure Arizonans of the accuracy of our elections,” Brnovich wrote. “We stand ready to defend federalism and state sovereignty against any partisan attack or federal overreach.”

And, if nothing else, Brnovich contends that federal intervention or oversight is not just unnecessary but also illegal.

“It is important to remember that the states created the federal government, not the other way around,” he told Garland.

“America’s founders intentionally restrained the federal governments constitutional boundaries to ensure each state could flourish in unique ways,” Brnovich continued. “Today, our federal government has largely forgotten the Founders’ intent, but my office has not.”

In his letter, Brnovich did not address the fact that the U.S. Constitution does provide a role for the federal government.

It does say that the “times, places and manner” of holding elections for federal lawmakers are prescribed by each state legislature. But it also empowers Congress to make laws and regulations.

Brnovich’s letter comes as Republicans are trying to block Congress from enacting comprehensive new federal regulations Democrats say are designed to remove hurdles — some imposed by states — to the voting process. The proposals include various measures to make it easier to register and vote and limiting the influence of money in politics.