Sen. Mark Kelly broke his silence over the censure of his Democratic colleague Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, with a campaign spokesperson saying he disagreed with it and she should not be singled out over her opposition to changing the Senate’s filibuster rules.
“Senator Kelly does not support the censure,” Sarah Guggenheimer of the Kelly campaign told The Arizona Republic Tuesday.
- “While they came to different decisions on this vote, he looks forward to continuing to work with Senator Sinema on Arizona priorities, as they have done during his first year in the Senate to pass critical infrastructure investments that will create good-paying jobs,” Guggenheimer said.
Kelly, D-Ariz., is in good standing with the party, and his support of Sinema, D-Ariz., could help diffuse some of the animosity towards Sinema that is coming from progressives over an issue that the left often casts as key to the fate of President Joe Biden’s agenda and fair elections across the country.
The words from Kelly’s campaign offered support from a freshman senator who is facing re-election in November for Sinema, who is now facing open talk of a primary challenge from Arizona Democrats and fellow senators.
Last week, Kelly, D-Ariz., voted with most Senate Democrats to enact a “talking filibuster” rule to try to advance the voting rights legislation.
Kelly’s words for his own party were more measured than his criticism of Republicans for censuring ambassadors Cindy McCain and Jeff Flake after their support for President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.
Kelly opposed last year’s censure by the Arizona Republican Party of McCain, the Republican widow of the late Sen. John McCain, for endorsing Biden for president and helping him narrowly win Arizona. At the time, he called the GOP’s move “embarrassing and shameful.”
McCain “has always done what she thinks is right for Arizona and our country. That’s something we should all admire, no matter which party we belong to.” Kelly said via Twitter.
The state Democratic Party’s executive board announced the censure after meeting privately Saturday ahead of an annual gathering of state committee members.
Though the party took no pleasure in symbolically punishing Sinema, state party chair Raquel Teran has said, the board deemed Sinema had failed “to do whatever it takes to ensure the health of our democracy,”
The censure capped a series of admonishments and defections from congressional Democrats, progressive groups, and some of the Arizona party’s most active members who worked hard to get her elected to the Senate in 2018.
Sinema repeatedly has characterized the legislative filibuster, which requires a 60-vote majority to move most bills, as a way to forge bipartisan legislation and avoid wild swings in federal policy depending on which party is in control.
Democrats narrowly control the U.S. Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., last week forced an ill-fated vote that required all 100 members to register for the record their stances on the legislative filibuster and the voting rights legislation.
At the same time, the vote helped kill Democrats’ desires to advance legislation aimed at combating state-level bills in Republican-led states that would restrict voting in the wake of record turnout in the 2020 election, which former President Donald Trump lost to Biden.
Sinema has said she supports those bills but did not support weakening the filibuster rule. Kelly also supports the legislation but did support a change to the filibuster rule only for the voting rights legislation.
“Protecting the vote-by-mail system used by a majority of Arizonans and getting dark money out of our elections is too important to let fall victim to Washington dysfunction,” Kelly said in a statement last week.
In the days since Republicans have heaped praise on Sinema and have used the intraparty dissension to contrast the two senators.
“Republicans were going to attack him anyway as being the ‘liberal’ senator from Arizona as opposed to being the ‘moderate’ senator from Arizona,” said Larry Sabato, a political scientist who directs the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “They were going to try and paint Kelly into a liberal corner using Sinema. In that sense, Sinema has not done Kelly any favors.”
Sabato said such censures tend to have little bearing for voters.
“I have a hard time believing that would be a real issue in November,” he said. “ … People will have moved on to other things pretty thoroughly.”
For her part, Sinema recently described a collegial relationship with Kelly, for whom she campaigned in 2020. The two senators have worked together to pass trillions in COVID-19 relief funding, a bill to bolster American competitiveness and chip manufacturing, and the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package Sinema led negotiations on.
“I feel confident that he’s heading into this election with all the tools he needs to ensure that Arizonans know he’s the right senator for our state,” Sinema told The Republic earlier this month. “I’ll be there with him, helping him every step of the way.”