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Sinema Says Filibuster Should Be Expanded to Make It Harder to Confirm Judges

At an event with Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Arizona senator dug in on her commitment to the filibuster.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) speaks during a hearing before Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee September 14, 2022 in Washington, D.C.

At an event with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) on Monday, embattled conservative Democrat Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) said that she wants to expand the use of the filibuster, an arcane Senate rule that she’s used as an excuse to block her own party’s legislative efforts over the past two years.

In a speech, Sinema emphasized her commitment to keeping the anti-democratic filibuster in an event on the supposed importance of bipartisanship at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville. She said, falsely, that the filibuster increases bipartisanship and that it should be expanded for that reason, although opponents of the filibuster have pointed out that it actually promotes minority rule.

“Not only am I committed to the 60 vote threshold — I have an incredibly unpopular view — I actually think we should restore the 60-vote threshold for the areas in which it has been eliminated already,” she said, to scattered applause.

“Because it would make it harder. It would make it harder for us to confirm judges, it would make it harder for us to confirm executive appointments in each administration,” she continued. “But I believe that if we did restore it, we would actually see more of that middle ground in all parts of our governance.”

McConnell introduced Sinema before her speech, calling her “the most effective first-term senator I’ve seen in my time in the Senate.”

The Arizona senator also railed against Democrats and opponents of the filibuster for wanting to “give into” their “short-term desires” like passing voting rights legislation, protecting democracy, salvaging a liveable climate, protecting workers from increasingly exploitative employers, taking steps to end child poverty, codifying life-saving abortion protections, and more — all proposals that have been blocked in the past two years by Sinema or another lawmaker via the filibuster.

Expanding the filibuster for Senate confirmations could open up avenues for Republicans to even further manipulate the Supreme Court. When Barack Obama was president, Democrats got rid of the filibuster for non-Supreme Court judicial nominations after Republicans, led by McConnell, blocked dozens of the Democratic president’s appointments for what Democrats said were purely political reasons.

Indeed, when Republicans retook power of the Senate in 2015, they continued blocking Obama’s nominations and at the end of his presidency waged a historic blockade of judicial nominees — including the nomination of Obama’s Democratic Supreme court pick Merrick Garland. Then, when Donald Trump took office, the party rushed through Trump’s nominations, ended the filibuster for the Supreme Court, and confirmed a record number of judges.

If the filibuster had still been in place during the Trump years, Democrats could have used it to block some of Trump’s picks, none of whom received enough votes to surpass the 60-vote filibuster. But it’s also possible that they wouldn’t have; political experts say that the filibuster benefits Republicans, who want to disrupt regulatory facets of the government, more than it does Democrats, who often capitulate to Republicans, even if there is no political upside.

Indeed, the increasing weaponization of the filibuster from the right in the past decade and Democrats’ continual and futile obsession with bipartisanship likely means that restoring the filibuster for confirmations would make it hard or impossible for Biden and future Democratic presidents to succeed in any of their nominations.

Thanks at least in part to Sinema’s defense of the filibuster and blocking of important Democratic priorities, Sinema’s approval rating is low among her constituents, recent polling has found. A poll of Arizona commissioned by the AARP finds that her approval is below 50 percent for every demographic the poll measured. Voters old and young, Black and Latinx, Democratic, Republican and Independent have an unfavorable view of Sinema, the poll found, with over 50 percent of voters disapproving of her in each category.

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