WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) speaks during a United States Senate Committee on Finance hearing to consider Chris Magnus's nomination to be Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection on October 19, 2021 in Washington, DC. The hearing for Magnus's confirmation comes after it was delayed for several months by Chairman Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who called on the Department of Homeland Security to release documents related to the involvement of DHS in the street protests in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Rod Lamkey-Pool/Getty Images)
Five of Sinema's advisers criticize lawmaker as they resign
03:20 - Source: CNN

A version of this story appeared in CNN’s What Matters newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.

CNN  — 

Give Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema some credit. She has the courage to stand up for her convictions in the face of overwhelming pressure.

But send us an email if you can figure out what her convictions are. Nobody else can figure it out and she’s not telling. This could scuttle President Joe Biden’s entire legislative agenda.

He’ll be asked how to get things done in a 50-50 Senate when he can’t marshal his own party during a CNN town hall Thursday night.

What does Sinema NOT want to happen? There’s a long list that’s seeped out into the ether:

Don’t tax the wealthy. She doesn’t want to increase the marginal income tax rate on the wealthiest individuals or roll back President Trump’s permanent tax cuts for corporations – two Democratic priorities that share wide public appeal.

That means Democrats don’t have enough money to fund their promises for a more generous society. They’re scrambling to find new options to pay for their plans.

RELATED: Liberal backlash against Sinema grows on Capitol Hill as potential Arizona challenger emerges

Don’t end the filibuster. She opposes ending the filibuster, but Republicans refuse to work on Biden’s priorities, which means the Democratic agenda is stuck unless she comes around.

Don’t necessarily expand the social safety net. Democrats’ dreams of universal pre-K, subsidized community college, a poverty-erasing child tax credit and a climate change-fighting requirement for electricity providers now rest on her shoulders. She’s said she won’t vote for anything until a smaller, bipartisan infrastructure bill passes, too. It’s stuck in the House, where leaders say they won’t allow a vote on the smaller bill until the large one passes the Senate.

Sinema’s list of dislikes, without a constructive and public list of alternatives, is turning even some supporters off.

Advisers resign in protest. When veterans who had been voluntarily advising her wrote a scathing letter accusing her of obstruction, she thanked them for their service, but didn’t answer their gripe.

Liberal turned moderate. The Arizona Democrat – a former Green Party anti-war activist turned stubborn moderate – has now been all over the American political map.

In the 50-50 Senate, she holds incredible power.

It’s “living under the tyranny of Senator Sinema,” according to Rep. Ritchie Torres, a progressive from New York.

“She’s all over the place and I’m not sure she knows what she wants,” said Rep. Jimmy Gomez, a California Democrat, during an appearance on CNN Thursday.

“Nobody knows what she is thinking because she doesn’t tell anybody anything. It’s very sad to think that someone who you worked for that hard to get elected is not even willing to listen,” Sylvia González Andersh, one of the veterans who resigned in protest as Sinema’s adviser, told The New York Times.

Joe Manchin’s desires. I’ve written more about Manchin in this space in part because he has been quite public about his desires.

Manchin told Democrats to pick one of their social programs rather than push through three. He’s opposed the climate change portion of their spending plan because he represents the coal state of West Virginia.

He’d like a work requirement for the big child tax credit that’s meant to erase child poverty.

“Don’t you think, if we’re going to help the children, that the people should make some effort?” he said in a September appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

RELATED: Joe Manchin wants to add a work requirement to the child tax credit. Here’s what that would do.

People can debate the merits of that position because they know what Manchin’s position is.

What could get Sinema’s support for lower drug prices? A good example of the shroud around Sinema’s thinking is the issue of prescription drug prices.

Both parties want to lower them. Democrats want to do it by giving Medicare the power to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies.

Big Pharma says taking less money from Medicare would stifle innovation.

Manchin is, improbably but incredibly, aligned with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on the issue.

But Sinema backs the pharmaceutical industry on this one. Why? It’s not entirely clear.

Rep. Scott Peters, the California Democrat, has become something of a champion of the pharmaceutical industry in opposing the Democrats’ proposal.

He argues that the government paying pharmaceutical companies less for drugs could stifle innovation at those companies. And he’s up front that there are large numbers of pharmaceutical jobs in his San Diego area district. He also has a middle ground proposal to limit the number of drugs that could be negotiated and the amount prices could be dropped.

Sinema, to my knowledge, hasn’t made any arguments at all to justify her opposition, and in fact, she’s argued in the past that she’d work to lower drug prices.

Her office told Politico she’s “carefully reviewing various proposals.”

She has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from PACs and individuals tied to the pharmaceutical industry. That sounds like a lot, but it’s less than many Democrats ready to vote for the plan.

The other reason to lower prescription drug prices and raise taxes. Lowering the cost of prescription drugs is an important campaign promise by Democrats (Republicans have also failed to deliver on it), but it’s also a key piece of their effort to enact new social programs. They need to save the government hundreds of billions in Medicare drug costs if they want to spend hundreds of billions on universal pre-K.

Making matters worse for Democrats is that in addition to her opposition to giving Medicare the ability to negotiate drug prices, she also opposes raising corporate tax rates that were permanently slashed by the Trump administration.

Will Sinema back Democrats’ voting bill? Democrats are also pushing a plan to protect voting rights by setting a baseline for state election laws.

Manchin, who also opposes ending the filibuster, was instrumental in writing the voting rights proposal.

His party hopes the obstruction by Republicans this week will convince him to make a filibuster exception in this one case.