On Monday, Mitch McConnell did something odd: He effusively praised a Democrat.
The Senate minority leader called Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema “the most effective first-term senator I’ve seen in my time in the Senate,” which is high praise when you consider that McConnell has been a member of the world’s greatest deliberative body since 1985.
McConnell also gushed that Sinema is “extraordinarily effective” and a “genuine moderate.”
McConnell’s uncharacteristic comments – he has, after all, made a bit of a political brand out of being dour – came by way of introducing Sinema at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville, where he had invited her to speak.
In the speech itself, Sinema called for the restoration of the 60-vote filibuster threshold on executive branch and judicial nominees. Without that in place, McConnell and former President Donald Trump managed to install three Supreme Court Justice over a four-year span.
“The best thing you can do for your child is to not give them everything they want. … We should restore the 60-vote threshold for areas in which it has been eliminated,” said Sinema. (McConnell, in his introduction of the Arizona Democrat, had said that her refusal to bend to Democratic pressure on eliminating the legislative filibuster revealed “one hell of a lot of guts.”)
Asked about the fight for control of the House and Senate, Sinema gave an answer McConnell was sure to love. “As you all know, control changes between the House and the Senate every couple of years,” she said. “It’s likely to change again in just a few weeks.”
The politics of all of this are intriguing.
Sinema has, for many liberal Democrats, become the member of their party they like least, taking that title from West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. (The thinking goes that Manchin represents such a Republican-leaning state he has to position himself the way he does; Sinema, on the other hand, comes from a swing state and could lean more to the left.)
Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego, who has openly talked about challenging Sinema in a primary in 2024, tweeted out a response to her comment about the upcoming midterm elections. “I mean you could be out there helping our candidates @SenatorSinema,” wrote Gallego. “But my sense is that you would actually prefer the Dems lose control of the Senate and House.”
And the left was apoplectic about Sinema’s push to expand the filibuster. Mehdi Hasan, a liberal MSNBC personality, blasted Sinema: “It is fundamentally undemocratic for an elected official in the United States to publicly advocate for minority rule and for overturning the wishes of the voters who sent them to DC.”
Sinema undoubtedly views this across-the-aisle friendship – particularly with a senator as powerful as McConnell – as a good thing, both from a getting-things-done perspective and for her own political standing in a closely divided state. (Joe Biden carried Arizona by just more than 10,000 votes in 2020.)
But CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein questioned that logic.
“[With] polling showing Sinema facing majority unfavorable ratings from Rs, indies and especially Ds, is there anyone who can explain her overall strategy if indeed she wants to be a Senator again,” he asked on Twitter. “Who is she aiming at w/her actions? Or is all this positioning for post-Senate dollars?