Why Arizona’s Senators May Collide With Democrats Who Elected Them

Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly ran on bipartisan approaches to governing, but some Democrats in Arizona view their openness to Senate Republicans with skepticism.

Sen. Kelly and his wife, former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, after his swearing-in ceremony in December. /Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

By Jennifer Medina

Democrats control the U.S. Senate by a single vote. President Biden has placed bipartisanship near the top of his agenda. Republican senators are pushing for deals, including on Covid-19 during a meeting on Monday with the president. On the economy, on immigration, on health care — the Biden administration will need votes from every senator it can get.

Which is where Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly come in.

Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona, at the 2020 State of the Union address. She and Senator Mark Kelly have assumed unusual stature amid all the talk about bipartisanship./ Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Arizona’s two Democratic senators, both moderates, have assumed unusual stature amid all the talk about bipartisanship. Ms. Sinema made waves and frustrated progressives last month when she aligned with Republicans to maintain the filibuster, which empowers the minority party. Mr. Kelly was part of a bipartisan group of 16 senators who recently met with White House officials to discuss Covid relief. The pair represent a state that Mr. Biden narrowly flipped in November; pleasing Arizona is a new Democratic priority.

But if Ms. Sinema and Mr. Kelly are emerging as players in Washington, the politics back home are more complicated. Arizona Democratic Party officials and activists threw themselves into the two senators’ races, despite the fact that many of these Democrats are more progressive than either Ms. Sinema or Mr. Kelly. Now they are eager for their senators not just to embrace the middle, but also to adopt the policies the left is pressing for as well. Many view the senators’ openness to Republicans with skepticism.


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February 2021