‘Kind of a centrist but very pragmatic’: After year in Senate, Mark Kelly touts microchips bill, infrastructure, COVID-19 aid

Kelly still won’t say what his position is on the filibuster./Flickr

By Yvonne Wingett Sanchez | Arizona Republic

If NASA and the Pentagon operated like the U.S. Senate, America would have never reached the moon and would have a dismal record in warfare, Sen. Mark Kelly said in a bleak assessment of his new workplace.

“The United States Senate doesn’t work like any other organization I’ve ever seen before,” Kelly, D-Ariz., said during a recent stop at a Mexican restaurant in Mesa.

“If NASA had the rules the United States Senate has, we would never get the rocket ship off the launchpad, and I think if DOD had these rules, we would lose every war.”

In little more than a year in the Senate, the former astronaut and Navy combat pilot is sounding like many others who have gone to Washington in recent years.

The gridlock hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm for the job, but it has prompted him to express a more direct openness to change Senate rules in Democrats’ bid to pass voting rights legislation that he has co-sponsored.

But on the No. 1 procedural change many Democrats want to see changed — the legislative filibuster that allows the minority Republican Party to block much of the Democrats’ agenda — Kelly still won’t say what his position is even as his colleague, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., last week doubled down on her support of keeping it.

With the Senate evenly divided, Republicans can filibuster the measures and block them from advancing unless Democrats coalesce around rule changes. President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., voting rights advocates, party activists and many voters say the issue has become urgent as more Republican-led states have moved to limit access to the polls.

“It’s important we pass this legislation and maybe it gets corruption out of our political system, it gets, you know, the dark money … out of our political system and it expands voting rights,” Kelly said. “Our democracy is best served when people have access to the ballot. … That legislation, I think, is critically important.”

On the 2020 campaign trail, Kelly promised a bipartisan approach to lowering the cost of prescription drugs, helping make young undocumented immigrants American citizens and to help avert the worst effects of climate change.

Instead, he acknowledges the Senate’s somnolent pace and partisan culture have made bipartisan compromise vanishingly rare.

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