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Sinema faces conflicting pressures in Arizona on Democrats' big agenda bill

Trump-supporting Republicans in Arizona are encouraging the centrist senator to kill the bill, while Democrats warn that would doom her future in politics.

PHOENIX — Stephen Lumpkin, dressed in a “Trump 2020” T-shirt at a Republican rally on the eve of Arizona's primary, wants the former president to run again in 2024 and believes, against all evidence, he could even get “reinstated” before the next election.

Lumpkin is also a fan of Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema — and wants to see her vote down her party's new bill to fund health care and clean energy with a 15% minimum tax on corporations.

“I like her,” said Lumpkin, who lives in Glendale. “I would like to see Sinema stop it. It’s just another money grab, that’s all it is.”

Laura Schroeder, 54, a physician in Phoenix who’s backing Donald Trump-endorsed Republican Blake Masters for the Senate, said she’s counting on Sinema to help block the legislation after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., “p--sied out” and cut a deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

“She needs to kill that thing,” Schroeder said.

Arizona Democrats, conscious of Sinema’s history of bucking her party, are nervous ahead of planned legislative action given her decisive vote in the evenly split chamber, where all Republicans are expected to oppose the bill. And some are voicing their frustration with Sinema.

“It’s just astonishing — the fact that she can’t come out and give a strong 'yes' on a bill that lowers health care costs, lowers prescription drug costs, makes major investments in climate change,” said Emily Kirkland, 30, a consultant based in Tempe who works in progressive politics.

'No future in politics as a Democrat'

In Kirkland’s eyes, Sinema’s eventual vote on the bill will play a decisive role in her re-election prospects for 2024. “It really feels like the ball is in her court in that way,” she said. “If she is the lone ‘no’ vote that dooms this deal, to me that says she knows she has no future in politics as a Democrat.”

Remarks like those capture the peculiar position Sinema finds herself in as she's pressured to greenlight or torpedo — or perhaps demand changes to — Democrats’ best hope of passing core elements of their agenda. In response, she has remained quiet about the bill, released Wednesday, with her office saying she’s "reviewing the text" and waiting to see whether it will be revised to satisfy Senate rules.

Asked about the pressures Sinema faces, spokeswoman Hannah Hurley said Tuesday: "Senator Sinema makes every decision based on one criteria: what’s best for Arizona."

That decision is likely to further shape the public's perception of Sinema, an enigmatic first-term centrist who has sought to build a reputation as a maverick in this swing state. She sided with Republicans last year to reject a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage and block tax rate increases on the wealthy. She has all but cut ties with the state Democratic Party, which censured her in January for rejecting a Senate rule change to pass a voting rights bill.

A former aide said that Sinema has “never cared about pissing off the Democratic base” and that she even tends to enjoy being criticized by her party. The former aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said Sinema is “stubborn about her positions” and relishes being liked by the most conservative Republicans. The former aide further pointed to campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical and financial industries as a hint to why Sinema may be conflicted about the new Democratic bill.

Given that Sinema hasn’t spoken publicly about the legislation, the former aide said, “it’s only normal to wonder, who is she talking to? Who is she going over her thoughts with?”

After having spoken with Sinema on Tuesday, Manchin told reporters in Washington that the two had a "nice talk" — but he made no predictions about how she would vote when the bill comes before the Senate, which Democrats aim to set in motion this week.

"She'll make a decision based on the facts. We're exchanging texts back and forth," he said. "She's extremely bright. She works hard. She makes good decisions based on facts. And I'm relying on that."

Cultivated image as party-bucker

Luis Ávila, a volunteer with the group Primary Sinema, which is poised to support a challenge to her in 2024, claimed Sinema will “absolutely” lose re-election if she sinks the bill, known as the Inflation Reduction Act.

“She’s an egomaniac that is just really trying to get money from special interests to do what’s best for her,” he said. “And that’s not why we elect people."

But Ávila said that if Sinema votes for the bill, “of course we’ll make sure that voters know.”

“In order for her to regain the trust of voters, she has to show with her actions,” he said. “And one really good one is what’s in front of her right now, with this deal.”

If she chooses to seek revisions, Sinema faces a different conundrum. The one provision in the legislation that she is known to oppose — closing the carried interest tax break for investment fund managers — is a difficult position to defend politically. She conveyed to Democratic leaders last year that she wants to preserve the tax break, multiple sources said. Sinema and her office have not publicly discussed her position.

Andy Surabian, a Republican strategist advising the pro-Masters super PAC Saving Arizona, said that “there are some people who are cautiously optimistic” about Sinema’s scuttling the bill given her image as a party-bucker.

“I do think that if she supports it without any changes, it would cut against that image,” Surabian said. “It wouldn’t surprise me for her to say, ‘I’m for 80% or 90% of it, but I want one change to the bill’ — so she can kind of keep that image up.”