WASHINGTON - When it came time to vote Friday on a $15 minimum wage amendment to the massive coronavirus stimulus bill, maverick Democrat U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema chose to do it in emphatic Arizona style – and the move infuriated her critics on the left.
In video footage that has since gone viral, Sinema is seen offering a "thumbs-down" vote on the Senate floor. She was one of seven Democrats and one left-leaning independent who opposed the amendment, which failed on a 58-42 count.
The senator explained her vote in a statement posted on Twitter, saying the minimum wage debate should be settled separately from the congressional response to the pandemic.
"Senators in both parties have shown support for raising the federal minimum wage and the Senate should hold an open debate and amendment process on raising the minimum wage, separate from the COVID-focused reconciliation bill," she wrote. "I will keep working with colleagues in both parties to ensure Americans can access good-paying jobs, quality education, and skills training to build more economically secure lives for themselves and their families."
But the Senate floor gesture by Sinema – a moderate who often opposes Democratic plans she views as too liberal -- seemed intended as payback for a notorious vote cast in July 2017 by a fellow Arizonan, the late Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain, who opposed a GOP plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare.
Unlike McCain, who died of cancer in 2018, Sinema has often joined Republicans in voicing support for overturning the signature Obama legislation. "I’m proud to work across party lines to end this harmful tax and make health care more affordable for Arizonans," Sinema said in 2019.
McCain’s 2017 vote enraged many of his fellow Republicans, including then-President Donald Trump, because many saw his "thumb’s down" gesture on the Senate floor as a deliberate public rebuke of Trump in addition to being a vote to defeat a GOP-backed proposal.
"He was horrible, what he did with repeal and replace," Trump said nearly two years after McCain’s vote – and nearly a year after the senator’s death from cancer at age 81 – during an appearance on the Fox Business program "Mornings with Maria."
"What he did to the Republican Party and to the nation and to sick people that could have had great health care was not good," Trump said at the time.
Just as McCain spent much of his career bucking fellow Republicans in what came to be known as his "maverick" style, 44-year-old Sinema – who entered the Senate in January 2019 after serving in the U.S. House and Arizona state Legislature – has gained a reputation for rankling her fellow Democrats with her own free-thinking ways.
Sinema’s willingness to buck the Democratic Party line has placed her – as well as fellow Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia – in advantageous positions as the Democratic leadership tries to collect votes for their agenda in a nearly evenly divided Senate.
So when Sinema helped defeat her own party’s minimum wage proposal on Friday, liberals in the party who supported the wage hike plan let her have it on social media.
"Gonna tell my kids this was Kyrsten Sinema," one Twitter user wrote, comparing the senator to the Effie Trinket character from "The Hunger Games."
The Tennessee Holler posted that it was "offensive" how Sinema "buddies up to Mitch McConnell" before casting her vote.
Some critics took issue with Sinema’s handbag and gestures as she voted on the plan.
"As a white woman I understand that we as a group are never coming back from Kyrsten Sinema wearing a Lululemon bag and doing a little curtsey to vote against a $15 minimum wage," one commenter wrote.
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