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Almost as soon as the shooting in Uvalde hit the news, Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s statement of sadness was met with a storm of people pointing out her support for the filibuster. (One of those voices was Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego, who spoke with The Independent last year about potentially running against her in 2024). But now, Sinema is part of a quartet – also featuring fellow Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republicans Thom Tillis of North Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas – who are trying to find a bipartisan agreement on gun safety. Considering America woke up to news of another shooting today — this time in Tulsa, at a hospital campus — it’s clear such efforts aren’t coming a moment too soon.
The negotiations will serve as the ultimate test of Sinema’s style of politicking. Plenty of Democrats are rankled by her prioritization of bipartisanship as well as her close friendships with Republicans – including hardcore 2020 election deniers like Representative Andy Biggs, whom she’s known since their days in the Arizona state legislature. She teamed up with Senator Rob Portman of Ohio to lead negotiations on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which so far is the largest piece of domestic legislation Joe Biden has signed into law.
But negotiating on bridges with a retiring Republican Senator is one thing; coming to a bipartisan agreement on guns, especially when Republicans consider the Second Amendment holy writ, is quite another.
This will require herculean effort, not least in convincing at least ten Republicans to go against their base. If Sinema pulls it off, she can add another notch to her belt and say her moderate, independent style – she reportedly considers the late Senator John McCain a hero – helps her win over Republicans and come to a consensus that would otherwise be impossible. She can then use a victory on gun legislation to push back against any left-wing challenger in 2024 by saying a progressive could never have gotten the GOP to buck the gun lobby.
But the risks of failure are just as important. If the GOP ultimately pulls out of negotiations, progressives can say not only that Sinema dashed their plans to pass Build Back Better, but that her relationships with Republicans don’t even yield results that could be considered a return on the investment. Progressives are more than willing to put up a challenge to those seen as obstructing the larger Democratic agenda. Representative Kurt Schrader’s loss and the hotly contested primary in Texas’s 28th District showed that clearly.
An example of this dilemma: On Tuesday, the quartet met and Cornyn put out a seemingly optimistic statement, saying the Senators had asked their staff to work together to discuss details. Then on Wednesday evening, conservative talk radio host Joe Paglirula tweeted that plenty of people had reached out to him worrying Cornyn would “make gun laws more restrictive”. Paglirula said he would reserve judgment. In response, Cornyn quote-tweeted with three telling words:
“Not gonna happen.”