Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema was one of eight Democratic senators to vote against a $15 minimum wage amendment to the American Rescue Plan, so why is she the one taking heat over it?
Because Sinema didn’t just vote against it. She turned her vote against it into a personal show for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, tapping him on the shoulder and checking to see if he was watching as she gave a dramatic thumbs down—not a casual gesture to make her vote with a minimum of fuss, but an attempt to be sure she was seen and taken note of.
Then, when note was taken and HuffPost asked Sinema’s office about the thumbs down, a spokesperson claimed the question was sexism, saying: “Commentary about a female senator’s body language, clothing, or physical demeanor does not belong in a serious media outlet.” But a female senator telegraphing contempt for millions of low-wage workers in a transparent play for the approval of the leader of the opposing party is just great!
As has been repeatedly noted, Sinema enthusiastically backed a $10.10 minimum wage seven years ago, when her political calculations were slightly different. There can be no talk of care for policy or convictions on the issue here—Sinema is going with what she imagines will be politically advantageous to her, and doing so in a particularly strange way for someone who represents a state with a $12 minimum wage passed by voters in 2016.
Sinema then turned around and on Monday tweeted enthusiastically about International Women’s Day with direct reference to pay:
Because what good is inflicting an injury without adding an insult?
Sinema was rightly ratio’d for that, but since she wants to talk about equal pay, let’s talk about it in the context of the minimum wage she voted to keep at the poverty level of $7.25 an hour. Nearly 32 million workers would get raises from gradually increasing the minimum wage to $15, and 19 million of them would be women. That’s 59%. That 19 million includes 3.4 million Black women and 4 million Latinas. A $15 minimum wage would increase pay for nearly 8 million working mothers, and nearly 65% of the working mothers who would get a raise are the main earners for their households—significantly more than the 41% of mothers overall who are breadwinners.
As the Rev. William Barber recently said, “We cannot address racial equity if we do not address the minimum wage of $15. There’s no such thing as racial equity when you just address police reform and prisons but you don’t address the issue of economic justice. And if you address economic justice, guess what? It helps Black people, and white people, and brown people, and Latino people. It helps everybody. Everybody in, nobody out.”
Much the same goes for gender equity. Promoting equal pay for women in high-paying professions is fine, but equal pay isn’t a reality until it reaches everyone.
Sinema presumably hoped her stagy thumbs down would be mentioned in the same breath as the late Sen. John McCain’s thumbs down to kill Obamacare repeal. So let’s be clear: When I mentioned it in the same sentence as McCain right there, it was only to highlight how pathetic it was. McCain certainly enjoyed the spotlight, but his famous thumbs down got the spotlight because it was a deciding vote and a genuinely brave stance within his party. Sinema begged for attention from McConnell that she did not get, and she made a big show of a cowardly vote that didn’t decide anything. Then, having not gotten the type of attention she did want, she decided to go troll with claims that the type of attention she did get was automatically sexist.
Sinema claims she just wants to see a stand-alone minimum wage bill rather than an amendment to COVID-19 relief. Of course, Sinema also opposes eliminating or reforming the filibuster, which is the only way—other than through a budget reconciliation bill like the American Rescue Plan—a minimum wage increase will pass. How convenient for her! She can keep saying she supports it, even as she consistently opposes all of its possible paths to success.
Democrats who calibrate their positions according to the conservatism of their states are one thing. Democrats who showboat about their conservative positions are another thing entirely. And Democrats who showboat about voting down a measure that’s extremely similar to something popularly passed by the voters of their state are … well, pathetic.