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What Arizona Democrats think of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's position on the spending plan


Democrats continue to work on a pared-back back version of President Biden's social spending plan. They're trying to win the support of two centrist Democrats so it can pass an evenly divided Senate chamber. One holdout is Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema. Biden gave some hints as to where Sinema stands at a town hall last night, saying the Arizona Democrat is supportive of the climate agenda and family care.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Where she's not supportive is she says she will not raise a single penny in taxes on the corporate side and/or on wealthy people, period.

CORNISH: Her elusiveness is frustrating Democrats in Washington. But how is it playing in her home state of Arizona? Well, joining us now to shed light on this is Ben Giles from member station KJZZ in Phoenix. Welcome back, Ben.


CORNISH: So Kyrsten Sinema has had a tough week, right? Members of her own party have been criticizing her. Five veterans who served on her advisory board actually resigned in protest. Can you tell us more about that?

GILES: Yeah. They penned a letter and filmed an ad with Common Defense - that's a progressive veterans advocacy group - accusing her of reneging on campaign promises, like a vow to lower prescription drug prices and oppose Trump-era tax cuts. They've also urged her to dump the filibuster if that means passing a federal voting rights bill. And they say Sinema is listening to big donors, not constituents or advisers, like those five vets. Here's a clip from the ad that will air in Arizona.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We feel as though we are being used as window dressing for your own image and not to provide counsel on what's best for Arizonans.

CORNISH: Can you talk to how she's kind of responded to these criticisms and these resignations?

GILES: Well, in particular, they're pushing back on the message from those five veterans. They actually shared a message with me this morning - her staff - from one vet who said, you know, he still supports the senator. He wasn't comfortable with some of the language in the resignation letter. But in that private message, he, again, urged her - ditch the filibuster. And, you know, one thing we do know about Sinema is she won't do that. Earlier today she was on KTAR in Phoenix, and she said no one should be surprised she won't be transparent and public about her policy positions.


KYRSTEN SINEMA: So I am negotiating directly with my colleagues in the Senate and directly with the White House and President Biden in good faith. And, you know, this should be no surprise.

GILES: That tracks with statements from Sinema's staff, who have said publicly discussing her positions hurts her ability to, quote, "get things done" for Arizonans.

CORNISH: She's not up for re-election until 2024, and yet there's already been a push, certainly in progressive corners, to find a candidate to challenge her in a primary. Does she face a risk of splitting the party there?

GILES: Well, there are definitely efforts afoot to recruit someone to challenge her in 2024. There's now this, you know, young, progressive voting-age population that's growing and growing in Arizona, and that helped elect two Arizona Democrats to the U.S. Senate - first Sinema in 2018, then Senator Mark Kelly in 2020. Now they want Sinema to show them that it was worth all that time and energy, you know, by passing Biden's agenda. But the state's voters are split pretty evenly in thirds among Republicans, Democrats and independents. That's party-unaffiliated voters here. The key to both Sinema and Kelly's statewide wins the last few years has been winning over those independents. So for better or worse, she's sticking to the centrist strategy in negotiations with Democrats and Biden.

CORNISH: That's Ben Giles from member station KJZZ in Phoenix.

Thank you.

GILES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MR. SCRUFF'S "MIDNIGHT FEAST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ben Giles