WASHINGTON — Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, sided with Republicans and seven other senators from her party to vote down a minimum wage increase amendment to President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill. It was the way she did it that drew condemnation on social media and some comparisons to the late John McCain.
Sinema stood on the Senate floor and flashed a thumbs down when her name was called to vote. While hand signals are not an uncommon way for senators to vote, some thought it was callous given the nature of the vote.
Hand gestures have been more frequently used during the COVID-19 pandemic while lawmakers wear masks during their votes. Sen. Mark Kelly, Arizona’s other Democratic senator, used a thumbs up to register his support for the amendment on Friday.
Sinema’s actions were reminiscent to many of a similar move by the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., whose thumbs-down on a move by Republicans to overturn the Affordable Care Act in 2017 became an iconic moment.
Sinema’s name trended on Twitter alongside McCain’s on Friday. Some drew comparisons between the lawmaker because they voted against their own parties. Others said Sinema’s vote would hurt workers strapped in a challenging economy, as opposed to McCain’s vote to preserve health care for many.
Sinema said in a statement explaining her vote that she believes the minimum wage hike should be worked on as an issue separate from the COVID-19 relief bill.
“No person who works full time should live in poverty,” Sinema said. “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.”
The amendment was introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., backed by other progressive senators. He pushed the amendment forward after the Senate’s parliamentarian ruled the measurecould not be included. The parliamentarian said the provision raising the wage from $7.25 to $15 by 2025 would have to be removed and considered as a standalone bill or as part of other legislation.
The other Democrats to vote against the amendment were Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del.; Tom Carper, D-Del.; Jon Tester, D-Mon.; Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; Maggie Hassan, D-N.H.; and Joe Manchin, W.V. Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, also voted against the minimum-wage amendment.
Critics said Sinema’s thumbs down displayed insensitivity. Some were confused by her vote given her previously stated support for an increase in wages, including some progressive lawmakers.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said Sinema’s perceived change from a 2014 tweet supporting increased wages to “gleefully voting no is really disturbing.”
Imagine having the nerve, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., wrote on Twitter, “to go home and ask minimum wage workers to support you after going back on your own documented stance to help crush their biggest chance at a wage hike during their longest drought of wage increases since the law’s very inception.”
“Did Sinema really have vote against a $15 minimum wage for 24 million people like this?” asked Sawyer Hackett, a senior adviser to former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.
The Senate stalled for about nine hours on Friday while senators negotiated proposed changes to the stimulus package’s unemployment benefits, amid voting on a flurry of amendments dubbed a “vote-a-rama.” The chamber is poised to press forward after Manchin said he would support a compromise deal.