Moderate Kyrsten Sinema Waves Off Criticism From Fellow Democrats The senator from Arizona has been leading bipartisan talks on infrastructure. Asked about criticism from fellow Democrats she's compromising too much, Sinema said she's focused on getting things done.

Unapologetically Moderate, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema Says She's Focused On Results

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In the weeks and months that we have been hearing about the trillion-dollar infrastructure deal, we have also heard a lot about Joe Manchin, moderate Democratic senator from West Virginia - questions like, how high is he willing to go? Ultimately, what would it take to get him to sign on to the package?

Well, we're going to speak now with another moderate Democrat who was equally central to the deal, Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema. Her answers to those questions were just as important. Sinema led talks for the Democrats, and she helped deliver that rarest of things in Washington - a bipartisan deal. Well, as a final Senate vote nears, she joins me to talk about how they got here, what might happen next.

Senator, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

KYRSTEN SINEMA: Well, it's wonderful to be with you today.

KELLY: So you are in the homestretch on this bill. I gather senators are offering amendments on the floor right now. And I want to ask about this bipartisan group of senators - 22 of you, I guess - who've pledged you're going to stick together through this process, come what may. How's it going?

SINEMA: Well, it's going really well. And first, I want to say that it's really exciting to be in the middle of this open legislative process. Folks are openly debating the policies in our bill. We've been moving forward on amendments. And so far, we've been thrilled to receive the support of 2/3 of the Senate, which has shown broad and bipartisan support. And the debate we're having on the proposal right now is showing the strength of that coalition. And we're excited that as we move through these coming days, you'll continue to see a strong and bipartisan show of support that gets our bill across the finish line. We're pretty excited about this.

KELLY: It's just striking, listening to you, how rare it is to speak to a senator from either party who tells me things are going really well and it's all really bipartisan. I mean, this is - it's so rare. Does it create a kind of roadmap for other areas where you could collaborate with Republicans, do you think?

SINEMA: Well, those who know me know that that's the way I've always operated. And so, you know, I tell folks I know that bipartisanship sounds outdated to many pundits. But the difficult work of crossing party lines, collaborating, compromising - that's what's expected at home in Arizona. And I also believe that it is still the best way to identify realistic solutions, right? So what we see happening in our political discourse today are these all-or-nothing political battles. But they typically result in nothing, no action at all. Or you'll see policies that reverse back-and-forth, back-and-forth, as administrations and party control changes hands. And that type of whipsaw action isn't good for our country.

KELLY: Your approach has come under some criticism - a lot of criticism, including from your fellow Democrats in Congress. New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in a tweet, accused you of tanking your party's investment on child care, climate change and infrastructure. She accused you of excluding members of color from negotiations. May I ask you to respond to that?

SINEMA: Well, I'm not going to because I am laser-focused on advancing our legislation, which will be a historic investment for Arizona and American families, businesses and communities. So what I will do is talk about the work that we've done. You know, we worked for long hours, over many, many months. This was a broadly bipartisan group, 22 Democrats and Republicans in the Senate working together, with a shared commitment to find common ground and get this done. And you know, it's easy to launch criticisms and political attacks. As folks know, I don't do that. But what I do do is stay absolutely focused on getting solutions done that impact the people of our country.

KELLY: Well, and I'm not interested in wasting time on political attacks and spats back-and-forth, interparty or across party lines. But the bigger question of what is at stake here is part of what I suspect is on Representative Ocasio-Cortez's mind. It's not just immediate legislation before you, but Democratic control of Congress. I mean, the question that's being raised is whether your position could risk losing Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Does it?

SINEMA: Well, what I'm really interested in doing is making a difference for the people of our state - the state of Arizona - and for our country. And the legislation we're working on and expect to finish this week will make a difference in the everyday lives of the American people. That's Rule No. 1.

KELLY: Of course. But you can't get that done - you can't get what you want to get done - without Democrats controlling Congress, no?

SINEMA: Well, I think I could. I mean, this is a bipartisan effort. We are working really well together in getting this done. The second thing that we'll be doing after we do this bill is having a conversation about the other priorities that President Biden has talked about in earlier conversations and speeches. And that's the budget resolution that we'll get to after we do this legislation. And when we turn to that effort, I'll give it 100% of my full attention and commitment, just as I have on this infrastructure package. And that's my approach, is to give 100% to the challenge that we're facing, to work hard with my colleagues to find common ground and to make a difference in the lives of everyday people across this country. And we take those pieces of legislation one at a time.

KELLY: Just to make sure I'm hearing you correctly, you support Democrats retaining control of Congress, yes? This is something you'd like to see continue.

SINEMA: Well, I am one of those. So yes, absolutely (laughter).

KELLY: It just doesn't sound like you're particularly worried about that side of the calculus here.

SINEMA: Well, what I'm worried about is getting stuff done. And my experience has been, in the close to 20 years that I've been serving in public office, is that when you put your head down and do the work and get stuff done, that the constituents you serve see that, and they choose to send you back to your current office or, in my case, to send me to higher office over the course of the nearly 20 years that I've been serving. And so I guess what I would say is, the proof is in the pudding. If you do the work and deliver results for the people that you represent, they'll continue to send you back to do that job.

KELLY: Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat.

Thank you so much for speaking with us, Senator.

SINEMA: It's been a pleasure.

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