Sen Bernie Sanders appeared eager to escalate the war between various factions of the Democratic Party on Sunday during an interview with CNN in which he stated his support for the censure and potential primarying of a senator who voted against the party’s effort to change the filibuster and pass voting rights legislation.
Mr Sanders appeared on CNN’s State of the Union and said that the Arizona Democratic Party was “exactly right” to censure their state senator after Ms Sinema voted with Republicans last week against the Democrats’ voting rights push.
“On that particular vote that she and [Sen Joe] Manchin cast, we were trying to address the reality that you got 19 Republicans states all over this country who are undermining the foundations of American democracy. Trying to make it harder for people of color, young people, people with disabilities to vote,” said Mr Sanders on Sunday.
He then took the gloves off when asked if he could be persuaded to campaign against sitting senators in the Democratic Party; technically, Mr Sanders is an independent, but he caucuses with the Democrats and has emerged as a far more reliable supporter of President Joe Biden’s agenda than either Ms Sinema or Mr Manchin. Mr Sanders replied that he would be “happy” to do so, given the right primary challenger.
“[I]f there were strong candidates in those states who were prepared to stand up for working families, who understand that the Democratic Party has got to be the party of working people, taking on big money interests. If those candidates were there in Arizona, in West Virginia, yes, I would be happy to support them,” said the Vermont senator.
The Arizona Democratic Party said of Ms Sinema: “While we take no pleasure in this announcement, the ADP Executive Board has decided to formally censure Senator Sinema as a result of her failure to do whatever it takes to ensure the health of our democracy.”
Mr Sanders’ remarks are some of the strongest yet from Democrats supportive of Mr Biden’s push to pass voting rights legislation, which many activists argue is crucial to pass before the midterms given the ongoing efforts by former President Donald Trump and Trump loyalists in the GOP to install politicians who would not stand in the way of Mr Trump’s efforts to overturn an election defeat as some state-level GOP officials did in 2020.
Mr Sanders taking such a position is not wholly surprising, given his position as the most left-leaning member of the Senate and a frequent challenger of conservative members of the Democratic Party, and was the runner-up in the party’s past two presidential primaries where he cultivated a massive following of progressive and left-wing fans.
The Democrats’ bill, known as the Freedom To Vote: John Lewis Act, would impose further restrictions on the act of gerrymandering as well as restrict dark money in campaigns and establish national standards for early voting, mail-in ballots, as well as in-person voting on election day. The bill is a response to a wide range of issues including GOP efforts at the state level around the US to restrict mail-in and early voting as well as other legislation seen as aimed at making it harder to vote in general like a law passed in Georgia which made it illegal to offer food or water to those in line to vote.
GOP efforts to pass such legislation surged following the 2020 election when Mr Biden won stunning victories in two states, Arizona and Georgia, previously seen as safe conservative bastions for Republican candidates.