Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is a Democrat, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had high praise for her anyway when he hosted her Monday at his alma mater, the University of Louisville.
Mitch McConnell: Democrats need more moderates like Sen. Kyrsten Sinema
"I've only known Kyrsten for four years, but she is, in my view ... the most effective first-term senator I've seen," he said as he introduced her at an event held by the McConnell Center, which he founded over 30 years ago along with university officials.
"She is, today, what we have too few of in the Democratic Party: A genuine moderate and a dealmaker," said McConnell, a longtime Republican who earned a reputation for partisan obstruction during former President Barack Obama's administration.
He said Sinema has been "right in the middle of, if not the principal leader of" negotiations that resulted in bipartisan legislation passed during President Joe Biden's term, including a $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan and the first big gun reform bill to become federal law since 1994. (McConnell voted for both proposals.)
"As you can tell, I have a very high opinion of the senator from Arizona," he said. "But my biggest compliment to her is: She protects the institution of the Senate."
McConnell was referencing Sinema's steadfast refusal to get rid of the filibuster, a 60-vote threshold the Senate must meet to advance most bills.
Many congressional Democrats have urged her and fellow Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia to agree to neutralize the filibuster so they can pass priority legislation, such as a bill that would've made major changes to federal elections and expanded access to voting.
Sinema and Manchin's stance has allowed the McConnell-led Senate Republicans to block those Democratic proposals instead.
"It took one hell of a lot of guts for Kyrsten Sinema to stand up and say, 'I'm not going to break the institution in order to achieve a short-term goal,'" said McConnell, who alluded Monday to his own refusal of former President Donald Trump's demands that Senate Republicans ax the filibuster when they were in control.
McConnell introduced Sinema so she could give a talk on the importance of bipartisanship.
She kicked off her lecture by talking about her friendship with McConnell:
"You know, at first glance Sen. McConnell and I have relatively little, or some could even say nothing, in common. For starters, he drinks bourbon. I drink wine. He's from the Southeast and I'm from the great Southwest. He wears suits and ties, and I wear dresses and these fair sneakers. And perhaps most obviously, we come from opposing political parties.
"But despite our apparent differences, Sen. McConnell and I have forged a friendship. One that is rooted in our commonalities, including our pragmatic approach to legislating, our respect for the Senate as an institution, our love for our home states and a dogged determination on behalf of our constituents."
Sinema went on to highlight the work she and several other senators of both parties have done since early 2021 to reach compromises tackling infrastructure needs, gun violence and other issues that managed to become law despite the Senate filibuster.
Sinema echoed McConnell's arguments in favor of the filibuster on Monday. She said axing it would turn the Senate into the House of Representatives, where lawmakers represent "the passions of the moment" and where each party passes "a little bit of crazy legislation" when they're in control.
She suggested the Senate is supposed to counterbalance that.
Sinema went a step further than McConnell, though, by saying she'd like to restore that 60-vote threshold for presidential nominations, including for federal judges.
"Not everyone likes that," she said when some folks applauded. "It would make it harder for us to confirm judges, and it would make it harder for us to confirm executive appointments in each administration. But I believe that if we did restore it, we would actually see more of that middle ground in all parts of our governance."
Judicial filibusters were rolled back by Democrats and the GOP when each party controlled the Senate.
McConnell led Senate Republicans to nix that for U.S. Supreme Court nominations, specifically. That allowed them to confirm three Trump-nominated Supreme Court justices with a simple majority, ensuring they could overcome Democratic opposition.
The conservative majority they installed on the court went on to eliminate the nationwide right to abortion this summer, which radically restricted abortion access in Kentucky.