Washington (CNN) – Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema said the late Sen. John McCain’s example is “lighting the way” for her in her first Senate floor speech since taking office in January.
“(McCain) taught us to always assume the best in others, to seek compromise instead of sowing division, and to always put country ahead of party,” Sinema said.
Sinema called the Arizona Republican senator and former presidential candidate who died last year at the age of 81 her “personal hero” whose leadership “I sorely miss.”
The senator spoke of her work advocating for veterans, and became emotional while talking about Sgt. Daniel Somers, an Arizona Army veteran who killed himself in 2013 after serving two tours in Iraq. She noted Somers’ parents were in the Senate gallery for her remarks.
Sinema — who has introduced the bipartisan Daniel Somers Network of Support Act, which aims to build networks of support for service members — said Somers had a traumatic brain injury and suffered from depression and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. She said the US Department of Veterans Affairs delayed providing Somers with suitable support and care.
Last fall, Sinema won Arizona’s US Senate race, defeating Republican Rep. Martha McSally and flipping a seat that had been in GOP hands for 24 years. She made history as the first female senator elected to represent Arizona, and as the first senator to publicly identify as bisexual.
“As Arizona senior senator, I won’t spend my time focusing on areas of disagreement,” Sinema said. “Because spending energy on the latest tweet, the latest insult and the petty politics simply doesn’t move the needle for everyday people like the Somerses.”
She said during her floor speech she is “committed to ensuring no veteran feels trapped like Sergeant Somers did,” and that all veterans “have access to appropriate mental health care.” Sinema also said she has spoken directly to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie, “who expressed his support for extending the network of support to veterans.”
“With Senator McCain’s example lighting the way, and with the trust of the people of Arizona shaping my service, I recommit to ignoring political games and focus on upholding Arizona values,” she told the chamber.
Sinema said McCain’s last speech on the Senate floor shapes her service to Arizona each day.
She quoted that speech and said, “Merely preventing your political opponents from doing what they want isn’t the most inspiring work. There’s greater satisfaction in respecting our differences, but not letting them prevent agreements that don’t require abandonment of core principles. Agreements made in good faith that help improve lives and protect the American people.”
Now, Sinema said, she hopes she’s making McCain proud.
“One of Senator McCain’s last acts in the Senate was to shepherd last year’s annual defense bill into law — the same annual bill which this year includes our Daniel Somers Network of Support Act,” she said. “I hope that we are making Senator McCain proud with such important work.”