Six months into her first U.S. Senate term, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., delivered her “maiden speech” on the floor, honoring Arizona’s senators who came before her and paying homage to Senate traditions.
Sinema, the first woman senator from Arizona, used the Senate ritual to speak about her legislative accomplishments and to urge her colleagues to seek compromise instead of division, in the spirit of the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Sinema has chosen not to respond to President Donald Trump’s near-daily tweets and comments. During her 15-minute floor appearance, she said the past six months demonstrate how she will govern.
“I promised Arizona that I would do things differently than others in Washington,” she said. “Americans see a lot of chaos in this city. There’s intense pressure from all sides to spend time and energy on every scandal, every insult, every tweet, every partisan fight — and it’s easy to get distracted.
“It’s the simplest thing in the world to line up on either side of a partisan battle. What’s harder is ignoring the chaos and getting out of our comfort zones to build coalitions and get things done.”
Freshman senator lays out her plans
From the chamber’s earliest days, new senators have observed a tradition of remaining silent during floor debates, depending on the era and the senator. The maiden speeches provide time for senators to formally lay a foundation for how they will approach the role, and discuss their priorities.
Several senators streamed into the chamber during her speech. Present were Republican Sens. Martha McSally of Arizona, Mitt Romney of Utah, and Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., also were on hand.
Sinema, who comes from a military family, reflected on her legislative work over the past six months, much of which has centered on measures to help veterans. Two of those bills have passed the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and are awaiting action by the president.
One of her bills would expand membership eligibility of the American Legion to include former American servicemen and servicewomen who served in between recognized periods of war. The other aims to better protect veterans from predatory home loan practices.
‘The kind of work that matters’
Sinema highlighted her efforts to persuade her congressional colleagues to approve her legislative provision that would ensure the Defense Department and the Red Cross collect from new service members the names of loved ones. With that information, the entities can provide them information about military members’ benefits and services, equipping them with the information to help a struggling service member.
Howard and Jean Somers, the parents of veteran Daniel Somers, whose death by suicide has helped shape Sinema’s legislative priorities on veterans issues, attendedSinema’s speech.
The Daniel Somers Network of Support Act is named after Daniel Somers, the Army war veteran who had difficulty obtaining care after returning home from Iraq. He killed himself in 2013. Sinema grew emotional as she spoke of the Somers’ struggle for support and care upon returning home from the war. Her voice shook as she talked of his experience, and as she read from the note he left before he took his own life.
Sinema has worked closely with his parents during her time on Capitol Hill to urge reforms to the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve access to treatment, particularly for those veterans who have access to classified material and want to seek help outside of group settings. In her speech, she worked to build bipartisan consensus for her provision, which made it into the negotiated national defense bill, which has yet to be finalized.
“The story of Sergeant Somers and his parents — the failure of the VA bureaucracy to provide the support this Arizona veteran needed, and the resulting tragedy — is not a story that dominated the national headlines,” Sinema said. “It wasn’t a political scandal or a partisan food-fight to which members of Congress were pressured to respond … but it’s exactly the kind of work that matters.
“It matters to military families and loved ones. It matters to Arizona. And it’s exactly why, as Arizona’s senior senator, I won’t spend my time focusing on areas of disagreement — because spending energy on the latest tweet, the latest insult, and petty politics simply don’t move the needle for everyday people like the Somers.”
Sinema paid homage to McCain, who died Aug. 25, 2018, after a battle with brain cancer. McCain’s call in his final speech on the Senate floor shapes how she approaches her time in the chamber, she said. In it, McCain called on his colleagues to overcome political differences to work in the best interests of the American people.
She said her work on the Somers Network of Support Act represents the type of work that would make McCain proud.
“He taught us to always assume the best in others, to seek compromise instead of sowing division, and to always put country ahead of party,” she said “… I hope that we’re making Sen. McCain proud with such important work.”