With Biden agenda at stake, activists target cinema, Democrats divide

WASHINGTON — In the days after cellphone camera-toting protesters trapped Arizona Senator Kirsten Cinemas in a university restroom to protest parts of President Biden’s agenda, top Senate Democrats drew an outpouring of outrage on the part of their centrist ally. Prepared statement.

“It is clearly inappropriate to take someone to the bathroom and film the encounter, and it crosses a clear line,” the senators wrote. “What happened in that video was a clear violation of the privacy of Senator Cinema, which has no place in our public discourse, and we strongly condemn it.”

But the statement was never issued. Progressive independent senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont declined to sign after other Democrats rejected his demand that it embrace Biden’s multitrillion-dollar social safety net, education, climate and tax plan for Ms. Includes call. The letter organizers then decided against sending a message of support to a senator who had refused to let some of his constituents meet him or answer their questions.

The flap, first reported by Axios, reflects a widespread dispute among Democrats over how to navigate internal divisions on Mr Biden’s agenda, with party holdouts standing in the way of his plans. , and what is the best strategy to deliver them. Promised their progressive base. It is unfolding at a time of maximum stake for the president and his party, as they assemble a massive domestic policy package that could be the last opportunity to enact key priorities and present them through Congress while they maintain unified control of Washington.

As Mr. Sanders’ demand showed, party leaders share the goals of protesters who are pressuring Ms. Cinema, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin III and other conservative-leaning Democrats to drop their resistance to the ambitious legislation. . But many members of Congress are uncomfortable with the increasingly bold strategy of the workers.

In recent weeks, demonstrators hauled a canoe on the Potomac River to Manchin on his yacht near the Capitol. “Shame on you, Josh!” Workers shouting slogans Democrats of New Jersey have visited the district offices of Representative Josh Gottheimer, a leading centrist who has pressed for a delay in the social policy bill until a bipartisan infrastructure measure is implemented.

The targeting of Ms. Cinema – whose protesters chased a fund-raiser at a plush resort, chased into an airport and chased to the door of a bathroom stall at the university where she teaches – has been particularly offensive. , which prompted the call. Some fellow Democrats to lay off workers.

“It was dishonest,” Democrat Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii said of the latest protests against Ms. “Direct action is perfectly appropriate in an American-style democracy. But bathrooms are off-limits. This should be self-evident, but apparently we have to make it clear: Bathrooms are off-limits. “

New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, said he sympathized with the protesters’ message – particularly those advocating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants – but rejected their strategy.

“I strongly support the right to peaceful protest,” Mr. Schumer said. “I started my career protesting the Vietnam War, and I’m opposed all the time. I understand, and feel for the immigrant community and what they’re going through. But chasing someone in the bathroom and telling them Recording – This line is over.

In her own statement, Ms Cinema condemned the bathroom encounter as “totally inappropriate” and suggested that it was, at least in part, the result of the overly heated debate that has surrounded Mr Biden’s agenda.

“Elected leaders have a duty to avoid fostering an environment in which honest policy disagreements serve as grounds for vitriol – raising the temperature in political rhetoric and creating a permissive structure for unacceptable behavior,” she said.

Ms. Cinema was repeatedly criticized by the progressive wing of her party, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, who wrote on twitter That Ms. Cinema was “trying to undermine the opportunities for millions of people in healthcare.”

The senator has emerged as one of the focal points of an intense lobbying campaign by the White House and party leaders because in an equally divided Senate, Democrats are required to push each of their members through social policy and climate bills. . This gives Ms. Cinema effective veto power over the package.

He has privately told his aides that he is against the corporate and personal tax increases that Democrats have proposed to pay for the plan. It is also pushing to cut the cost of the package and is opposing the flagship proposal to reduce the prices of medicines.

Protesters from Lucha Arizona, a grassroots progressive organization, trapped her in the bathroom, saying she was forced to do so because Ms. Cinema stopped holding town halls or answering questions from constituents.

He said he was pushing for a path to citizenship for the nearly eight million undocumented immigrants, a priority of Mr Biden who is at risk because of complex budget rules that could prevent its inclusion in the bill. Activists see the measure as their best chance to enact deportation protections for the undecided as they look to midterm elections next year and the very real possibility that Republicans could take back control of the House. And they see Ms. Cinema and Mr. Manchin as the forces standing in the way.

“Cinema constituents have been denied entry into their offices, ignored, dismissed and protested,” the group said in a statement after the protest.

According to people familiar with the discussions, Mr. Sanders’ staff initially showed an openness to signing Ms. Cinema’s letter of support. But she tried to add a line, saying Democratic leaders hoped she would “change her position on drug reform and support a major reconciliation bill.”

When an aide to New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who was conducting the statement, rejected that addition, Mr. Sanders withdrew his name, and the effort soon failed.

Mr Biden offered some public support for Ms Cinema, but also said he believed negotiating with protesters was part of a public servant’s job.

“I don’t think those are appropriate tactics, but it happens to everyone,” Mr Biden told reporters. “There are only people who don’t have the Secret Service. So, it’s part of the process.”

But many members of Congress have become intimidated by what they see as a growing potential for political violence, such as the shootings at a congressional baseball practice in 2017, to the January 6 attack of a pro-Trump mob on the Capitol.

Republican Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota said the protests against Ms. Sinima were part of a trend of polarization and anger in American politics.

Mr Kramer has seen it for the first time. The day before January 6, he met President Donald J. Tried unsuccessfully to speak to angry constituents who supported Trump and who demanded from him at the Capitol why he was not objecting to the 2020 election results.

Mr Kramer said, “What has happened recently is that we have seen less civility among people in bringing grievances to their representations.” “It’s a crescent coming up.”

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