TUCSON, Ariz. — In the Grand Canyon state, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., calls herself a «border region girl.»
Sitting at a table with local officials at the Historic Pima County Courthouse Tuesday, the Democrat-turned-independent took plenty of notes as she criticized the Biden administration in her hometown days after the lifting of Title 42, the policy of the era of the pandemic that kept immigrants out of the US
“You mentioned some great accomplishments that I am very proud to have accomplished for Arizonans, but there is still a lot to do,” Sinema told NBC News about her political future. «And right now, immigration is my number one concern.»
Sinema introduced legislation that would give the White House the authority to extend Title 42 by two years without a public health emergency order in place. The legislation currently does not have enough support to pass in both houses of Congress, but it is part of a broader immigration reform effort being spearheaded by Sinema and Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.
“I am inviting colleagues from both the House and the Senate to visit the border, to see that each part of the border is different and unique,” he explained. «And that the solutions we come up with must be bipartisan, bicameral, and most importantly, practical.»
Leading her third bipartisan trip to the US-Mexico border this year, Sinema, standing with Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma. He — scoffed when asked about tackling the immigration crisis from outside Congress, despite having harshly criticized Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in the past.
“Oh, God, no, I don’t want that job,” he said. “By serving in the United States Senate, you have the ability to change the laws of our country… I am very happy to be on the legislative side.”
The rookie senator has been elusive about her ambitions after her term concludes in 2024, with no timetable for a decision on whether to run for re-election.
“We need members of Congress who are willing to really change these [immigration] laws,» he said. «The administration can’t do that. That is our job.
In launching his campaign for Sinema’s seat earlier this year, Democratic Rep. Rubén Gallego has also made immigration a central focus. Like her, Gallego has criticized the Biden administration for not doing enough to address the problems facing border communities.
Gallego said his state was “simply not equipped to handle the flood of immigrants” without federal intervention when the three-year Title 42 restrictions expired this month.
The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, which traditionally backs incumbents, has yet to decide whether to support Sinema, who is no longer a party member, against the Democratic nominee. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who heads the political arm of the Senate Democrats, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., have said they are unlikely to make a decision before Let Sinema declare her intentions.
After spending the afternoon listening to officials at Casa Alitas, a nonprofit immigrant relief program run by Catholic Community Services, Sinema also weighed in on the ongoing debt-limit standoff between Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C.
“I am sure that the two parties will reach an agreement. I have been encouraging them to find a compromise,” Sinema said, adding that he spoke to negotiators that day. «I am in close contact with people on both sides of this negotiation because the urgency of this situation requires that we all be willing to put our skins on the line and solve the problem.»
And when it comes to who she’ll support for president in 2024, Sinema said she’s not worried about political party affiliation.
“I think what Americans are looking for is someone who speaks up for their values and is more interested in solutions than partisan talking points. … I think people are hungry for someone to come up with practical, common sense solutions,” he said. «Thats what Im looking for.»
Sinema praised her colleague, Sen. Tim Scott, RS.C., who officially launched his presidential campaign Monday, but joked that endorsing him «wouldn’t be helpful.»
Lankford, who had nothing but glowing comments about Scott, agreed. He said he received questions over the weekend about Scott’s character. “People would ask me, ‘Is it really that nice?’ And I said, ‘Oh yeah.’
“What I will say is that Tim Scott is a wonderful person, a man of great honor and integrity,” Sinema added.