Criticism over Sen. Krysten Sinema’s thumbs-down vote against raising the minimum wage is sexist, her office suggested

Krysten Sinema
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) wears a protective mask while arriving to the U.S. Capitol on December 11, 2020 in Washington, DC.

  • Sen. Krysten Sinema was widely criticized for her vote against raising the minimum wage.
  • She cast her vote by giving a thumbs down on the Senate floor, further inciting backlash.  
  • A spokesperson suggested to HuffPost that such criticism was sexist. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Sen. Krysten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona, incited backlash Friday when she voted against a portion of the COVID-19 relief package that would’ve raised the federal minimum wage to $15.

While much of the backlash from progressives centered around her decision to oppose the minimum wage hike, she was also widely criticized for the way in which she cast her vote by making an exaggerated, dramatic thumbs-down gesture. 

But later Friday, Sinema’s office implied in a statement that such criticism was sexist, according to HuffPost.

“Commentary about a female senator’s body language, clothing, or physical demeanor does not belong in a serious media outlet,” a spokesperson for Sinema told the outlet.

The statement further incited social media backlash against the Arizona senator. 

“I am a feminist. I am a woman of color. And I am SO NOT going to let her use sexism as a shield for her offensive glee with which she chose to hurt working people,” one person said in a tweet.

 

The move drew some parallels to the late Republican Sen. John McCain, also from Arizona, who in 2017 flashed a thumbs down in a decisive vote that upheld a key provision of the Affordable Care Act. 

Sinema was part of eight Democrats, which included Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware, Angus King of Maine, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Tom Carper of Delaware, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Jon Tester of Montana, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, to reject the proposal made by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. 

 

Sanders’ proposal had gone against a ruling from the Senate parliamentarian, who said that a minimum wage increase could not be included in President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package. A minimum wage increase was a key part of Biden’s campaign for the White House.

In a statement posted to Twitter Friday, Sinema said she supported raising the minimum wage in the future. 

“I understand what it is like to face tough choices while working to meet your family’s most basic needs,” she said. 

She continued: “Senators in both parties have shown support for raising the federal minimum wage and the Senate should hold an open debate and amendment process on raising the minimum wage, separate from the COVID-focused reconciliation bill.” 

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A proposal to raise the minimum wage was killed in the Senate after 8 Democrats voted against the bill

joe manchin 20
WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 14: Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, speaks during a news conference with a bipartisan group of lawmakers as they announce a proposal for a Covid-19 relief bill on Capitol Hill, on Monday, December 14, 2020 in Washington, DC. Lawmakers from both chambers released a $908 billion package Monday, split into two bills.

  • Eight Senate Democrats broke from the majority and voted against the minimum wage hike proposal.
  • A number of the dissenters cited a need to protect struggling businesses from increased labor costs.
  • The hike was nixed from the current stimulus package following a ruling from the Senate parliamentarian.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Eight Senate Democrats broke from the majority and voted on Friday against the $15 minimum wage hike proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The vote scrapped Sanders’ push for the provision to be added back into the stimulus package being negotiated in Congress, after Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that it should be nixed.

MacDonough ruled that the minimum wage increase violates the “Byrd Rule,” which prohibits “extraneous” policies as part of a reconciliation bill or resolution.

“It is hard for me to understand how drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was compliant with the Byrd rule, but raising the minimum wage is not,” Sanders said.

President Joe Biden has also expressed support for gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The bill was abandoned in the Senate after eight Democrats voted against the proposal:

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia

Joe Manchin
WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 05: Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) speaks to the press near the Senate subway following a vote in the Senate impeachment trial that acquitted President Donald Trump of all charges on February 5, 2020 in Washington, DC. After the House impeached Trump last year, the Senate voted today to acquit the President on two articles of impeachment as the trial concludes.

Manchin, a moderate Democrat who holds Byrd’s former Senate seat, had previously expressed disapproval of the minimum wage hike, standing with the Senate parliamentarian MacDonough.

“My only vote is to protect the Byrd Rule: Hell or high water,” the senator told CNN in February. “Everybody knows that. I’m fighting to defend the Byrd Rule. The President knows that.”

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona

Democratic senators-elect Kyrsten Sinema (L) (D-AZ) and Jacky Rosen (R) (D-NV) walk to the office of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for a meeting at the U.S. Capitol November 13, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Democratic senators-elect Kyrsten Sinema (L) (D-AZ) and Jacky Rosen (R) (D-NV) walk to the office of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for a meeting at the U.S. Capitol November 13, 2018 in Washington, DC.

Sinema, another key moderate who had previously thrown cold water on the minimum wage hike, also voted against the proposal on Friday. To represent her “nay” vote, the Arizona senator dramatically voted with a “thumbs-down” to the Senate clerk, sparking backlash from progressive senators.

Despite her “thumbs-down” vote, Sinema said in a statement that she would be open to renegotiating a minimum wage increase “separate” from the relief package.

“Senators in both parties have shown support for raising the federal minimum wage, and the Senate should hold an open debate and amendment process on raising the minimum wage, separate from the COVID-focused reconciliation bill,” Sinema said in a statement.

Sen. Jon Tester of Montana

jon tester montana
Sen. Jon Tester, D-MT, delivers opening remarks during a confirmation hearing of Denis McDonough, Secretary of Veterans Affairs nominee of U.S. President Joe Biden, before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C., U.S., January 27, 2021.

Tester voted against the proposal on Friday. Manchin said he and Tester hoped the spending in the stimulus package as a whole would be better “targeted” and “helping the people that need help the most.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire

Jeanne Shaheen
Incumbent U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., raises her arms after claiming victory at a gathering with supporters, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Manchester, N.H. Shaheen faced Republican businessman Corky Messner. (

Shaheen’s office told Boston.com, the news site for the Boston Globe, in a statement that the senator from New Hampshire supports the minimum wage hike, but only with “safeguards” to protect small businesses and restaurants that have borne the economic brunt of the coronavirus pandemic to ensure they “don’t go under.”

“I also think we should work with some of those folks who are affected to help figure out how we can get them through an increase in the minimum wage,” Shaheen told WMUR9. “We have nursing homes in New Hampshire who are having difficulties employing people because of the wage scale.”

Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire

maggie hassan
Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., speaks during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on “Threats to the Homeland”, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2020.

Another senator from New Hampshire, Hassan, rejected the minimum wage hike proposal. Like Shaheen, Hassan said she supports a separate bill to push the increase through Congress rather than bulking it with the stimulus package.

“Well so there’s isn’t going to be an increase in the minimum wage in this package,” Hassan said in an interview with WMUR9. “That being said, I think it’s really important that we all recognize that people who work 40 hours a week should be able to get by. They shouldn’t be living at or below the poverty level when they’re working hard.”

Sen. Angus King of Maine

angus king
U.S. Senator Angus King (I-ME) is seen in the Senate Reception room during the fifth day of the impeachment trial of former U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, U.S., February 13, 2021.

King, an independent from Maine who typically caucuses with Democrats, also voted against Sanders’ proposal. He told The Wall Street Journal last week that, while he supports increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, he expressed concern that increase labor costs could prompt businesses to make lay off employees.

During the pandemic, “a lot of restaurants are just hanging on by the thread,” he said.

Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware

Tom Carper
WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 17: U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) speaks during a hearing of the Finance Committee at which U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer testified on June 17, 2020 in Washington, DC. Earlier, Lighthizer told the House Ways and Means Committee that the U.S.-China trade deal shows no signs of weakening despite recent conflicts including issues involving the pandemic and China’s crackdown on Hong Kong.

Two senators from Delaware, Sens. Carper and Coons, were surprising dissenters to the minimum wage hike, especially hailing from Biden’s home state where local Democrats have thrown their support behind such a policy.

Carper threw cold water on the proposal on Friday, citing a need to protect struggling businesses from the increased labor costs.

“I have backed a $15 minimum wage on the federal level for years,” Carper said in a statement to Delaware Online. “At a time when our economy is still slowly recovering, though, policymakers have a responsibility to be especially mindful of the fragile state of small businesses all across this country – many of which are fighting just to stay open during this unprecedented crisis.”

Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware

Chris Coons
WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 30: Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) asks a question to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a Senate Foreign Relations to discuss the Trump administration’s FY 2021 budget request for the State Department on July 30, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Like the other senators who dissented, Coons said he was concerned about how the minimum wage increase would impact small businesses.

“Every Democrat and many Republicans agree that the federal minimum wage of $7.25 is too low and has been for too long,” Coons said in a statement to Delaware Online. “It has to be raised. President Biden has called for us to raise it to $15 an hour. I will work with my colleagues on legislation to raise the minimum wage and index it annually.”

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