Kyrsten Lea Sinema was born in Tucson, Arizona, on July 12, 1976, to Marilyn (Wiley) and Dan Sinema. She is of Frisian descent. Her great-great-grandfather Lieuwe Jacobs Sinnema (1863–1941) immigrated at a young age with his father Jacob Jans Sinnema (1830–1903) to the United States in 1867 from the village of Bitgum, in the Dutch province of Friesland. They came to Sioux City, Iowa, and later her great-great-grandfather settled in Twin Falls, Idaho, where her great-grandfather Jacob Sinema (1892–1963) and grandfather Gerald Sinema (1929–) were brought up. Her grandfather relocated to Phoenix, Arizona, where her father, Dan Sinema, was born in 1949.
Sinema graduated as valedictorian from Walton High School in DeFuniak Springs at age 16 and went on to earn her B.A. from Brigham Young University (BYU) in 1995 at age 18. She left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after graduating from BYU. Sinema returned to Arizona in 1995.
Kyrsten Lea Sinema (/ˈkɪərstən ˈsɪnəmə/ KEER-stən SIN-ə-mə; born July 12, 1976) is an American politician, attorney, and social worker serving as the senior United States Senator from Arizona since January 2019. A Democrat, she served three terms as a state representative for Arizona's 15th legislative district from 2005 to 2011, one term as the state senator for Arizona's 15th legislative district from 2011 to 2012, and three terms as the United States Representative for Arizona's 9th congressional district from 2013 to 2019.
Sinema worked as a social worker from 1995 to 2002 in the Phoenix metropolitan area's Washington Elementary School District and received a Master of Social Work degree from Arizona State University in 1999. In 2004 she earned a J.D. degree from Arizona State University College of Law and became a criminal defense lawyer. In 2003 Sinema became an adjunct professor teaching master's-level policy and grant-writing classes at Arizona State University School of Social Work and an adjunct Business Law Professor at Arizona Summit Law School, formerly known as Phoenix School of Law. In 2008, Sinema completed the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government program for senior executives in state and local government as a David Bohnett LGBTQ Victory Institute Leadership Fellow. In 2012 she earned a Ph.D. in justice studies, also from Arizona State.
In 2000, Sinema worked on Ralph Nader's presidential campaign. In 2001 and 2002, she ran for local elected offices as an independent and lost. In 2002, The Arizona Republic published a letter from Sinema criticizing capitalism. "Until the average American realizes that capitalism damages her livelihood while augmenting the livelihoods of the wealthy, the Almighty Dollar will continue to rule", she wrote.
In 2005 and 2006, she co-hosted an Air America radio show with 9/11 truther Jeff Farias. In 2006, Sinema said she opposed "war in all its forms", and wrote: "As one of the core organizers against the war from day one (September 12, 2001), I have always and will always continue to oppose war in all its forms."
Sinema first ran for the Arizona House of Representatives in 2002, as an independent affiliated with the Arizona Green Party. She finished in last place in a five-candidate field, receiving 8% of the vote.
As an antiwar activist in the years after 9/11, Sinema "led a group that distributed flyers depicting an American soldier as a skeleton inflicting 'U.S. terror' in Iraq and the Middle East." The flyers "promoted a February 2003 rally organized by Local to Global Justice, an anti-war group Sinema co-founded". Sinema was described in news reports as an organizer and sponsor of the rally and was listed as the point of contact for the event. One flyer referred to "Bush and his fascist, imperialist war", saying, "Government is slavery", and describing laws as "cobwebs for the rich and chains of steel for the poor". CNN said that such positions were "a contrast from the more moderate profile she has developed since her 2012 election to Congress".
While in the Green Party, Sinema was its local spokesperson, working to repeal the death penalty and organizing antiwar protests. She had organized 15 antiwar rallies by the time the Iraq War began. She also opposed the war in Afghanistan. During a February 15, 2003 protest in Patriot's Square Park in Phoenix, a group led by Sinema distributed flyers portraying a U.S. servicemember as a skeleton "inflicting 'U.S. terror' in Iraq and the Middle East". (A representative of Sinema has said that Sinema did not "approve or design" the flyers. ) In a 2003 opinion piece, Sinema declared that Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush were "'the real Saddam and Osama lovers'". When asked on a local radio show whether she would oppose someone joining the Taliban and fighting on its behalf, Sinema responded, "'Fine… I don't care if you want to do that, go ahead.'" During 2005 and 2006, Sinema co-hosted a radio show with 9/11 truther Jeff Farias.
Sinema began her political career in the Arizona Green Party and rose to prominence for her progressive advocacy, supporting causes such as LGBT rights and opposing the war on terror. She left the Green Party to join the Arizona Democratic Party in 2004 and was elected to a seat in the United States House of Representatives in 2012. After her election, she joined the New Democrat Coalition, the Blue Dog Coalition and the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, amassing one of the most conservative voting records in the Democratic caucus. She won the 2018 Senate election to replace the retiring Jeff Flake, defeating Republican nominee Martha McSally. Sinema is the first openly bisexual and the second openly LGBT woman (after Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin) to be elected to the House of Representatives and to the Senate in 2012 and 2018, respectively. She also was the first woman elected to the Senate from Arizona.
Sinema began her political career in the Arizona Green Party before joining the Arizona Democratic Party in 2004.
Sinema joined the Democratic Party in 2004. That year, Sinema and David Lujan won the Democratic primaries for Arizona's 15th district, with 37% of the vote for Sinema and 34% for Lujan over incumbent representative Wally Straughn. Sinema was subsequently reelected three times with over 30% of the vote. In 2009 and 2010 Sinema was an assistant Minority Leader for the Democratic Caucus of the Arizona House of Representatives.
According to Elle, "her first public comment as an elected official came in 2005, after a Republican colleague's speech insulted LGBT people. 'We're simply people like everyone else who want and deserve respect', she passionately declared. Later, when reporters asked about her use of the first person, Sinema replied, 'Duh, I'm bisexual.'"
According to a profile in The Advocate, "Sinema has her sights set on advancing LGBT rights." She has a history of policy advocacy regarding LGBT rights and issues. In 2006 Sinema was among the leading opponents of a proposed amendment to the Arizona state constitution which would have banned same-sex marriages and civil unions. The proposal failed in Arizona, the first time that a state rejected a ban on same-sex marriage, but a second proposed amendment banning only same-sex marriage passed in 2008 with Sinema in opposition again. She supports same-sex marriage, domestic partnership recognition, and adding gender identity to anti-discrimination laws.
In 2006, Sinema told a radio host that she was "the most liberal member of the Arizona State Legislature". Also in 2006 she sponsored a bill urging the adoption of the DREAM Act and co-chaired Arizona Together, the statewide campaign that defeated Proposition 107, which would have banned the recognition of same-sex marriage and civil unions in Arizona. (In 2008 a similar referendum, Proposition 102, passed. ) In 2006 Sinema was asked about "new feminism", and responded, "'These women who act like staying at home, leeching off their husbands or boyfriends, and just cashing the checks is some sort of feminism because they're choosing to live that life. That's bullshit. I mean, what the fuck are we really talking about here?'" After facing criticism, Sinema apologized and said the interview format was intended to be a "lighthearted spoof". "I was raised by a stay-at-home mom," she said. "So, she did a pretty good job with me."
According to The Arizona Republic, while serving in the Arizona State Legislature, she introduced more bills regarding the death penalty than bills regarding military or veterans' families. In 2007, she introduced HB 2278, which would require the Arizona Supreme Court to "strike" any prior death sentence and "enter in its place a sentence of natural life", as in life without parole.
Sinema campaigned against Proposition 107, a referendum to ban the recognition of same-sex marriage and civil unions in Arizona. In 2008, she led the campaign against Proposition 102, another referendum that would have banned the recognition of same-sex marriage in Arizona. Proposition 102 was approved with 56% of the vote in the general election on November 4, 2008. Sinema chaired a coalition called Protect Arizona's Freedom, which defeated Ward Connerly's goal to place an initiative on the state ballot that would eliminate equal-opportunity programs.
In June 2009, Sinema was one of 32 state legislators appointed by President Barack Obama to the White House Health Reform Task Force, which helped shape the Affordable Care Act. "Thanks in part to her hard work in improving the bill", she was invited to attend the Obamacare bill signing at the White House in March 2010.
In 2010, Sinema sponsored a bill to give in-state tuition to veterans; it was held in committee and did not receive a vote. Also in 2010, Sinema was named one of Time magazine's "40 Under 40". The Center for Inquiry gave Sinema its Award for the Advancement of Science and Reason in Public Policy in 2011.
In 2010, Sinema was elected to the Arizona Senate, defeating Republican Bob Thomas, 63% to 37%.
In 2015 and 2016, Sinema did not vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House. In 2015, she voted with the majority of her party 73% of the time. The conservative group Americans for Prosperity gives Sinema a lifetime 27% rating and the conservative Goldwater Institute gave her a 35% in 2010 when she was a state legislator; the progressive Americans for Democratic Action gave her a 60% liberal quotient. In 2017, she voted in line with President Donald Trump's position approximately half the time. According to FiveThirtyEight, as of April 2020, Sinema voted in line with Trump's position on legislation about 53% of the time. As a result, the Arizona Democratic Party suggested censuring her. But after delaying the vote and watering down the resolution from a censure to an advisement, it was ultimately tabled.
In June 2011 Sinema said she was considering running for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012. She lived in the same Phoenix neighborhood as incumbent Democratic congressman Ed Pastor, but was adamant that she would not challenge another Democrat in a primary. On January 3, 2012, Sinema announced her bid for Congress, in the 9th congressional district. The district had previously been the 5th, represented by freshman Republican David Schweikert; it contained 60% of the old 5th's territory. Schweikert had been drawn into the 6th district—the old 3rd district—and sought reelection there.
According to Roll Call, Sinema billed herself as bipartisan. This move was seen as a response to her district's voting pattern. It was drawn as a "fair-fight" district, and President Barack Obama won the district by four points in 2012. In September 2014 she was endorsed for reelection by the United States Chamber of Commerce, becoming one of five Democrats to be endorsed by the Chamber in the 2014 congressional election cycle. She was reelected with approximately 55% of the vote, beating GOP nominee Wendy Rogers by 13 points.
After joining Congress in 2012, she said her views on military force had "evolved", and that "you should never take military intervention off the table. When you do so, you give an out to a rogue nation or rogue actors." Lederman reported that "she said she favors aggressive diplomacy, crippling sanctions to combat proliferation, and swift, multilateral intervention as a last resort". Since joining Congress, she has voted against the Iran Nuclear Deal and supported Trump's missile attack on Syria.
Although Sinema was not required to resign her State Senate seat under Arizona's resign-to-run laws (since she was in the final year of her term), she did so on the same day that she announced her candidacy. On August 28, 2012, Sinema won the three-way Democratic primary with nearly 42% of the vote. Her opponents, state Senator David Schapira and former Arizona Democratic Party chairman Andrei Cherny, a former speechwriter in the Clinton administration, each finished with less than 30% of the vote.
In 2013, Sinema co-sponsored Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney's letter, which opposed Saudi Arabia for "the use of torture and capital punishment against the LGBTQ community".
The November 6 election was initially too close to call, because Arizona election authorities failed to count more than 25% of the votes on election day. Sinema held a narrow lead over Parker, while provisional and absentee ballots were still being counted. On November 12, when it was apparent that Sinema's lead was too large for Parker to overcome, the Associated Press called the race for Sinema. Once all ballots were counted, Sinema won by 4.1 percentage points, over 10,000 votes. Libertarian Powell Gammill finished third with 6.64% of the votes. When she took office on January 3, 2013, she became only the second Anglo Democrat to represent the Valley of the Sun in over three decades. The first was Harry Mitchell, who represented the then-5th district from 2007 to 2011.
In June 2013, Sinema became one of 29 original cosponsors of the bipartisan LIBERT-E (Limiting Internet and Blanket Electronic Review of Telecommunications and Email) Act, along with Representative Justin Amash. The legislation would limit the National Security Agency (NSA) to only collecting electronic information from subjects of an investigation.
In July 2013, Sinema joined a bipartisan majority and voted against an amendment to a defense appropriations bill (offered by Amash) to prohibit the NSA from monitoring and recording details of U.S. citizens' telecommunications without a warrant.
On November 17, 2013, Sinema completed an Ironman Triathlon in a little more than 15 hours. She was the second active member of Congress—behind Senator Jeff Merkley—to finish a long distance triathlon, and the first to complete an Ironman-branded race. On December 25, 2013, Sinema summited Mount Kilimanjaro.
Sinema ran for reelection in 2014, and was unopposed in the Democratic primary, which took place on August 26, 2014. She faced Republican Wendy Rogers in the general election.
Sinema voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act, but has called for reforms to the law. In a 2012 congressional campaign debate, she said the health care law wasn't perfect, and that in Congress she would work to amend it to make it work effectively. Sinema voted to delay the imposition of fines on those who did not purchase insurance in 2014. She also voted to repeal the Medical Device Tax and for the Keep Your Health Plan Act of 2013.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform, a PAC that seeks to limit both legal and illegal immigration, gave Sinema a 33% rating in 2018, and UnidosUS, which supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, gave Sinema a score of 88% in 2014.
In 2015, Sinema was one of just seven House Democrats to vote in favor of a Republican-backed bill to repeal the estate tax, which affects about 0.2% of Americans in the U.S. each year (estates of $5.43 million or more for individuals, or $10.86 million or more for couples). That same year, she voted to change the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's leadership from a single director to a bipartisan commission.
Sinema supports the use of military force to stop genocide, such as in Sudan, Somalia and Rwanda. She wrote a doctoral dissertation on the 1994 Rwandan genocide that Lexington Books published in 2015.
In 2016, Sinema was one of five House Democrats to vote for a Republican-backed bill barring the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from regulating broadband rates. Her vote broke from her party; other Democrats were strongly opposed to the measure, and President Obama said he would veto it if it passed.
In 2016, with Republican congressman John Katko of New York, Sinema cosponsored the Working Parents Flexibility Act (H.R. 4699). This legislation would establish a tax-free "parental savings account" in which employers and parents could invest savings tax-free, with unused funds eligible to be "rolled into qualifying retirement, college savings or ABLE accounts for people with disabilities without tax penalties". In September 2018, she voted "to make individual tax cuts passed by the GOP [in 2017] permanent". She was one of three Democrats to break with her party and vote for the tax cuts being made permanent.
Sinema favors gun control measures such as requiring background checks on gun sales between private citizens at gun shows, and requiring a license for gun possession. In 2016 the National Rifle Association (NRA), which opposes gun regulations, gave Sinema a 29% rating. In 2018, the NRA gave Sinema a 33% score and the Gun Owners of America gave her a 17% rating.
In 2017, however, Sinema and 47 other House Democrats voted with the majority of House Republicans on H.R. 115, "Thin Blue Line Act of 2017", which was opposed by the ACLU. The bill would "expand the list of statutory aggravating factors in death penalty determinations" to include the killing or targeting of a law enforcement officer, first responder, or firefighter.
In March 2018 Sinema donated to charity $33,800 in campaign contributions she had received from Ed Buck, a prominent Democratic donor who came under scrutiny after a homeless escort died of a drug overdose at his California home in 2017. She had previously donated to charity $53,400 in campaign contributions from people with ties to Backpage, a website that was seized by the United States Department of Justice after it was accused of knowingly accepting ads for sex with underage girls.
On February 12, 2021, Sinema became the second Democratic senator after Joe Manchin to announce her opposition to including a $15/hour minimum wage as part of a COVID relief bill. On March 5, 2021, Sinema voted against an increase of the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, as proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders as part of the COVID-19 American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. She did so by flashing a thumbs-down as she carried a Lululemon bag containing a cake for Senate staffers. Some commentators compared her demeanor to that of former Arizona senator John McCain, who had voted with a dramatic thumbs-down gesture in 2017; others compared her to former French monarch Marie Antoinette, to whom the phrase "let them eat cake" is attributed. Sinema's office responded that commentary on her clothes and demeanor was sexist, leading Ohio politician Nina Turner to comment that "denying women a living wage is sexist". Her vote was at odds with that of Mark Kelly, the junior Arizona senator, who supports a $15/hour minimum wage.
On September 28, 2017, Sinema officially announced her candidacy for the Class I United States Senate seat held by Republican incumbent Jeff Flake, who declined to seek reelection the next month.
In January 2018, a New York man was arrested and charged with stalking her.
Federal Election Commission filings released in April 2018 showed Sinema had raised over $8.2 million, more than the three leading Republican primary contenders combined.
Sinema opposed Arizona SB 1070. She has argued that mass deportation of undocumented immigrants is not an option and supported the DREAM Act. Her 2012 campaign website stated that "we need to create a tough but fair path to citizenship for undocumented workers that requires them to get right with the law by paying back taxes, paying a fine and learning English as a condition of gaining citizenship." In July 2018, she broke with her party by voting with Republicans against abolishing ICE.
Journalist Jonathan Martin wrote in The New York Times in September 2018 that Sinema was running "one of the most moderate-sounding and cautious Senate campaigns this year, keeping the media at arms-length and avoiding controversial issues", and said her campaign was generally reluctant to bring up President Donald Trump. According to Martin, both Republicans and Democrats said that Sinema had "few major legislative accomplishments to her record" and was running "on a political image that she has shaped and reshaped over the years. And nothing is more central to it now than her childhood homelessness."
In 2019, Sinema was one of three Democrats to join all Republicans in voting against the Green New Deal, a stimulus program that aims to address climate change and economic inequality, while most other Democrats voted "present." In April 2019, Sinema was one of three Democrats who voted with Republicans to confirm David Bernhardt, a former oil executive, as Secretary of the Interior Department.
In 2019, Sinema was the sole Senate Democrat not to co-sponsor the Save the Internet Act, which would restore Obama-era regulations preventing ISPs from throttling consumers' website traffic. She worked with Senate Republican Roger Wicker to develop their own net neutrality bill. Sinema has received $134,046 in donations from the telecom industry.
On November 12, many news sources called the U.S. Senate race for Sinema, and the Republican nominee, Martha McSally, conceded. Sinema was sworn in with the 116th United States Congress on January 3, 2019.
Sinema was sworn in as a member of the U.S. Senate on January 3, 2019. During the oath of office ceremony, led by vice president Mike Pence, she decided to be sworn in not on the traditional Bible, but on copies of the United States Constitution and the Constitution of Arizona. She is the senior U.S. senator from Arizona; the junior U.S. senator for Arizona is Democrat Mark Kelly. Kelly defeated Sinema's 2018 general election opponent, Martha McSally, who was appointed to fill the Senate seat vacated upon the resignation of Senator Jon Kyl, who was appointed to fill the Senate seat vacated upon the death of Senator John McCain.
In February 2019, Sinema was one of 20 senators to sponsor the Employer Participation in Repayment Act, enabling employers to contribute up to $5,250 to their employees' student loans.
On February 5, 2019, Sinema voted for a bill that would make improvements to certain defense and security assistance provisions, authorize the appropriation of funds to Israel, and reauthorize the United States-Jordan Defense Cooperation Act of 2015. On March 13, 2019, she voted to remove the United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.
On February 12, 2019, Sinema voted along with the whole Senate for the Natural Resources Management Act, which provides for the management of the natural resources of the United States. On March 26, along with two Democrats and an independent from Maine, she voted against the Green New Deal.
On February 14, 2019, Sinema voted to confirm William Barr as attorney general.
On March 14, 2019, Sinema voted against Trump's National Emergency declaration on border security.
On July 30, 2019, Sinema and Senator Bill Cassidy released a proposal under which new parents would be authorized to advance their child tax credit benefits in order to receive a $5,000 cash benefit upon either birth or adoption of a child. The parents' child tax credit would then be reduced by $500 for each year of the following decade.
On January 25, 2021, a spokesperson for Sinema told The Washington Post that she is "against eliminating the filibuster, and she is not open to changing her mind about eliminating the filibuster".
On February 4, 2021, Sinema voted against providing COVID-19 pandemic financial support to undocumented immigrants.