Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm Melissa Harris-Perry and it's politics day on The Takeaway, y'all.
Joe Biden: It was the question baffling the nation's capital last week.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Negotiations around President Biden's social infrastructure and environmental package have dominated DC this week. On Thursday, ahead of his trip to Europe, Biden announced the framework for the package, which now comes in with a top line of about 1.75 trillion, so what's in and what's out? Well, here's how the President put it.
Joe Biden: No one got everything they wanted, including me, but that's what compromise is, that's consensus, and that's what I ran on.
Melissa Harris-Perry: The new proposal does not include a federal paid family and medical leave program or efforts to lower prescription drug pricing. Also, it does not include free community college for all and while it expands Medicare coverage to include hearing care, it does not include vision or dental services. What makes this arduous process of legislative wrangling so unusual is that it's not a matter of partisan gridlock?
Democrats are negotiating with themselves and the ones holding the most sway are the center-right holdouts in the party and yes, you've heard their names before. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Now, this has frustrated many of the Democratic colleagues, some of whom have publicly questioned the senator's motives for months. Here's representative Katie Porter at the end of September on MSNBC.
Katie Porter: Until Senator Sinema and Senator Manchin are able to come up with what they want to do for their constituents, to do for the American people, until Senator Sinema stops being cute, and starts doing her job and leaving for the people of Arizona, we're simply not going to be able to move the President's agenda forward.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Representative Ilhan Omar on Democracy Now just last week.
Ilhan Omar: All Democrats are essentially on board except for these two who are essentially doing the bidding of Big Pharma, Big Oil, and Wall Street.
Melissa Harris-Perry: And Representative Pramila Jayapal, Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus on MSNBC on Wednesday.
Pramila Jayapal: There are also programs that are going off the table and yet, we have two senators, one who can say, "I don't want paid leave," a guy who can say I don't want paid leave, another who can say I don't want to roll back to Trump tax cuts.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Senator Manchin's motivations, well, they seem to be clear, look, he represents West Virginia, a state where Donald Trump won by 39 percentage points in 2020 and it's also a state dominated by the coal industry.
Sinema, on the other hand, is a first-term Democratic senator from Arizona and President Biden carried her state. Sinema is known for rarely holding town halls with constituents or taking questions from the press. She started her political career as a progressive Democrat in the Arizona House of Representatives but now is seen as one of the more conservative Democrats in the US Senate. During her brief time in office, she's gained a reputation for being particularly inscrutable.
?Speaker: It was the question baffling the nation's capital last week. What does Kiersten Sinema want?
Melissa Harris-Perry: Last week, five members of Senator Sinema's Veterans Advisory Council publicly stepped down, calling her one of the principal obstacles to progress. We're joined now by one of those former members, Sylvia González Andersh, an Air Force veteran. Welcome to The Takeaway, Sylvia.
Sylvia González Andersh: Hello, and thank you very much for having me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Absolutely. Let's just start by understanding the work of the Veterans Advisory Council. What kinds of things did you do, and why did you want to join in the first place?
Sylvia Gonzalez Andersh: Well, I wanted to join because I wanted to be a voice for women's veteran's issues and represent the concerns that we had?
Melissa Harris-Perry: Just to help us to understand, so is this like you all are meeting regularly with her staff, are you meeting with the senator. I know not everyone understands all the ins and outs of how a senator gains information?
Sylvia Gonzalez Andersh: Well, it's a voluntary Council, but you do have to apply and be accepted to her Council. We were supposed to be having regular meetings, but the pandemic did upset that a bit and we had changed to Zoom. We tell her what we feel about what's going on in the veteran community. We talk about veterans legislation and what she's doing in those regards.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Got it. Now before the decision to step down, I'm wondering if you had ever felt a sense of frustration in this work that you were doing?
Sylvia Gonzalez Andersh: Well, veterans are citizens like everyone else and so our issues really overlap the general population as well. Veterans are a very diverse organization of all different people and we really feel that since we have put forward put our lives on the line that we want to make sure that veterans have protections. The incidents now of all that voter suppression laws are really going to affect veterans, especially disabled veterans, veterans with PTSD, mail-in ballots. Those are essential, and also, PTSD veterans cannot stand in hotlines, outside around crowds without having some consequences so we're very concerned about that.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Oh, that's so helpful. I'm not sure that I've ever heard it framed in particularly that way. I think we hear frequently about how some of these voter issues impact some kinds of communities, but I'm not sure I've ever heard it particularly framed around concerns for veterans. Can you tell us what was your motivation for stepping down and given that it was a handful of you all, did you have a conversation about it first, or were these five individual decisions?
Sylvia Gonzalez Andersh: It was a collaboration between all of us. It was just a feeling of frustration that we had had, and then I reached out to some of the others, and they mirror the same concerns, so we really didn't know how we can reach her personally, as far as on the council, so we were just making a statement that we were very concerned about these issues and that she wasn't listening to her constituents.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Do you feel like stepping down, helped her to hear you? I'm wondering maybe what her response has been. I know you sent us a voicemail of the senator responding. It sounded like a very polite response. I'm just wondering how you heard that?
Sylvia Gonzalez Andersh: I heard it as a simple acknowledgment but not addressing any of our concerns.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Obviously, US senators have large staffs, and so when I hear you say that you were having trouble reaching her, even though you were a member of the Advisory Council, I'm wondering if that is part of how the senator's office is run, like, is it just multiple gatekeepers in order to have a conversation or express your views?
Sylvia Gonzalez Andersh: I really can't say exactly how it all works. We did have a liaison that was supposed to be our liaison, but it was usually a one-way conversation of her sending us information on what the Senator wanted us to do, whether it was to show up at an event or to just give some feedback on whatever small thing that she wanted to answer on.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You mentioned being asked to show up at events, certainly the Senator is known for rarely holding town halls. I think maybe, especially for a first term, senator typically lots of town halls with constituents are part of the profile for a first-term office holder. I wonder if you have a sense, again, being on the Advisory Council, and as you pointed out, being a constituent, being a veteran means being a member of the general public? Do you have a sense of either why that was, or maybe how other members of the community of Arizona feel about that lack of access?
Sylvia Gonzalez Andersh: Well, that was another frustrating thing, seeing all the videos of people trying to talk to her, and she's ignoring them and it was very sad to see that she did not acknowledge or recognize the actual constituents that she's representing.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Talk to me a bit about what you see as the most important issues facing the State of Arizona right now. Let's walk away from the reconciliation bill for just a moment and just really talk about if you and maybe some of the other members of this Advisory Council were able to make a top 10 list of these are the things that really matter to people living in Arizona, what might be on that list, and in what ways do you feel the senator either is or is not representing those interests?
Sylvia Gonzalez Andersh: Well the biggest thing is the voter suppression that is going on here in the state legislature that trying to do make all kinds of changes to the voting laws. Voter restriction and voter suppression are essentially a huge detriment to democratic process into the democratic representation of our citizens. You can't have a strong democracy without voting rights and without everybody having a vote that's recognized. Then the other thing is, there's lots of concerns about the prescription drug prices--
When she ran, she ran on negotiating those prices and bringing that down. We have citizens and veterans who to decide whether they're going to pay their rent or pay their prescriptions. It's heartbreaking and it's sad to think that we as her constituents cannot really reach her with the seriousness and gravity of these concerns.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Some people who are political observers whether it's members of the media or others who are watching everything happening with the reconciliation bill have said, I think, as I said in the intro that she feels inscrutable a bit that it's not completely clear given that Arizona was carried by president Biden. Given that she's a first term Senator what her motivations are in this broader reconciliation process.
I'm wondering again, if you have and these don't have to be understand expert insights, but just your feeling is this, do you think about lobbying? Do you think this is about seeking higher office at some point? Do you think that she feels that she's actively representing the interest of her constituents in some way that maybe we just don't quite understand from the outside?
Sylvia Gonzalez Andersh: I think that the word that you used and scrutable is an excellent example of how we all feel. We don't know what's going on. We have no idea what her priorities are. Observationally, we see her taking trips and big pharma donations and it is very concerning what we can see, doesn't seem to make a lot of sense and it doesn't go along with what we elected her to do it it's it's disconcerting. She isn't scrutable as far as that's concerned to me, we can only make our own personal assumptions and some of those would not be very complimentary.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Sylvia Gonzalez Andersh is a US Air Force veteran, and also a former member of Senator Kirsten Sinema's Veterans Advisory Council. Thank you for joining us and for giving us your perspective on all of this.
Sylvia Gonzalez Andersh: Thank you very much for having me. I really appreciate you bringing our voice to the forefront.
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