Kyrsten Sinema's Team Suggests Criticism of Her Thumbs-Down 'No' Vote Is Sexist

A spokesperson for Senator Kyrsten Sinema has suggested that the lawmaker's gender was why she had been criticized for the thumbs-down gesture she used when rejecting her party's provision to raise the minimum wage.

The Arizona senator raised eyebrows and sparked comment on social media for the manner in which she voted with Republicans and seven of her fellow Democrats in voting against an amendment to the American Rescue Plan that would have raised the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

"Did Sinema really have vote against a $15 minimum wage for 24 million people like this?" tweeted Sawyer Hackett, an advisor to former housing secretary Julian Castro,

Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat who has lobbied hard for the wage increase, tweeted: "No one should ever be this happy to vote against uplifting people out of poverty."

Sari Beth Rosenberg shared a clip of Sinema making the gesture with the message: "Show me you don't care about Americans without saying you don't care about Americans."

Sen. Krysten Sinema
Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives on February 04, 2020 in Washington, DC. She has been criticized for her thumbs-down gesture in rejecting a minimum wage provision. Mario Tama/Getty Images

When asked for comment about the gesture, Sinema's spokesperson Hannay Hurley said, according to the Huffington Post: "Commentary about a female senator's body language, clothing, or physical demeanor does not belong in a serious media outlet."

However, this spurred more criticism on social media, including by Mona Eltahawy, who writes the Feminist Giant newsletter. "Sinema's office responded to a question about the (thumbs down) gesture by making the absurd claim that the inquiry is sexist," she said.

"Feminism is not: supporting a woman simply because she is a woman," she wrote to her 361,000 followers, adding, "sexism is not: any criticism of a woman."

Newsweek has contacted Sinema's office for comment.

Did Sinema really have vote against a $15 minimum wage for 24 million people like this? pic.twitter.com/Jv0UXLKLHI

— Sawyer Hackett (@SawyerHackett) March 5, 2021

Hand signals are a common way for senators to vote, especially as lawmakers are often in masks because of the COVID pandemic. Sen. Mark Kelly, Arizona's other Democratic senator, gave the thumbs up when he backed the amendment.

However, given the gravity of the provision which her party says is crucial to lifting millions of Americans out of poverty, many interpreted it as overly flippant.

It was also compared with a similar gesture made by the late Arizona senator, John McCain, who gave the thumbs-down in 2017 to a GOP move to overturn the Affordable Care Act, considered to be a rebuke to former President Donald Trump.

pic.twitter.com/a2VkwKcY8r

— Kyrsten Sinema (@SenatorSinema) March 5, 2021

After Sinema registered the vote, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) reshared a tweet she wrote in 2014 when as a congresswoman, she actually urged a rise to the minimum wage. "A full-time minimum-wage earner makes less than $16k a year. This one's a no-brainer. Tell Congress to #RaiseTheWage!" Sinema wrote at the time.

Over 800,000 people in the Grand Canyon State are estimated to be affected by the minimum wage increase, where currently the rate is $12.15 an hour. This is nearly $5 more than the federal minimum wage, which has been $7.25 since 2009.

The amendment to include raising the federal wage rate had been pushed by Senator Bernie Sanders but was considered to be a long shot, after the Senate parliamentarian ruled it could not be included as part of budget reconciliation that would require only a simple Senate majority.

Sinema explained her vote Friday in a statement in which she said that the minimum wage hike should be separate from the COVID-19 relief bill.

"No person who works full time should live in poverty," Sinema said, "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."

The graphic below provided by Statista shows the minimum wage rates across the U.S.

U.S. minimum wage at state level
Statista