Sinema cites bill targeting leaders of failed banks after criticism of her Wall Street ties

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., shuttles between the chamber and the whip office as the Senate dashes to wrap up votes on amendments on the big debt ceiling and budget cuts package, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 1, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

PHOENIX – Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the Democratic defector turned independent who's been criticized as too closely aligned with Wall Street interests, took credit Thursday for helping broker legislation that would target executives of failed banks.

Sinema, who has not said whether she will seek a second-term in 2024, cited the bill approved this week by the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee as an example of the bipartisan dealmaking she says is often lacking from Congress.

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Her steadfast support for across-the-aisle negotiations fueled her divorce from the Democratic Party last year and is complicating her potential path toward reelection in one of the most closely watched Senate campaigns.

Sinema described her role to The Associated Press in facilitating a deal between the committee chairman, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and the top Republican, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.

“My job was helping them understand the differences between them and helping them find some of that common ground,” Sinema said.

Spokespeople for Brown and Scott said they worked with Sinema and other committee members to incorporate their ideas.

The measure responds to the collapse this year of Silicon Valley Bank, the second-largest bank failure in U.S. history, followed by the demise of Signature Bank and First Republic Bank.

The Senate bill would make it easier for regulators to claw back compensation from executives at failed banks. Sinema said she pushed to include a provision requiring the Federal Reserve to report on efforts to improve bank oversight.

After the Silicon Valley Bank collapse, Sinema took heat for supporting a 2018 bill that loosened requirements for “stress tests” of banks with $100 billion to $250 billion in assets, including Silicon Valley. The Fed blamed the collapse on poor management, watered-down regulations and lax oversight by its own staffers.

Sinema said her support for increasing regulators' power is not a response to pressure on her. Critics, she said, “don’t serve on the relevant committees, don’t understand the issues and aren’t involved in the day-to-day work of ensuring that we have a healthy and strong economic and financial system in our country.”

She said the Fed retained power to appropriately regulate banks even after the rollback and that the central bank had indications that Silicon Valley was in trouble but did not act with urgency.

“The mistake that they’ve made in the past is to operate at the speed of old business, not the speed of new business,” she said.

Sinema, who is known for minimizing her contacts with reporters, has stepped up her engagement with the media this year as she mulls her political future. She is raising money for a potential reelection campaign but has not announced whether she will run, saying she is focused on her job in Congress.

She would be in a challenging and unpredictable three-way race.

U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Marine veteran and Sinema critic, is the only major Democrat in the Senate race. Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb is the only major Republican candidate, though former television anchor Kari Lake is considering a run.

Arizona will play an important role in Democrats' quest to maintain their slim Senate majority, given that the overall electoral map favors Republicans in 2024.

Sinema has also been mentioned as a possible candidate for a bipartisan White House “unity ticket” being considered by No Labels, a group seeking ballot access in several states to run an alternative candidate “if the two parties select unreasonably divisive presidential nominees.”

Sinema on Thursday rejected the idea.

“I'm not running for president,” she said.

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