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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is urging his fellow Republicans to buck up Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — a Democrat, sources familiar with the conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: Republicans view Sinema and her moderate Democratic colleague Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia as their last line of defense against sweeping progressive laws — ranging from a $3.5 trillion social welfare bill to potentially irreversible structural changes like eliminating the filibuster and adding new states to the union.

Between the lines: Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) published an uncommon opinion piece Wednesday on the NBC News website thanking and crediting Sinema.

  • He praised the bipartisan infrastructure deal and said she'd taken more political risk than anyone, given that many progressives are now campaigning against her because she's working with Republicans.
  • "It's rare to have an elected official from one party publicly praising another from the opposite party," Tillis wrote, "but I'm doing just that because it's so essential for the future of our nation that Sinema holds fast in keeping the filibuster intact."
  • "The importance of her effort," he added, "has been made clear as the Senate has worked to pass bipartisan infrastructure legislation rather than pushing through every liberal dream item."

Daniel Keylin, a senior adviser to Tillis, told Axios that McConnell's private encouragement had no bearing on the senator's decision to write his piece.

  • "It was Senator Tillis' idea and had been in the works for many weeks," Keylin said. "It was motivated by her good-faith leadership of the infrastructure negotiations and other bipartisan working groups they are in."

The big picture: McConnell is urging support for Sinema in private conversations, telling those with relationships with her that now is the time to speak up on her behalf.

  • He's also used his own media appearances during the past month to send public signals to his colleagues.
  • During a June 23 appearance on Fox News Radio's Guy Benson Show, the minority leader said he admired Sinema and Manchin for their "courage in defending the Senate as an institution."
  • And on Wednesday, McConnell told Fox Business host Larry Kudlow that Sinema was "very courageous" for saying she can't support a Democratic reconciliation package costing $3.5 trillion.

What they're saying: A spokesperson for McConnell declined comment.

Go deeper

Build Back Biden

Photo: Roberto Schmidt

When it looked like she might be some 20 votes shy Friday afternoon, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters she had a "Speaker's secret whip count."

The big picture: "I don't tell anything that people tell me — not even you, my dear, good friends," she said. "But I have a pretty good feeling." Bluffing or not, seven suspenseful hours later — at 11:26 p.m. — Pelosi delivered a historic victory for President Biden, just as his agenda looked like it might vaporize.

Updated 10 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a potentially historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Swastikas found outside Union Station in D.C.

People walk through Union Station on Jan. 16 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Drawings of swastikas appeared etched around the entrance to Union Station in Washington, D.C., on Friday morning.

Driving the news: "An investigation is underway with Amtrak Police and the Metropolitan Police Department after swastikas were reported on the exterior of Washington Union Station on Friday," Amtrak spokesperson Kimberly Woods said in a statement to Axios.