Kyrsten Sinema is a morning person.
That’s often hard when the House has late votes, like it did before the August recess.
For several nights in a row during the last week of the July session, the chamber concluded legislative business after midnight — well after Sinema’s preferred 9:30 p.m. bedtime.
But Arizona’s 9th District congresswoman was up early the last day of session, sitting in the lobby of Biker Barre — a boutique spin studio on Capitol Hill — well before any of her students arrived for her 7 a.m. class.
Sinema, who turned 40 that week, is a spin enthusiast. She’s been teaching classes as fundraisers for a while now. Eventually, her House colleagues caught on to the cycling craze, and they wanted in.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was particularly interested.
“OK, do you want to come to my $1,000 fundraiser?” Sinema, a moderate Democrat, joked to the no. 2 House Republican. He did not.
So Sinema took her classes to the House gym, where she now teaches at 6:30 a.m. every Wednesday Congress is in session.
Her regulars include Republicans Tom Graves of Georgia, Carlos Curbelo of Florida, John Katko of New York, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, and Indiana's Todd Young, along with Democrats Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut and Mike Thompson of California — “a really good cycler,” Sinema says.
Sinema texts her group the day before to make sure they’re ready to go. There are only eight bikes in the member’s gym, which is strictly members only and off limits to the prying eyes of reporters. It’s the same gym where Speaker Paul D. Ryan teaches his P90X workout, and Oklahoma's Markwayne Mullin leads members in "the Markwayne Mullin."
Teaching to the public at Biker Barre is something new that Sinema does for fun. Her first class was poorly timed for the morning after the Democrats’ all-night sit-in on the House floor in late June. Attendance was light, but Sinema still made it.
Her second class was nearly full.
“I’m a teacher. This is what I do,” Sinema joked to the class of mostly women. “Just kidding. I serve in Congress.”
There was faint laughter.
Not a lot of cyclists came up to Sinema before or after the class except for the one new spinner in the room — a young man who asked for a selfie with the congresswoman after his maiden ride.
Spinning with Sinema isn’t for the out-of-shape. She’s a straight-talking triathlete , and on this day before recess, she made her students — who pay $23 for a single class — feel the lactic acid in their legs.
“We’re going to ride hard because I’m excited about going home,” Sinema told the class.
Not that she won’t be biking over break. She’s doing a spinning fundraiser at home in Phoenix, and she’s planning on cycling with Thompson in Napa Valley over recess.
As students settled onto their bikes, Sinema approached a young woman in the front row who had a Styrofoam cup on her bike stand. “You’re going to need more water than that,” the congresswoman told her.
In the pitch black room, no one can see each other, and even Sinema, who was illuminated by three fake candles, couldn’t see much without her glasses on. She removes her rectangular purple frames because they don’t fit with the headset microphone she wears to call out instructions.
Each song started easy, with Sinema telling her riders to begin with the resistance of a small to medium-sized hill. “That’s fine,” she said after the first repetition. “Turn it up.”
“Turn it up,” she said again after the second set. And again.
Before the first set of sprints, Sinema advised her cyclers to take a swig of water if they needed it. She didn’t.
Sinema approaches her morning exercise regime with the same drive you’d expect from someone who experienced homelessness as a child and went on to complete a master’s and law degree, as well as a P.h.D.
With Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York” blasting in the blackness, Sinema led the group in seated pedaling, popping up and down off the seat, with a mix of on-the-handlebars pushups in between.
Lights and glasses back on, Sinema saw her students out and made sure the room was set up for the next class.
What was next for her? A fundraiser, votes and a dentist appointment she was unsure she’d make, all before flying back to her district at 5 p.m.
With her backpack on and having switched her cycling shoes out for sneakers, Sinema took off — running — down 7th Street Southeast to shower and begin phase two of her day.