Sen. Kyrsten Sinema Quits Democrat Party in Senate Shakeup
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema Quits Democrat Party in Senate Shakeup

By Tom Ozimek

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema announced Friday that she has left the Democratic Party and has registered as an independent, saying she’s turning her back on the “broken partisan system in Washington” that prioritizes denying the opposition party a win rather than “delivering for all Americans.”

Sinema made the announcement in a Dec. 9 thread on Twitter and elaborated on her decision in a lengthy op-ed in the Arizona Republic.

“I have joined the growing numbers of Arizonans who reject party politics by declaring my independence from the broken partisan system in Washington and formally registering as an Arizona Independent,” Sinema stated in a post on Twitter.

The lawmaker blamed growing political partisanship for dividing American families.

“Everyday Americans are increasingly left behind by national parties’ rigid partisanship, which has hardened in recent years,” she wrote in the Arizona Republic.

“Pressures in both parties pull leaders to the edges, allowing the loudest, most extreme voices to determine their respective parties’ priorities and expecting the rest of us to fall in line,” she added.

The former Democrat suggested in an interview with Politico that, after registering as an independent, she would continue to vote in the same way she has for her first four years serving as a senator from Arizona.

“Nothing will change about my values or my behavior,” she told the outlet, adding that she won’t caucus with Republicans.

She added that she won’t attend weekly Democrat caucus meetings, though it’s unclear whether she’ll continue to caucus with them.

It is also unclear whether Sinema will maintain her committee assignments from the Democrats. Two other senators—Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine—are registered independents but caucus with Democrats.

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, then a Democrat and now an Independent, speaks at a hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington, on May 14, 2019. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

White House Hopes to ‘Continue to Work Successfully’ With Sinema

Sinema’s surprise announcement comes just days after the Democrats secured an absolute majority in the Senate following Raphael Warnock’s Georgia runoff win.

Warnock’s victory over Senate candidate Herschel Walker gave the Democrats a 51–49 margin in the upper chamber, which Sinema’s defection slims to 50–49–1.

That’s not enough for Democrats to lose control of the Senate, even if Sinema votes with Republicans for a 50–50 split, since Vice President Kamala Harris can cast a tie-breaking vote.

Asked about how her defection affects the distribution of votes, Sinema told Politico it’s not a question she’s “interested in,” preferring to focus instead on working across the aisle.

“I want people to see that it is possible to do good work with folks from all different political persuasions, and to do it without the pressures or the poles of a party structure,” she told the outlet.

The White House reacted to Sinema’s announcement by calling her a “key partner” in efforts to pass “historic legislation” under President Joe Biden’s watch while expressing hope she’d continue to work with the current administration.

“We understand that her decision to register as an independent in Arizona does not change the new Democratic majority control of the Senate, and we have every reason to expect that we will continue to work successfully with her,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

Sinema’s defection represents the first party switch in the Senate for over a decade. The last switch was when Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter left the Republican party and joined the Democrats in 2009.

‘Something Different’

With her new status as an independent, Sinema has cemented her role in the Senate as a maverick, alongside Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

Sinema and Manchin have kept Washington in suspense over the last two years as they have repeatedly withheld their needed votes for legislative initiatives spearheaded by President Joe Biden.

Both lawmakers have worked in a bipartisan way on high-profile bills that have since become law, including pushing for changes to Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act before the pair agreed to get on board with their votes.

In a statement announcing he had reached a deal with Senate Majority Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to vote in favor of the Inflation Reduction Act, Manchin said he had secured some concessions including ones that would reduce the bill’s impact on public debt.

“I have worked diligently to get input from all sides on the legislation my Democratic colleagues have proposed and listened to the views of my Republican friends to find a path forward that removes inflationary policies so that Congress can respond to Americans’ suffering from high prices,” Manchin said in a statement in July that indicated his willingness to work across the aisle.

Sinema, who also held out on the deal, said in August that she had agreed to move ahead with the bill after securing a concession to remove the carried interest tax provision and include protections for advanced manufacturing.

“Following this effort, I look forward to working with [Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)] to enact carried interest tax reforms, protecting investments in America’s economy and encouraging continued growth while closing the most egregious loopholes that some abuse to avoid paying taxes,” Sinema said in a statement at the time.

Asked whether she’s thinking about a second term in the upper chamber, Sinema told Politico that it’s not something she’s considering at the moment.

“I’m keeping my eye focused on what I’m doing right now,” she told the outlet while dismissing suggestions she might be considering a run for the White House.

“I am not running for president,” she insisted.

In her op-ed in the Arizona Republic, Sinema said she’s offering Arizonians “something different” with her decision to leave the Democrat party.

“Some partisans believe they own this Senate seat. They don’t.  This Senate seat doesn’t belong to Democratic or Republican bosses in Washington,” she wrote.

“It belongs to Arizona, which is far too special a place to be defined by extreme partisans and ideologues.”

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