United States Senator Kyrsten Sinema has announced that she intends to leave the Democratic Party four years following her election to the office.
Sinema emphasized that she would serve as an independent member of Congress and would not be sitting with the Republicans. Democrats hold control of the upper chamber with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote. The lawmaker from Arizona said she decided to leave the Democrat party to fight what she says is a “broken partisan system.”
Registering as an independent and showing up to work with the title independent is a reflection of who I’ve always been, and it’s a reflection of who Arizona is,” said Sinema in a video posted to Twitter.
“We don’t line up to do what we’re told; we do what’s right for our state and our country,” Sinema wrote in a piece for the Arizona Republic newspaper. “Americans are increasingly left behind by national parties’ rigid partisanship” and said she hopes to “work proudly with senators in both parties.”
Sinema joins Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont — who have both chosen to sit with the Democratic party — as the chamber’s only three independent senators. The senator did not discuss whether she would seek re-election in 2024 and told Democrat Leader Chuck Schumer of her decision before the announcement. Media reports also said she informed the White House of her intention.
Decision expected to make little difference in Senate
The decision will make little difference to the Senate after Senator Rafael Warnock’s win in the Georgia run-off election in Georgia earlier in the week gave the party a 51-49 majority in the House.
“We understand that her decision to register as an independent in Arizona does not change the new Democratic majority control of the Senate,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, White House Press Secretary. “We have every reason to expect that we will continue to work successfully with her.”
In a statement, the White House described her as a “key partner” in several of President Joe Biden’s legislative successes. However, Sinema has been willing to vote against party lines on some issues, angering some local Arizona party officials. She was the final Democrat to hold out against the president’s $700 billion tax and climate bill in August.
She also refused to abandon the filibuster, a mechanism that serves as a rule requiring a 60% majority to pass specific legislation in the Senate, infuriating some of her colleagues.
In a statement, Democrat Senator Majority Leader Schumer said Sinema would be allowed to keep her Senate committee positions.
“Kyrsten is independent: that’s how she’s always been,” said Schumer, adding that he is looking forward to continuing to work with her.
Since she was first elected to the Senate in the 2018 election, Sinema has consistently moved to her own political beat, independent from the Democratic government. The immediate repercussions for the U.S. Senate are unknown. If Sinema works with Democrats, the power the Democrats gained with Warnock’s victory will remain. However, Republicans are expected to try to convince the senator to change her mind.
Concerning for Democrats is what will happen when Sinema’s term expires in 2024. Sinema appears to be still eyeing re-election. However, there will be a potential for a three-way general election race pitting her against Republican and Democrat candidates.