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Kyrsten Sinema leaves the Democratic Party and registers as an independent



CNN

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema will leave the Democratic Party and register as an independent, she told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an exclusive television interview.

“I have registered as an Arizona independent. I know some people might be a little surprised by this, but I actually think it makes a lot of sense,” Sinema said in an interview Thursday with Tapper in her Senate office.

“I have never fit perfectly into any party box. I’ve never really tried. I don’t want to,” she added. “Removing me from the partisan structure is not only true to who I am and how I operate, I also believe it will provide a place of belonging for many people across the state and country who are also tired of partisanship. .”

Sinema’s departure from the Democratic Party is unlikely to change the balance of power in the next Senate. Democrats will have a narrow 51-49 majority that includes two independents who join them: Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine.

While Sanders and King formally met with Democrats, Sinema declined to explicitly say she would do the same. However, he noted that he expects to keep his committee appointments, a sign that he does not plan to change the composition of the Senate, since Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer controls the lists of Democrats in committees. .

“When I come to work every day, it will be the same,” Sinema said. “I’m still going to come to work and hopefully serve on the same committees I’ve been on and continue to work well with my colleagues in both political parties.”

But Sinema’s decision to become a political independent formalizes what has long been an independent streak for the Arizona senator, who began her political career as a member of the Green Party before being elected as a Democrat to the US House of Representatives. The US Senate in 2012 and the US Senate in 2018. Sinema prides herself on being a thorn in the side of Democratic leadership, and her new non-partisan affiliation will further free her to embrace upstream status in the Senate. — though it raises new questions about how she—and Senate Democrats—will approach her re-election in 2024 with liberals already considering a challenge.

Sinema wrote an Op-Ed in the Arizona Republic published Friday explaining her decision, noting that her approach in the Senate has “upset supporters of both parties.”

“When politicians focus more on denying the opposition party a victory than improving the lives of Americans, the people who lose are ordinary Americans,” Sinema wrote.

“That is why I have joined the growing number of Arizonans rejecting partisan politics by declaring my independence from the broken partisan system in Washington.”

Sinema is up for re-election in 2024 and liberals in Arizona are already potential challengers, including Arizona Rep. Rubén Gallego, who said earlier this year that some Democratic senators urged him to run against Sinema.

“Unfortunately, Senator Sinema is once again putting her own interests ahead of doing things for Arizonans,” Gallego said in a statement following Sinema’s announcement.

Sinema declined to answer questions about her re-election bid in the interview with Tapper, saying that’s simply not her focus right now.

He also dismissed the criticism he could face over the decision to leave the Democratic Party.

“I just don’t care about people who don’t like this approach,” Sinema said. “What worries me is continuing to do what is right for my state. And there are people who certainly don’t like my approach, we hear that a lot. But the proof is in the pudding.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called Sinema a “key partner” following her decision, saying the White House has “every reason to hope that we will continue to work successfully with her.”

Sources familiar with the matter told CNN that Sinema advised the White House that she was leaving the Democratic Party. Schumer said in a statement that he, too, was aware of Sinema’s bombshell announcement before Friday morning.

“He asked me to keep his committee assignments and I agreed,” Schumer said. “Kyrsten is independent; that’s how she’s always been. I think she is a good and effective senator and I look forward to a productive session in the new Democratic-majority Senate.”

Schumer also described how he did not expect Sinema’s decision to affect Democrats’ plans for next year, saying in his statement: “We will maintain our new majority in committees, exercise our subpoena power, and be able to clear nominees without unloading the votes”.

Biden’s White House is offering a muted reaction Friday morning and insisting that they look forward to continuing a productive working relationship with the senator.

A White House official tells CNN the measure “doesn’t change much” other than Sinema’s own re-election calculations.

“We have worked with her effectively on many important pieces of legislation, from CHIPS to the bipartisan infrastructure bill,” the official said. The White House, for now, has “every reason to expect that to continue,” they added.

Sinema has long been the source of a complex convergence of possibilities, frustrations, and confusion within the White House.

“Rubik’s cube, I guess?” This is how a former senior White House official described the Arizona senator who has played a central role in President Joe Biden’s biggest legislative victories and also in some of his biggest disappointments on the agenda.

There wasn’t much of a push for Sinema to change her mind, a White House official said, noting that it wouldn’t have made a difference.

“Nothing in the last two years indicates that a major effort would have helped, in fact the exact opposite,” said a White House official.

The most urgent near-term effort was to quietly figure out what it meant for his newly expanded Senate majority, officials said.

While there were still clear details to discover about the process, “I think people exhaled when we got a better understanding of what she meant,” said a source familiar with the discussion.

Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota told “CNN This Morning” that “Sen. Sinema has always had an independent streak,” adding that “I don’t think this is going to change things the way everyone thinks.”

He added: “Senator Sinema has been independent in all intents and purposes.”

Sinema and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin have angered liberals at various times over the past two years, getting in the way of Biden’s agenda at a time when Democrats controlled the House, Senate and Senate. White House.

Sinema and Manchin used their influence in the current 50-50 Senate, where any Democrat could derail a bill, to influence a host of legislation, most notably the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better bill that Biden proposed last year. past. Sinema’s objections to raising the corporate tax rate during the initial round of negotiations on the legislation last year particularly irritated the Liberals.

While Sinema was stunned by Manchin’s surprise deal with Schumer in July on major health care and energy legislation, she ultimately endorsed the smaller spending package Biden signed into law before the election.

Both Manchin and Sinema also opposed changes to the Senate filibuster rules despite pressure from their Senate colleagues and from Biden to change them. After voting against the filibuster changes in January, the executive board of the Arizona Democratic Party censured Sinema.

Sinema has been in the midst of several major bipartisan bills that have passed since Biden took office. She pointed to that record as evidence that her approach has been effective.

“I am honored to lead historic efforts, from infrastructure to gun violence prevention, protecting religious freedom and helping LGBT families feel safe, CHIP and the science bill to the work we’ve done on issues of veterans,” he said. she told CNN. “The list is really long. So I think the results speak for themselves. It’s okay if some people aren’t comfortable with that approach.”

Sinema’s announcement comes just days after Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock won reelection in Georgia, securing Democrats a 51st Senate seat that frees them from reliance on Vice President Kamala Harris’ runoff vote.

Sinema declined to answer questions about whether she would support Biden for president in 2024, also saying she is not thinking about whether a strong third party in the US should emerge.

This story has been updated with additional developments.