Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona, speaks during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee confirmation hearing for Shalanda Young, director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) nominee for U.S. President Joe Biden, in Washington, D.C., U.S., February 1, 2022.
Al Drago | Reuters
Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema announced her decision on Friday to leave the Democrats and register as an independent, but many members of Congress have said the switch likely won’t impact the Democrats’ narrow control of the U.S. Senate.
The Democrats secured a 51-49 majority in the midterm elections, and Sen. Raphael Warnock’s reelection win Tuesday in Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoff boosted the party’s hopes that Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., will have less control over crucial bills. The pair have been wild cards for Democrats since the party gained narrow control of the Senate from Republicans in 2020.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, said Sunday that he believes Sinema is a “corporate Democrat” who has “sabotaged enormously important legislation,” and he suspects her decision to switch parties has to do with her personal political ambitions.
“I think it really has to do with her political aspirations for the future in Arizona, but for us, I think nothing much has changed in terms of the functioning of the U.S. Senate,” Sanders told CNN’s “State of the Union” in an interview Sunday.
In a tweet Friday, Sinema said her decision to switch parties was a “natural extension” of her service. The 46-year-old is the first openly bisexual senator, and she started her career as a Green Party activist focusing on LGBTQ rights. She switched to the Democratic Party in 2004 and was elected to the U.S. House in 2012.
“I know this is really hard for lots of folks, especially in D.C., but what’s important to me is to not be tethered by the partisanship that dominates politics today,” she told CNN’s Jake Tapper Thursday.
Montana Sen. Jon Tester said Sunday that he was surprised Sinema made the change, but that it won’t functionally change anything in the Senate.
“I think whether she’s a Democrat or a Republican, that really doesn’t matter,” the Democrat told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The label doesn’t matter.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. was informed of Sinema’s plans to become independent on Thursday, and in a statement Friday, he said Sinema asked to keep her committee assignments. By keeping her assignments, Sinema signaled she intends to continue to caucus with Democrats as an independent.
Sinema’s decision to switch parties would prevent her from having to face a primary from the left, but she has not said whether she will seek a second term in the U.S. Senate.