Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema is changing her party affiliation to independent, delivering a jolt to Democrats’ narrow majority and Washington along with it. In a 45-minute interview, the first-term senator said that she will not caucus with Republicans and suggested that she intends to vote the same way she has for four years in the Senate. “Nothing will change about my values or my behavior,” Senator Sinema said. Provided that Sinema sticks to that vow, Democrats will still have a workable Senate majority in the next Congress, though it will not exactly be the neat and tidy 51 seats they assumed. The Democrats expected to also have the votes to control Senate committees. And Sinema’s move means that Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), a pivotal swing vote in the 50-50 chamber the past two years, will hold onto some but not all of his outsized influence in the Democratic caucus.
Senator Krysten Sinema would not address whether she will run for reelection in 2024, and informed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of her decision. “I don’t anticipate that anything will change about the Senate structure,” Sinema said, adding that some of the exact mechanics of how her switch affects the chamber is “a question for Chuck Schumer … I intend to show up to work, do the same work that I always do. I just intend to show up to work as an independent.” She said her closely held decision to leave the Democratic Party reflects that she’s “never really fit into a box of any political party,” a description she said also applies to her fiercely independent state and millions of unaffiliated voters across the country.
Senator Krysten Sinema has a well-established iconoclastic reputation. She competes in Ironman triathlons, moonlighted at a Napa Valley winery and often hangs out on the Republican side of the aisle during floor votes. The 46-year-old said her party switch is a logical next step in a political career built on working almost as closely with Republicans as she does with Democrats. That approach helped her play a pivotal role in bipartisan deals on infrastructure, gun safety and same-sex marriage during the current 50-50 Senate. It’s also infuriated some Democrats, particularly her resistance to higher tax rates and attempts to weaken the filibuster. Her move will buck up her Republican allies and is certain to embolden her Democratic critics, at home and on the Hill. Sinema said that “criticism from outside entities doesn’t really matter to me” and she’ll go for a “hard run” after her announcement becomes public, “because that’s mostly what I do Friday mornings.”
Even before her party switch, Senator Krysten Sinema faced rumblings of a primary challenge in 2024 from Congressman Ruben Galleg. Becoming an independent will avoid a head-to-head primary against Gallego or another progressive, should she seek reelection. A theoretical general-election campaign could be chaotic if both Democrats and Republicans field candidates against her. Senator Sinema asserted she has a different goal in mind: fully separating herself from a party that has never never really been a fit, despite the Democratic Party’s support in her hard-fought 2018 race. Sinema wouldn’t entertain discussions of pursuing a second Senate term: “It’s fair to say that I’m not talking about it right now.” “I keep my eye focused on what I’m doing right now. And registering as an independent is what I believe is right for my state. It’s right for me. I think it’s right for the country,” she said, adding that “politics and elections will come later.”
It has been a decade since the last Senate party switch, when former Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter left the Republicans to become a Democrat, and even longer since former Senator Joe Lieberman switched from Democrat to independent. Senator Krysten Sinema said she is not directly lobbying anyone to join her in leaving either the Democratic Caucus or Republican Conference, saying that she’d like the Senate to foster “an environment where people feel comfortable and confident saying and doing what they believe.” What that means practically is continuing to work among the Senate’s loose group of bipartisan dealmakers, some of whom are retiring this year. She has already connected with Senator-elect Katie Britt (R-AL) about working together. She insisted that she will not deviate from her past approach to confirming Democratic presidential appointees, whom she scrutinizes but generally supports, and said she expects to keep her committee assignments through the Democrats (she currently holds two subcommittee chairmanships). Nor, she said, will anything change about her ideology, which is more socially liberal than most Republicans on matters like abortion and more fiscally conservative than most Democrats.
Senator Kryten Sinema voted to convict former President Donald Trump in two impeachment trials, opposed Trump-backed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett and supported Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, tapped by President Joe Biden. She also supported two Democratic party-line bills this Congress, one on coronavirus aid and the other devoted to climate, prescription drugs and taxes. She said she maintains good relationships with Biden and the Senate majority leader as well as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who invited her to give a closely watched speech on bipartisanship in his home state several months ago.