WASHINGTON–Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema threw some cold water on Senate Democrats’ celebration of a new 51-49 majority, leaving the party Friday and registering as an independent.
On one hand, it seems as though not much will change. She told Politico she will not caucus with Republicans and told CNN she will keep her committee assignments.
“Becoming an independent won’t change my work in the Senate,” she told in the Arizona Republic, part if the USA TODAY network.
Sinema would not say on CNN whether she would join the ranks of independent Sens. Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont who caucus with Democrats.
But in keeping her committee assignments, she indicated her party switch to independent won’t change the balance of power much – other than giving more political power to herself and swing Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
On the other hand, it shakes up Washington and weakens Senate Democrats’ newly acquired outright majority.
What Sinema’s decision means
Sinema acted independently as a Democrat, and her party switch makes formal what has been a feature of her time in the Senate since 2019.
For example, she has voted with Republicans on taxes and with Democrats on LGBTQ rights, gun control, infrastructure, Trump impeachments, efforts to mitigate COVID and inflation and more.
A day before announcing she had switched her party affiliation to independent, she cheered the passage of her bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act in the House and advancement to President Joe Biden’s desk.
“We’re one step closer to our bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act securing into law marriage and religious protections for all Americans,” she said in a statement Thursday. “I look forward to seeing it signed into law by the President to bring certainty and peace of mind to countless loving marriages.”
Her statement also noted how, in 2006 as a state representative, Sinema led the effort to defeat Proposition 107, which would have banned same-sex marriages in Arizona.
Sinema’s switch to independent comes decades after she started in politics with the Arizona Green Party and has voted as a progressive through much of her career.
The 2024 election question
Before switching her party affiliation to independent, she faced a potential primary challenge from Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat who told MSNBC last month that Sinema “did nothing” to help Democratic candidates in midterm elections.
Earlier in the cycle, he was fundraising off the possibility of running against her, according to the Arizona Republic.
Sinema’s critics called the Friday announcement a sign she will not seek re-election.
The “Primary Sinema” political action committee issued a scathing statement:
“Today, Kyrsten Sinema told us what we’ve already known for years: she’s not a Democrat, and she’s simply out for herself. For the last year, we’ve been laying the groundwork to defeat Kyrsten Sinema because Arizonans deserve a Senator who cares about them, and not special interests. In one way, Sinema just made our jobs easier by bowing out of a Democratic primary she knew she couldn’t win. Now, we’ll beat her in the general election with a real Democrat.”
Sinema has drawn ire from some Democrats during Biden’s term when her centrist positions have held up or blocked his agenda, including her unwillingness to end the filibuster.
She wouldn’t tell CNN or Politico whether she’s running for reelection.
What does it mean for Senate majority?
Sinema’s switch marks the first time a U.S. senator has switched parties since April 2009 when late Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania switched from Republican to Democrat, claiming the GOP had moved too far to the right. Specter lost in the 2010 Democratic primary.
The move comes days after an exuberant Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said his Democratic Party’s new 51-49 majority in the Senate would make it “a lot quicker, swifter and easier” to get things done in the upper chamber.
A confident Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said on CNN Friday morning it doesn’t take away the victory Democrats have in the Senate majority.
“She’s going to continue to work with us,” Klobuchar said. “I don’t think it’s going to greatly change the way the Senate is working right now.”
Candy Woodall is a Congress reporter for USA TODAY. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.