The Arizona senator made the announcement that she is leaving the Democratic party and registering as an Independent, but she has been coy about the implications for Democrats in the Senate both now and in 2024, should she seek reelection.
The potential effects of Kyrsten Sinema’s departure from the Democratic Party on the Senate majority are unclear, and it would seem that she wants it that way. Despite having sufficient time to outline her objectives, the Arizona senator has been characteristically reticent about how she’ll conduct herself over the next two years. a campaign-style video uploaded to social media on Friday, an opinion piece in the Arizona Republic, and interviews with Politico and CNN. She has said that she will vote the same way she has since Democrats nominated her for the Senate in 2018 and that she expects to keep her committee assignments, but she hasn’t said whether she’ll caucus with Democrats, like fellow independents Bernie Sanders and Angus King do, or fully sever ties with the party. She said, “I expect to show up to work, do the same work I always do,” to Burgess Everett of Politico. I simply aim to arrive at work and work independently.
Sinema smiled condescendingly when asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper if her decision would disturb the 51-49 power balance in the Senate, which was settled this week when incumbent Raphael Warnock defeated Herschel Walker. “That’s kind of a D.C. thing to worry about,” she said.
Sinema, who naturally works in Washington, D.C., made an announcement on Friday that was blatantly political despite her claims to be above it. In fact, if there is one thing that is crystal evident about her choice, it is that it is unaffected by the political gamesmanship that has over the past two years made her somewhat of an outcast in her party. Her move appears to be intended to fend off the primary challenge she was sure to face in 2024 as well as to weaken the recently enlarged Democratic majority that would have rendered her and fellow conservative Joe Manchin less influential.
In response to Sinema’s decision to leave the party, Democratic Representative Ruben Gallego, who is viewed as a potential Sinema primary rival, said in a statement on Friday: “Last month, the voters of Arizona made their voices heard loud and clear — they want leaders who put the people of Arizona first.” Sadly, Senator Sinema is once more prioritising her own interests over the needs of Arizonans.
If she were to run for another term in 2024, she would almost certainly face a difficult primary because she was unpopular in her state, particularly among the Democrats who elected her. Running as an independent, though, alters the equation: Should Democrats field a challenger in a three-way campaign against her, she may split the vote and open the door for a Republican to win the seat. As she has done with various aspects of Joe Biden’s plan since 2021, she may therefore keep the party hostage in 2024.
In the first two years of Biden’s presidency, Sinema and Manchin appeared to enjoy serving as the Democratic party’s gatekeepers. However, in the 50–50 Senate, their dedication to the filibuster and to bipartisanship has thwarted some party priorities and forced the administration to drastically scale back some of its goals. Since gaining office in January 2017, Democrats have nonetheless managed to fulfil an outstanding list of goals, which is a credit to the political savviness of Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi. But in order to accommodate the somewhat ambiguous requests of their two most conservative members, they had to water down their legislation. That may be especially true of Sinema, who frequently acted evasively in public when asked what she really wanted from some of the important laws she was opposing. Rep. Katie Porter expressed her annoyance at Sinema’s obstruction of the social spending proposal Democrats planned to achieve through reconciliation by saying, “I have no idea what she’s thinking.”
Democrats had believed that winning a clear majority in the midterm elections would have reduced the pair’s power. Sinema’s departure, though, might restore Manchin’s “outsized sway,” as Punchbowl News highlighted on Friday. This authority might not be very important in the near future because Manchin and Sinema and the Republican House will obstruct Senate Democrats more than they will. However, the action might harm Democrats in ways other than only restricting their ability to pass legislation: If Sinema decides not to join the Democratic caucus, the composition of the committee might change if there is a 50-49 Democratic majority, as Aaron Blake of the Washington Post points out. In the unlikely event that any unfavourable openings arise in the following two years, Senate control may also change.
The White House downplayed the decision, stating that the administration had “every reason to think that we will continue to work productively with her” in a statement by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. Even while it makes it more difficult for them to act on those complaints, the decision, which Sinema justified as a reaction to the two parties’ increasing extremism and “caving to the extremes,” undoubtedly highlighted the problems Democrats have had with her over the past two years.
Will her new position as an independent deter Democrats from mounting an election challenge or increase their likelihood? Gallego suggested a run, but it remains to be seen: Along with his message, he included a fundraiser link, promising to “back down from fighting for Arizonans.” In a statement criticising Sinema for having “fallen woefully short” of her duties to her constituents, the Arizona Democratic Party joined the attack. Chair Raquel Terán declared, “As a party, we embrace Independent voters and their opinions.” “Senator Sinema may have recently changed her registration to Independent, but she has demonstrated that she answers to corporations and billionaires rather than Arizonans. If Senator Sinema continues to ignore her constituents, her party affiliation is meaningless.