Arizona Senator Sinema Leaves Democratic Party to Become Independent

From a Wall Street Journal story by Eliza Collins and Katy Stech Ferek headlined “Sen. Kyrsten Sinema Leaves Democratic Party to Become Independent”:

Centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona said she was leaving the Democratic Party and would register as an independent, a move that complicates Democrats’ narrow control of the chamber.

“I have joined the growing numbers of Arizonans who reject party politics by declaring my independence from the broken partisan system in Washington,” she wrote in an opinion article in the Arizona Republic. “I registered as an Arizona independent.”

The news sent a jolt through Washington just days after Democrats secured their 51st seat in the chamber by winning a special election in Georgia, and the move raised questions about how often she would vote with Democrats. Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine are both independents but caucus with Democrats.

Ms. Sinema didn’t say whether she would caucus with Democrats.

Hannah Hurley, a spokeswoman for Ms. Sinema, said the senator will maintain her committee assignments with Democrats and will continue to not attend Democratic lunches, where the party discusses its plans. She didn’t answer directly when asked whether Ms. Sinema could still be considered a member of the Democratic caucus.

Ms. Sinema informed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) of her decision on Thursday.

“I don’t think things will change in terms of how I operate or the work I do in the United States Senate,” she said in an interview with CNN. She said questions about whether the Democrats’ majority would remain at 51-49 or effectively become 50-49 was “kind of a D.C. thing to worry about.”

In the past two years, Democrats have managed to maneuver some major partisan measures through the evenly divided Senate, but passing legislation required all Democrats to agree if Republicans were united in opposition. That gave effective veto power to West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Ms. Sinema, who forced the party to make changes and cuts to its tax, healthcare and climate law.

In the next Congress starting in January, any individual Democratic senator had been expected to have less leverage over the agenda, thanks to the Georgia win, but Ms. Sinema’s move created new uncertainties for Democrats.

Ms. Sinema has regularly worked across the aisle, playing a central role in efforts to build bipartisan deals on infrastructure spending, gun-control legislation and shoring up same-sex marriage rights. While a reliable vote on President Biden’s judicial and executive-branch nominees and routine legislation, she has clashed with fellow Democrats on legislation and efforts to change Senate rules, regularly arguing that politics in Washington are too partisan.

Ms. Sinema and Mr. Manchin refused to support a push to get rid of the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster threshold for most legislation to pursue Democratic priorities, such as voting-access legislation, saying that it would undercut efforts by lawmakers to work across party lines. Her stances have angered Democratic activists and sometimes frustrated Democratic colleagues and officials. Ms. Sinema has voted with Mr. Biden 93% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight, a website focused on opinion-poll analysis.

Ms. Sinema is up for re-election in 2024 and had been likely to face at least one primary challenge. Rep. Ruben Gallego, who represents central Phoenix, has been open about potentially running against Ms. Sinema.

Arizona was once a solidly Republican state but it has become competitive in the years since Ms. Sinema was first elected in 2018. She was the first Democratic senator to represent the state in 30 years. In this year’s midterm elections, voters chose Democrats to lead the governor’s office, secretary of state and re-elected Sen. Mark Kelly, who is a Democrat. Before Ms. Sinema left the party, it was the first time since 1950 that a Democrat had been elected to represent all of those positions.

Arizona voters are split roughly into thirds, with Republicans the largest voting bloc, followed by independents and then Democrats. However, independents are the fastest-growing voting bloc in the state.

Voters in the state also have rewarded lawmakers who are willing to buck their party on certain issues. The late-Sen. John McCain, a Republican, represented Arizona for roughly four decades. Ms. Sinema has said Mr. McCain is her hero.

“We make decisions about what’s best for ourselves, our family and our community, and so we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about, ‘Is this a Republican idea? Or is this a Democratic idea? Is this liberal or is this conservative?’ That’s now how Arizonans think,” she said.

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