Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema is leaving the Democratic Party and registering as a political independent, she told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an exclusive TV interview.
“I registered as an Arizona independent. I know some people might be a little surprised by this, but actually I think it makes a lot of sense,” Sinema said in an interview with Tapper in her Senate office Thursday.
“I have never fit neatly into a party box. I’ve never really tried. I don’t want to,” she added. “Removing myself from the partisan structure – not only is it true to who I am and how I work, I think it will provide a place of belonging for many people in the state and country, who are also tired of partisanship. ”
Sinema’s exit from the Democratic Party is unlikely to change the balance of power in the next Senate. The Democrats will have a narrow 51 to 49 majority, including two independents conferring with them: Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine.
While Sanders and King are in formal talks with Democrats, Sinema declined to explicitly say she would do the same. She noted, however, that she expects to keep her committee assignments — a signal that she has no intention of rocking the Senate’s makeup, as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer controls committee rosters for Democrats.
“If I come to work every day, it will be the same,” said Sinema. “I’m still going to come to work and hopefully serve on the same committees I’ve served on and continue to work well with my colleagues from both political parties.”
But Sinema’s decision to become politically independent makes official what was a long independent streak for the Arizona senator, who began her political career as a member of the Green Party before being elected a Democrat to the U.S. House in 2012 and the U.S. Senate in 2018. Sinema prides itself on being a thorn in the side of Democratic leaders, and her new nonpartisan affiliation will further free her to embrace a contrarian status in the Senate, though it raises new questions about how she — and Senate Democrats — will approach her reelection in 2024 with liberals already considering a challenge.
Sinema wrote an op-ed in the Arizona Republic released Friday explaining her decision, noting that her Senate approach has “upset partisans on both sides.”
“If politicians are more focused on denying the opposition party victory than improving the lives of Americans, the people who lose are ordinary Americans,” Sinema wrote.
“That’s why I’ve joined the growing number of Arizona residents who reject partisan politics in declaring my independence from Washington’s fractured partisan system.”
Sinema is up for reelection in 2024 and liberals in Arizona are already floating potential challengers, including Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego, who said earlier this year that some Democratic senators have urged him to act against Sinema.
Sinema declined to answer questions about her re-election bid in the interview with Tapper, saying that’s just not her focus right now.
She also brushed off any criticism she might receive for the decision to leave the Democratic Party.
“I’m just not worried about people who might not like this approach,” Sinema said. “What worries me is that I will continue to do what is right for my state. And there are people who certainly do not like my approach, we hear a lot about it. But the proof is in the pudding.”
Sinema and Democratic Senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, have infuriated liberals on several issues over the past two years and got in the way of President Joe Biden’s agenda at a time when Democrats have overrun the House, Senate, and White House. House checked.
Sinema and Manchin used their reign in the current 50-50 Senate — where any Democrat could derail a bill — to influence a host of pieces of legislation, most notably the massive $3.5 trillion Build Back Better bill that Biden proposed last year. Sinema’s objections to an increase in the corporate tax rate during the first round of negotiations on the legislation last year, in particular, went down the wrong way with liberals.
While Sinema was blindsided by the surprise deal Manchin made with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in July on key health care and energy legislation, she ultimately supported the smaller spending package Biden signed into law before the election.
Both Manchin and Sinema also opposed changes to the Senate filibuster rules, despite pressure from their Senate colleagues and Biden to change them. After a vote against filibuster amendments in January, the Arizona Democratic Party board of directors condemned Sinema.
Sinema is in the midst of several major bipartisan bills passed since Biden took office. She pointed to that record as proof that her approach has been effective.
“I’ve had the honor of leading historic efforts, from infrastructure to gun violence prevention, to protecting religious freedom and helping LGBT families feel safe, to the CHIPs and the science law to the work we have done on veteran issues,” she said. told CNN. “The list is really long. And so I think the results speak for themselves. It’s okay if some people aren’t comfortable with that approach.”
Sinema’s announcement comes just days after Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock won re-election in Georgia, helping Democrats secure a 51st Senate seat, freeing them from relying on Vice President Kamala Harris’ casting vote.
Sinema declined to comment on questions about whether she would support Biden for president in 2024, and she also said she is not considering whether a strong third party should emerge in the US.