Newsman: Kyrsten Sinema publicly declared that she’d switch her party to Independent. On Friday, she officially ditched the Democratic Party and announced she has registered as an independent. On Friday, she joined the ranks of independent Sens. Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucus with Democrats.
Sinema’s decision leaving the party changes the equation again. This week’s runoff victory of Raphael Warnock in Georgia gave Democrats a 51-49 advantage over Republicans. But her departure puts Democrats back at 50, which means Vice President Kamala Harris once again becomes the tie-breaker.
The White House offered support to Sinema in a statement Friday and said the working relationship wouldn’t change, but it punctuated a week of ups and downs for Biden, who had a crystal clear majority Tuesday and a murky one by the end of the week.
“We understand that (Sinema’s) decision to register as an independent in Arizona does not change the new Democratic majority control of the Senate, and we have every reason to expect that we will continue to work successfully with her,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, describing Sinema as a “key partner” on some of Biden’s biggest wins, such as the Inflation Reduction Act and the Respect for Marriage Act.
“Becoming an independent won’t change my work in the Senate,” she wrote in the Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY network.
“Everyday Americans are increasingly left behind by the national parties’ rigid partisanship, which has hardened in recent years,’’ she wrote in an exclusive column for The Arizona Republic.
“Pressures in both parties pull leaders to the edges – allowing the loudest, most extreme voices to determine their respective parties’ priorities, and expecting the rest of us to fall in line,” she wrote.
“I committed I would not demonize people I disagreed with, engage in name-calling, or get distracted by political drama,” she wrote.
Sinema told The Arizona Republic that she plans to caucus with Democrats for committee seat purposelike Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Either way, nothing changes when it comes to passing legislation because of the 60-vote threshold.
Arizonans “are eager for leaders who focus on commonsense solutions rather than party doctrine,” she said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer put a positive spin on Sinema’s decision. He declared he is “looking forward to a productive session in the new Democratic majority Senate. We will maintain our new majority on committees, exercise our subpoena power, and be able to clear nominees without discharge votes.”
Despite the defection from the party, it seems Democrats will still get something very close to the functional 51-seat majority they assumed they’d won — with perhaps a small asterisk. According to congressional sources familiar with the matter, Kyrsten Sinema and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer agreed this week that the Arizona independent would keep her committee assignments, a notable pact that essentially guarantees that Democrats will have majorities on committees. When all is said and done, it’s likely that Democrats will enjoy one-seat edges on all committee panels, sources said.
In an interview this week, Sinema herself was cagey about how her party switch will affect the daily workings of the Senate. But by Friday afternoon Democrats were feeling OK about the situation, even if Sinema won’t be formally caucusing with them. The 50-50 days are soon going to be behind them.
The Arizona senator’s decision to go independent will reverberate in Arizona and national political circles for months to come as Sinema’s potential reelection approaches. If Sinema runs for reelection, Schumer will have to decide whether to use Senate Democrats’ campaign arm to assist her in a bid for a second term or remain neutral. Or perhaps the party will decide to support a Democratic nominee as she runs as an independent. Sinema skipped the party’s leadership elections on Thursday.