Kyrsten Sinema leaves the Democratic Party and registers as an independent



CNN

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is leaving the Democratic Party and registering as a political independent, she told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an exclusive television 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 a Thursday interview with Tapper in her Senate office.

“I have never fit neatly into any party box. I’ve never really tried. I don’t want that,” she added. “By removing myself from the partisan structure — not only is it true to who I am and how I operate, I think it will also provide a place of belonging for many people across the state and country who are also tired of the partisanship .”

Sinema’s move away from the Democratic Party is unlikely to change the balance of power in the next Senate. Democrats will have a narrow 51-49 majority that includes two independents who caucus with them: Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine.

While Sanders and King are formally meeting 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 does not plan to change the makeup of the Senate, since Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer controls committee lists for Democrats.

“When I come to work every day, it will be the same,” Sinema said. “I will still come to work and hopefully serve on the same committees I have been on and continue to work well with my colleagues in both political parties.”

But Sinema’s decision to become a political independent makes official what has been a long independent streak for the Arizona senator, who began her political career as a member of the Green Party before being elected as a Democrat to the US House in 2012 and US Senate in 2018 Sinema has prided herself on being a thorn in the side of Democratic leaders, and her new partisan affiliation will further free her to embrace an against-the-grain status in the Senate, though it raises new questions about how she — and Senate Democrats — will approach her re-election bid in 2024, with liberals already mulling a challenge.

Sinema wrote an op-ed in the Arizona Republic published Friday explaining her decision, noting that her approach in the Senate has “upset partisans in both parties.”

“When politicians are more focused on denying the opposition party a victory than they are on improving the lives of Americans, the people who lose are ordinary Americans,” Sinema wrote.

“That’s why I’ve joined the growing number of Arizonans rejecting partisan politics by declaring my independence from the broken partisan system in Washington.”

Sinema is up for re-election in 2024, and Arizona liberals are already floating potential challengers, including Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego, who said earlier this year that some Democratic senators have urged him to run against Sinema.

Sinema declined to answer questions about her re-election bid in the interview with Tapper, saying it’s simply not her focus right now.

She also brushed aside criticism she may face for the decision to leave the Democratic Party.

“I’m just not worried about people who might not like this approach,” Sinema said. “What I’m concerned about is continuing to do what’s right for my state. And there are people who certainly don’t like my approach, we hear a lot about that. But the proof is in the pudding.”

Sinema and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin have infuriated liberals at various points over the past two years, standing in the way of President Joe Biden’s agenda at a time when Democrats controlled the House, Senate and White House.

Sinema and Manchin used their influence in the current 50-50 Senate — where any single Democrat could derail a bill — to influence a wide range of legislation, most notably the massive $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act that Biden proposed last year . Sinema’s objections to raising the corporate tax rate during the initial round of negotiations on the legislation last year took a particular toll on Liberals.

While Sinema was blindsided by the surprise deal Manchin struck with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in July on major health 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 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 criticized Sinema.

Sinema has been at the center of several significant bipartisan bills passed since Biden took office. She pointed to this record as evidence that her approach has been effective.

“I’ve been honored to lead historic efforts, from infrastructure, to preventing gun violence, to protecting religious freedom and helping LGBT families feel safe, to the CHIPs and the science bill to the work we’ve done on veterans issues, ” she told CNN. “The list is really long. So I think the results speak for themselves. It’s OK if some people aren’t comfortable with that approach.”

Sinema’s announcement comes just days after Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock won re-election in Georgia, securing Democrats a 51st Senate seat that frees them from relying on Vice President Kamala Harris’ electoral vote.

Sinema declined to take questions about whether she would support Biden for president in 2024, and she also said she is not thinking about whether a strong third party should emerge in the United States.

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