Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has left the Democratic Party and registered as an independent.
Sinema, in a Friday op-ed in the Arizona Republic, cited increasingly partisan interests and radicalization of both political parties as the reason for her departure.
“Americans are told that we have only two choices – Democrat or Republican – and that we must subscribe wholesale to policy views the parties hold, views that have been pulled further and further toward the extremes,” Sinema wrote in the op-ed.
“Most Arizonans believe this is a false choice, and when I ran for the U.S. House and the Senate, I promised Arizonans something different,” she continued. “I pledged to be independent and work with anyone to achieve lasting results. I committed I would not demonize people I disagreed with, engage in name-calling, or get distracted by political drama.”
Sinema went on to accuse mainstream political parties in the U.S. of worrying more about blocking each other out than the well-being of their constituents.
The senator has been the target of extensive intra-party mudslinging for not falling in line with the rest of her party on key issues — most notably, refusing to abolish the filibuster.
“When politicians are more focused on denying the opposition party a victory than they are on improving Americans’ lives, the people who lose are everyday Americans,” Sinema wrote in the op-ed.
She added, “That’s why I have joined the growing numbers of Arizonans who reject party politics by declaring my independence from the broken partisan system in Washington. I registered as an Arizona independent. ”
The true ramifications of Sinema’s departure are yet to be known — more consequential than senators’ party affiliation is their caucusing and legislative objectives.
In 2006, former Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., changed his affiliation from Democratic to “independent Democrat” – a distinction not formally recognized by the Senate. Lieberman did so after losing his primary but continued to caucus with the Democrats.
In 2001, late Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., dropped his GOP membership and became an independent when the Senate was split 50-50 and began to caucus with the Democrats, giving them the effective majority.
Sinema has not stated whether she will continue caucusing with the Democrats, but sources have told Fox News that she will maintain her committee assignments via the Democratic Party.
Many Democrats shrug off news of Sinema’s announcement
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called Sinema a “key partner” following her decision and said the White House has “every reason to expect that we will continue to work successfully with her.”
Sources familiar with the matter tell that Sinema gave the White House a heads up that she was leaving the Democratic Party. Schumer said in a statement he also was aware of Sinema’s bombshell announcement ahead of Friday morning.
“She asked me to keep her committee assignments and I agreed,” Schumer said. “Kyrsten is independent; that’s how she’s always been. I believe she’s a good and effective Senator and am looking forward to a productive session in the new Democratic majority Senate.”
Schumer also outlined how he did not expect Sinema’s decision to impact Democrats’ plans for next year, saying in his statement, “We will maintain our new majority on committees, exercise our subpoena power, and be able to clear nominees without discharge votes.”
The Biden White House is offering a muted reaction Friday morning and insisting that they expect to continue having a productive working relationship with the senator.
One White House official tells that the move “doesn’t change much” other than Sinema’s own reelection calculations.
“We’ve worked with her effectively on a lot of major legislation from CHIPS to the bipartisan infrastructure law,” the official said. The White House, for now, has “every reason to expect that will continue,” they added.
Sinema has long been the source of a complex convergence of possibility, frustration and confusion inside the White House.
“Rubik’s cube, I guess?” was how one former senior White House official described the Arizona senator who has played a central role in President Joe Biden’s largest legislative wins and also some of his biggest agenda disappointments.
There was no major push to get Sinema to change her mind, a White House official said, noting that it wouldn’t have made a difference.
“Nothing about the last two years indicates a major effort would’ve made helped – the exact opposite actually,” a White House official said.
The most urgent near-term effort was to quietly find out what it meant for their newly expanded Senate majority, officials said.
While there were still clear details to figure out about process, “I think people exhaled when we had a better understanding of what she meant,” one source familiar with the discussion said.
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota told that “Senator Sinema has always had an independent streak,” adding that “I don’t believe this is going to shake things up quite like everyone thinks.”
She added, “Senator Sinema has been an independent in all intents and purposes.”
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