Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema last week announced that she has left the Democratic Party and has reregistered as an independent, shaking up Arizona politics two years before the next election cycle.
The move comes after Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., beat Republican challenger Herschel Walker to win reelection in a Georgia runoff race, expanding Democrats’ majority in the Senate to 51-49.
With Sinema’s departure, Democrats will technically only have 50 seats, but according to Sinema, her move will have little impact on Senate business.
“I don’t anticipate anything will change about the Senate structure,” she said. “I intend to show up for work, do the same work that I always do. I just intend to show up to work as an independent.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., downplayed any concerns about Sinema’s move disrupting the Democratic majority in the chamber. Schumer also agreed to allow Sinema to keep her committee assignments.
In a statement, Schumer said, “We will maintain our new majority on committees, exercise our subpoena power, and be able to clear nominees without discharge votes.”
Asked why she would make the switch, Sinema claims that her reasoning for leaving the Democratic Party is simple. In a video announcing her decision, Sinema said, “Registering as an independent and showing up to work with the title of independent is a reflection of who I’ve always been, and it’s a reflection of who Arizona is.”
Arizona’s business community reacted to the news by noting Sinema’s effectiveness as a senator.
“Sen. Sinema has been one of the most effective members of the U.S. Senate, helping to advance major legislation on issues like semiconductor manufacturing, economic competitiveness and, just this week, immigration, all incredibly important to Arizona,” Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry President and CEO Danny Seiden said in a statement. “She’s set partisan labels aside throughout her tenure to focus on what’s best for our state. That commitment to doing what’s best for Arizona won’t change, and we’re excited as ever to work with Sen. Sinema to advance good policies for Arizona job creators.”
The Arizona Farm Bureau also commended Sinema for her work.
“From working to secure billions in funding for western drought relief and water infrastructure or keeping bad tax policy from harming farm families, Sen. Sinema continues to prove her genuine desire to be an effective independent voice for Arizona,” the group said in a tweet.
In an era of deep division and little bipartisanship, Sinema has burnished her reputation for working closely with Republicans and Democrats. She has previously brokered deals between the parties on issues like infrastructure and gun safety.
Following her decision, Sinema received fierce backlash from the Arizona Democratic Party, which said in a statement that Sinema “answers to corporations and billionaires, not Arizonans.” The state party’s progressive Executive Board last January censured Sinema for her opposition to eliminating the Senate filibuster and has expressed displeasure with her throughout her tenure.
Should Sinema choose to seek reelection in 2024, she’ll bypass the Democratic primary and proceed directly to the November general election, forcing Arizona Democrats to decide whether to mount a campaign to defeat Sinema, a risky proposition where a three-way race between a Republican, a Democrat and Sinema could tilt the race to the GOP.
Unlike the state party apparatus, Sinema’s Democratic Senate colleagues held off criticizing her move, an acknowledgment of the tight margins and her effectiveness as a legislator.
Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, who is leaving his post as head of the Senate Democrats’ campaign committee, told The Washington Post, “Right now I am going to keep working with Senator Sinema,” and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., told Politico, “I think she’s a really good legislator.”
Sinema also received praise from Republicans. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who is also known for her bipartisanship, told the Post that she texted Sinema to say that she was “proud of her.” According to Collins, the switch reflects Sinema’s “philosophy.”