December 9

By Kaia Hubbard

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona announced on Friday she is switching her party affiliation from Democrat to independent, in a shakeup following a resounding victory for Democrats in the midterm elections.

“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 an op-ed in the Arizona Republic. “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.”

Democrats will still control the upper chamber in the next Congress. But with the move, that control may be diluted, and put more power in the hands of moderate Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has had major sway in the Senate for the last two years.

Sinema told Politico that she doesn’t anticipate that “anything will change about the Senate structure.”

“I intend to show up to work, do the same work that I always do,” she said. “I just intend to show up to work as an independent.”

The move comes after Democrats secured a true majority in the Senate this week, as Sen. Raphael Warnock won reelection in Georgia’s runoff, giving Democrats their 51-49 majority. The White House said in a statement on Friday that Sinema’s decision “does not change the new Democratic majority control of the Senate,” noting that the president expects to continue to work successfully with her.

When asked whether her decision would upset the 51-49 majority on CNN, Sinema shrugged off the question, calling it a “D.C. thing to worry about.”

“What I’m really focused on is just making sure that I’m doing what I think comports with my values and the values of Arizonans,” Sinema said. “I’m not really spending much time worrying about what the mechanics look like for Washington, D.C.”

It remains unclear whether Sinema will continue to caucus with Democrats, like independents Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Angus King of Maine. But Sinema told Politico that she would not caucus with Republicans.

Sinema has billed herself as a dealmaker, pledging to “work with anyone” to “get stuff done.” That’s often looked like playing nice with Republicans and diverging with Democrats on some tax policy, while remaining aligned with the party on social issues.

In reality, Sinema has voted with President Joe Biden around 90% of the time. But her unusual politics and pushback against some legislation has alienated some Democrats, including in her home state of Arizona.

Accordingly, the move has spurred questions about Sinema’s political future, facing a likely Democratic reelection challenge in a state in 2024 where independents make up about a third of registered voters.

Sinema explained in the op-ed that “like a lot of Arizonans, I have never fit perfectly in either national party.”

“If anyone previously supported me because they believed, contrary to my promise, that I would be a blindly loyal vote for a partisan agenda – or for those who believe our state should be represented by partisans who push divisive, negative politics, regardless of the impact on our state – then there are sure to be others vying for your support,” She wrote. “I offer Arizonans something different.”