Senator Kyrsten Sinema jolted Democratic hopes of obtaining a clear majority in the next Congress when she announced on Friday that she has switched her party affiliation to independent.
“Like a lot of Arizonans, I have never fit perfectly in either national party,” she wrote in an op ed in the Arizona Republic. “Become an independent won’t change my work in the Senate; my service to Arizona remains the same.”
Sinema’s move comes days after Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) won reelection, giving Democrats a 51-49 majority. Sinema told Politico that she does not plan to caucus with Republicans, and she plans to retain committee assignments. Even without her vote, the Senate would be tied, leaving it to Vice President Kamala Harris to break it.
In an exclusive interview on Thursday in her Senate office, Sinema told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “I’ve never fit neatly into any party box. I’ve never really tried. I don’t want to. Removing myself from the partisan structure – not only is it true to who I am and how I operate, I also think it’ll provide a place of belonging for many folks across the state and the country, who also are tired of the partisanship.”
Sinema has not said whether she plans to seek reelection in 2024, and some Democrats have floated the idea of running a primary challenge. During the current Congress, with the Senate tied, she and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) have had extraordinary influence as the party leadership has tried to round up votes on key parts of President Joe Biden’s agenda. Sinema opposed key parts of a massive social and climate bill that passed the House and, when it was dramatically scaled back as the Inflation Reduction Act, insisted on key changes before throwing her support behind it.