(Headline USA) Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona announced Friday that she has registered as an independent, but she does not plan to caucus with Republicans, ensuring Democrats will retain their narrow majority in the Senate for the time being.
In spite of having gained a seat from the supposed election of cognitively impaired Sen.-elect John Fetterman, D-Pa., Democrats and their left-leaning independents still fall short one vote to implement the controversial rules change.
With Manchin already facing a serious 2024 challenge in Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., there has been some speculation that Sen. Raphael Warnock’s victory in the Georgia runoff might spur him to switch parties and bring the Senate’s defacto majority back to a 50–50 split, although Manchin has given no indication that he intends to do so.
But Sinema’s symbolic move shows that his sole partner on the center–Left intends to fully leverage her importance as a tiebreaking vote despite the shifting dynamics of the chamber.
Sinema, who has modeled her political approach on the renegade style of the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and has frustrated Democratic colleagues at times with her overtures to Republicans and opposition to Democratic priorities, said she was “declaring my independence from the broken partisan system in Washington.”
The first-term senator came into office pledging “to be independent and work with anyone to achieve lasting results,” she wrote in an op-ed Friday for the Arizona Republic.
“I committed I would not demonize people I disagreed with, engage in name-calling, or get distracted by political drama,” she added. “I promised I would never bend to party pressure.”
She wrote that her approach is “rare in Washington and has upset partisans in both parties” but “has delivered lasting results for Arizona.”
Sinema also said that she has “never fit perfectly in either national party.”
Sinema told Politico in an interview that she will not caucus with Republicans and that she plans to keep voting as she has since winning election to the Senate in 2018 after three House terms. “Nothing will change about my values or my behavior,” she said.
She is expected to maintain her committee assignments through the Democratic majority, according to a Senate Democratic aide. Two current independents, Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, caucus with Democrats and gain their committee seniority through the Democrats.
She is facing reelection in 2024 and is likely to be matched up with a well-funded primary challenger from the far-Left, Rep. Ruben Gallego, after angering the Democrat base by blocking or watering down progressive priorities such as a minimum wage increase or President Joe Biden’s big social spending initiatives.
She has not said whether she plans to seek another term.
The senator wrote that she was joining “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.”
Sinema bemoaned “the national parties’ rigid partisanship” and said “pressures in both parties pull leaders to the edges—allowing the loudest, most extreme voices to determine their respective parties’ priorities, and expecting the rest of us to fall in line.”
“In catering to the fringes, neither party has demonstrated much tolerance for diversity of thought,” she continued. “Bipartisan compromise is seen as a rarely acceptable last resort, rather than the best way to achieve lasting progress,” she wrote.
She added: “My approach is rare in Washington, and has upset partisans in both parties.”
Last January, leaders of the Arizona Democratic Party voted to censure Sinema, citing “her failure to do whatever it takes to ensure the health of our democracy″—namely her refusal to go along with fellow Democrats to alter the Senate rule and end the filibuster so they could overcome Republican opposition to a voting rights bill.
While that rebuke was symbolic, it came only a few years since Sinema was heralded for bringing the Arizona Senate seat back into the Democratic fold for the first time in a generation. The move also previewed the persistent opposition that Sinema was likely face within her own party in 2024.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press