Sinema Declaration of Independence Seen as Act of Self-Preservation
WASHINGTON — “Kyrsten is independent; that’s how she’s always been,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Friday morning as D.C. continued to chew over the news that Sen. Krysten Sinema had decided to quit the Democratic Party.
But in switching to become an independent, not much really appeared to change for Sinema on Capitol Hill or down Pennsylvania Avenue at the White House.
“Sen. Sinema informed me of her decision to change her affiliation to independent,” Schumer said in a written statement released just before noon. “She asked me to keep her committee assignments and I agreed.”
Though she’ll now have an “I-Ariz.” affixed to her name, Sinema’s decision to bolt the Democratic fold doesn’t upset the party’s control of the Senate, though the party now has a less comfortable margin than it did just 24 hours ago.
As a diehard centrist all through her four years in the Senate, members of both parties on Friday said they expect her to continue to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get things done.
The first-term senator told POLITICO that she will not caucus with Republicans and suggested that she intends to vote the same way she has for four years in the Senate. “Nothing will change about my values or my behavior,” she said.
“I believe she’s a good and effective senator and am looking forward to a productive session in the new Democratic majority Senate,” Schumer continued, adding, “We will maintain our new majority on committees, exercise our subpoena power and be able to clear nominees without discharge votes.”
The message was much the same at the White House, where Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement that Sinema had been a “key partner” in some of the biggest successes of the Biden administration including the passage of the American Rescue Plan, the bipartisan infrastructure law, the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act.
“We understand that her decision to register as an independent in Arizona does not change the new Democratic majority control of the Senate, and we have every reason to expect that we will continue to work successfully with her,” Jean-Pierre said.
Nevertheless, Sinema’s decision, announced in an op-ed on the AZ Central website Friday morning and in a video posted to YouTube, roiled both reporters and social media as word spread of her defection.
“We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about, is this a Republican idea? Or is this a Democratic idea? Is this liberal? Or is this conservative? That’s not how Arizonans think,” the senator said early on in the video.
“What we think about is what’s right for my family, what’s right for my community, what’s right for my future. Registering as an independent and showing up to work with the title of independent is a reflection of who I’ve always been,” she continued.
“I’m going to show up to work. I’m going to do my best for Arizona. I’m going to continue to deliver results for everyday people. Nothing’s going to change for me. And I don’t think anything’s gonna change for Arizona.
“And I think Arizona and across the state are gonna say, ‘Yeah, that’s the Kyrsten we elected. That’s who we sent to D.C. And she’s doing exactly what we asked her to do.’”
Sinema did not address whether she will run for reelection in 2024. But a number of people suggested on Friday her decision to become an independent, joining Vermont’s Bernie Sanders and Maine’s Angus King in that exclusive Senate club, was all about her desire to remain in the chamber.
For months, it’s widely been expected that should Sinema run for reelection as a Democrat, she would face a challenge from the left, by Rep. Ruben Gallego.
“She had no chance to win a Democratic primary, so she is looking for another path,” tweeted Dan Pfeiffer, an advisor to former President Barack Obama and co-host of the “Pod Save America” podcast.
And Gallego himself responded to Sinema’s announcement this morning with a statement that sounded like nothing less than a declaration of his bid to replace her.
“Last month, the voters of Arizona made their voices heard loud and clear — they want leaders who put the people of Arizona first,” he said.
“We need senators who will put Arizonans ahead of big drug companies and Wall Street bankers,” he continued. “Whether in the Marine Corps or in Congress, I have never backed down from fighting for Arizonans.
“At a time when our nation needs leadership most, Arizona deserves a voice that won’t back down in the face of struggle. Unfortunately, Sen. Sinema is once again putting her own interests ahead of getting things done for Arizonans.”
Meanwhile, David Axelrod, best known for being the chief strategist for Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns and today a senior political commentator on CNN, posted the results of an Oct. 22 poll conducted by Fabrizio Ward and Impact Research, that showed Sinema having a 57% disapproval rating among Democrats in Arizona.
“Her decision to become an independent may, as she says, be one of principle,” Axelrod tweeted. “But she also was very vulnerable to a primary challenge in ‘24, if she ran [as a Democrat].”
If there was a truly angry response to Sinema’s announcement, it came from Arizona Democratic Party chair Raquel Terán, who on Friday morning said, “Arizona Democrats pride ourselves on being a voice for all Arizonans.
“This election cycle, our Democratic candidates delivered wins up and down the ticket with a broad coalition of voters including independents and Republicans,” she continued.
“Democrats have shown Arizonans they are guided by Arizona values above all else. Democrats know that all Arizonans want good-paying jobs, an equitable economy and a chance at a better future. Through several pieces of historic legislation and Sen. Sinema’s help, Democrats have made huge headway on delivering that for Arizonans.
“However, Arizonans also need their voting rights protected and corporations to pay their fair share,” Terán said. “Unfortunately in those areas, Sen. Sinema has fallen dramatically short, leaving Arizonans behind.
“As a party, we welcome independent voters and their perspectives. Sen. Sinema may now be registered as an independent, but she has shown she answers to corporations and billionaires, not Arizonans. Sen. Sinema’s party registration means nothing if she continues to not listen to her constituents,” she said.