U.S. Sen. Kyrtsen Sinema of Arizona speaks at a news conference after the Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act at the Capitol Building on Nov. 29, 2022, in Washington, D.C. In a 61-36 vote, the measure would provide federal recognition and protection for same-sex and interracial marriages. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona announced Friday she is leaving the Democratic Party and has registered as an independent.
The first-term senator wrote in an opinion piece for the Arizona Republic that she does not intend to change the way she legislates or casts votes, but plans to be “an independent voice for Arizona.”
“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,” she wrote in the op-ed. “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.”
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Democrats this week had celebrated their growth to a 51-seat majority in the next Congress, a number that already included independents Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, who normally vote with Democrats. The 51st seat was gained in a Senate runoff election in Georgia when Democrats kept U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s tightly contested seat.
In an interview with CNN, Sinema said the new party affiliation will not affect her work, and she plans to keep her committee seats. In an interview with Politico, she said she does not plan to caucus with Republicans.
“I’ve never fit neatly into any party box. I don’t want to,” she said on CNN. “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’s spokesperson pointed out Friday morning that during Sinema’s interviews with news organizations, “she made clear she intends to maintain her committee assignments from the Democratic majority.”
The aide also noted that Sinema “has never attended caucus meetings and will not moving forward.”
Sinema currently sits on the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee, where she is chair of the Subcommittee on Government Operations and Border Management; Banking, Housing, & Urban Affairs; Commerce, Science, & Transportation, where she is chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations, and Innovation; and Veterans’ Affairs.
Sinema, 46, was first elected to the U.S. House in 2012 before successfully running for the U.S. Senate in 2018, winning with just 50% of the vote over Republican Martha McSally.
The two were separated by 56,000 ballots out of nearly 2.4 million cast in that race.
Sinema’s decision to move away from being formally registered as a Democrat comes ahead of her first reelection campaign for the U.S. Senate during the 2024 cycle. She has not announced whether she intends to run again.
Sinema became a central negotiator during the 117th Congress on several significant bills, including Democrats’ climate change, health care and tax package they passed without Republican support this summer.
She was also part of the small group of senators who worked on the bipartisan infrastructure law Congress passed last year and worked with a handful of colleagues to draft the religious liberty language that was added to the marriage equality bill before it passed the Senate last month.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a written statement that Sinema “has been a key partner on some of the historic legislation” that President Joe Biden and Democrats have enacted during this Congress.
“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.
Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Democrat who could run for the U.S. Senate during the upcoming 2024 elections, said in a statement that “unfortunately, Senator Sinema is once again putting her own interests ahead of getting things done for Arizonans.”
Gallego, who joined the U.S. House in 2015, said the state needs senators “who will put Arizonans ahead of big drug companies and Wall Street bankers.”
Arizona Democratic Party Chair Raquel Terán said in a statement that while Sinema is now an independent, she “has shown she answers to corporations and billionaires, not Arizonans.”
“Senator Sinema’s party registration means nothing if she continues to not listen to her constituents,” Terán added.
She also noted that with Sinema’s help, Democrats in Congress have passed several historic bills and that “Democrats have made huge headway on delivering” for Arizonans.
“However, Arizonians also need their voting rights protected and corporations to pay their fair share,” Terán said. “Unfortunately in those areas, Senator Sinema has fallen dramatically short leaving Arizonans behind.”
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