Friday started out with an undeniable political bombshell: Senator Kyrsten Sinema, the former-Green Party-turned-conservative-Democrat, has decided to once again switch parties and become an Independent. She’s making this announcement through embargoed news interviews and an op-ed in The Arizona Republic. She also taped a short two-minute video:
Sinema throughout the Biden administration has been a thorn in Democrats’ side. She managed to leverage her way into countless one-on-one meetings with President Biden as she dangled her support for the Biden administration’s Build Back Better set of proposals. There were always rumors floating around that Sinema would leave the party and maybe, just maybe, even join the Senate Republican caucus.
Turns out Sinema was in fact toying with leaving the party. She says she’s going to continue to caucus with Democrats and get her committee assignments. Her announcement, conspicuously, comes after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was reelected majority leader and after Senator Raphael Warnock won reelection out in Georgia. Democrats’ majority is not in full jeopardy. She told Schumer of her decision on Thursday.
At the same time though, when Sinema says “nothing will change about my values or my behavior,” Democrats should be forgiven for not taking much solace in that. Sinema has established herself as a Democrat open to bucking the party. She may not be a Republican now, but her decision to shrink the actual Democratic majority back to 50 seats scrambles the dynamic, gives Senator Joe Manchin more power, and opens Sinema up to doing pretty much what she’s always done: whatever she wants.
In a round of snap interviews with some top Democratic Senate staffers Friday morning, one predicted to me that Senate Democratic leadership will continue to engage with her the way they have: “not an automatic vote on tough issues.” That’s been the status quo up until now but given the opportunity to make things slightly easier for the Democratic Party, Sinema, once again, opted to go in a different direction.
Her future is unclear. She won’t say whether she will run for reelection. It’s up to Schumer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to decide whether it will provide air cover for her if she does or let an extended Democratic primary in a purple state sort itself out. Congressman Ruben Gallego, a potential candidate for Sinema’s seat, is already interviewing consultants, according to Politico. What’s clear in terms of that 2024 race and the Democratic Party’s agenda now is that it all just got a little more chaotic.