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Sinema leaves Democratic Party, registers as independent

White House says move does not change party control of Senate

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema said Friday she will register as an independent, leaving the Democratic Party.
Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema said Friday she will register as an independent, leaving the Democratic Party. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Decrying partisan divisions, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema said Friday she is leaving the Democratic Party and registering as an independent in Arizona, where she is up for reelection in 2024 and already faced a movement to replace her as the party’s nominee.

“Americans are more united than the national parties would have us believe,” she wrote in an op-ed published in the Arizona Republic. “Arizonans — including many registered as Democrats or Republicans — are eager for leaders who focus on common-sense solutions rather than party doctrine.”

The move comes three days after Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia won a runoff election that gave Democrats a 51-seat majority — including independents Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine — in the 118th Congress, which starts on Jan. 3. The election also saw Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski win as a Republican despite an aggressive campaign against her led by former President Donald Trump.

In addition to the Arizona newspaper, Sinema explained her decision in an interview on CNN and with Politico.

She told Politico she would not caucus with Republicans, who will hold 49 seats next year, but she said she did not know more about how Senate functions would be affected, saying that was a question for Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer.

The White House released a statement Friday morning calling Sinema a “key partner” on legislation ranging from the American Rescue Plan to gun control and same-sex marriage. 

“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,’’ White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Sinema’s relationship with the Democrats has been rocky. In January, she drew a rebuke from the Arizona Democratic Party for opposing changes to the filibuster

In her op-ed, Sinema said she did not plan to change the way she approached Senate work. She said she remained committed to abortion and LGBTQ rights, a secure southern border with protections for “Dreamers,” and affordable health care with Medicare able to negotiate drug prices.

She blamed her decision on the national parties.

“Americans are told that we have only two choices — Democrat or Republican — and that we must subscribe wholesale to policy views the parties hold, views that have been pulled further and further toward the extremes,” she wrote.

“Most Arizonans believe this is a false choice, and when I ran for the U.S. House and the Senate, I promised Arizonans something different.”

Arizona is a politically purple state with a strong independent streak. Last month, Democrats scored two major victories: Democratic gubernatorial nominee Katie Hobbs narrowly defeated Republican Kari Lake and Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly beat Republican Blake Masters by almost 5 percentage points.

Sinema did not say whether she would seek another term. Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego has been mentioned often as a potential challenger for the nomination.

Gallego said in a statement that Sinema “is once again putting her own interests ahead of getting things done for Arizonans” but did not explicitly say what his next move would be.

The chairwoman of the Arizona Democratic Party, Raquel Terán, highlighted Sinema’s support for “historic legislation” such as the measures cited by the White House. But Terán tempered her praise with criticism.

“Sen. Sinema may now be registered as an Independent, but she has shown she answers to corporations and billionaires, not Arizonans,’’ Terán said in a statement. “Sen. Sinema’s party registration means nothing if she continues to not listen to her constituents.”

Change for Arizona 2024 PAC, which was launched in September to defeat Sinema, issued a statement saying the senator “made our jobs easier.”

“Today, Kyrsten Sinema told us what we’ve already known for years: she’s not a Democrat, and she’s simply out for herself,” the group said. “Now, we’ll beat her in the general election with a real Democrat.”

The group had been raising money and promoting its work using the name “Primary Sinema,” but said Friday that will change to reflect that it will now be focused on a general election effort, not a primary.

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