Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s decision to switch her party affiliation from Democrat to independent is creating a post-midterm shake-up in the Senate, threatening to complicate what seemed like Democrats’ chances of having an outright majority after Sen. Raphael Warnock’s runoff win in Georgia gave Democrats their 51st seat in the next session of Congress.
Democrats are expected to have a workable majority, however, and the balance of power is not expected to shift following her announcement. As things stand right now, the party will still control committees, allowing them to set investigative and legislative priorities for the next two years.
Democrats currently have a 50-50 majority, which includes two independents who caucus with them, Sens. Angus King (I-ME) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Sinema has not explicitly said whether she will do the same, though her office told the Washington Examiner she intends to “maintain her committee assignments through [a] Democratic majority.” She currently holds two subcommittee chairmanships.
What is clear: Sinema won’t caucus with the Republicans, she told Politico.
Sinema’s new party affiliation isn’t a total surprise — she’s been a thorn in the side of Democratic leaders, playing a critical role in bipartisan negotiations on gun safety, infrastructure, and same-sex marriage. The 46-year-old began her political career as a member of the Green Party before being elected as a Democrat to the U.S. House in 2012 and the U.S. Senate in 2018. Sinema’s decision means Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) vote will continue to have huge sway within the Democratic caucus.
A White House official told NBC News they were informed of the senator’s move Thursday afternoon and did not believe it would affect the Democrats’ majority, only her path to reelection, if she decides to run again in 2024. She reportedly notified Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of her intention to switch parties the same day.
Sinema’s independent streak has infuriated some Democrats, and ahead of her recent announcement, she already was facing the potential of a primary challenge from Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ). If she decides to run for a second term, her status as an independent will enable her to bypass a primary with Gallego or another more progressive lawmaker.