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Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s departure from the Democratic Party solidifies her as a pivotal centrist, a position likely to continue to put her at odds with her former party in the next Congress on taxes and ending the filibuster.
A self-styled iconoclast, Sinema has delighted in bucking Democrats as she moved from being an anti-war activist 20 years ago to a rare centrist today whose positions have raised the ire of progressives. It’s made her an unpredictable, albeit indispensable vote, in an evenly controlled Senate and it won’t change much next year when Democrats hold a one-seat majority.
“Kyrsten is independent; that’s how she’s always been,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. He said she had told him about her plans to leave the party and stressed she would not be losing any of her committee assignments.
Sinema serves on the Banking, Housing and Urban Development; Commerce, Science, and Transportation; Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; and Veterans’ Affairs committees.
In an op-ed in the Arizona Republic, Sinema downplayed any possible changes to her priorities.
“Becoming an independent won’t change my work in the Senate; my service to Arizona remains the same,” Sinema wrote. “Arizonans who’ve supported my work expanding jobs and economic opportunity, or my opposition to tax hikes that would harm our economic competitiveness, should know my focus on these areas will continue.”
Sinema’s record ranked her 4th last year in Senate bipartisanship, according to an index developed by the Lugar Center and Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. Her middle-of-the-road record could have appeal in Arizona, one of the nation’s emerging swing states where she faces a very competitive re-election in 2024.
But in recent years her moves have frustrated those in the more liberal wing of the Democratic party.
Before Democrats enacted the Inflation Reduction Act in August, Sinema forced them to drop a “carried-interest loophole” provision that would have required private equity managers to pay more in taxes, and got members to pare back a 15% corporate minimum tax proposal by creating an exemption for depreciation tax deductions.
Sinema’s support for keeping a 60-vote threshold for the Senate filibuster has also rankled some groups typically aligned with Democrats. EMILY’s List and NARAL Pro-Choice America, two key abortion-rights advocacy groups, issued warnings in January 2022 that Sinema could lose their support.
Sinema did help shepherd a bipartisan infrastructure bill through Congress, a measure that Democrats widely supported, though progressives wanted to hold out for a joint deal to also pass a more ambitious economic bill.
Sinema, who is bisexual, also was part of a bipartisan group of senators who recently amended a bill to codify the rights of same-sex couples to marry in order to garner more Republican support.
She has been largely supportive of Biden’s judicial picks and other nominees, which is a high priority for Schumer.
The Arizonan also was one of eight Democrats who defeated a push to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. She was among three Senate Democrats to oppose the Green New Deal. And she broke with many in her party to back the confirmation of Trump nominee William Barr for attorney general.
She made similar moves in the House twice voting against Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as party leader, instead favoring the late Rep. John Lewis (R-Ga.). She did oppose efforts to repeal Obamacare and voted against the Trump tax cuts.
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who has been critical of Sinema and hadn’t previously ruled out a primary challenge, now could challenge her in the general election as a Democratic nominee.
“Unfortunately, Senator Sinema is once again putting her own interests ahead of getting things done for Arizonans,” Gallego said without committing to the race.
Progressive Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) predicted Democrats’ 51-49 advantage in the Senate will reduce the impact of Sinema’s decision, saying in a statement that her “ability to be the center of the political universe has ended within the Democratic Party.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Jack Fitzpatrick in Washington at email@example.com