Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona said Friday that she has switched her party affiliation from Democrat to independent.
“I’ve registered as an Arizona independent. I know some people might be a little bit surprised by this, but actually, I think it makes a lot of sense,” Sinema told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview broadcast Friday.
Sinema’s defection may not affect Democrats’ majority in the Senate when the next Congress begins in 2023. The party will still control committees and the Senate floor.
Sinema, who often bucked her party on elements of President Joe Biden’s agenda, said she is removing herself from the “partisan structure.” She added her move will “provide a place of belonging for many folks across the state and the country, who also are tired of the partisanship.”
In an op-ed published in The Arizona Republic on Friday, Sinema wrote she had promised voters to never surrender to pressure coming from either political party.
“My approach is rare in Washington and has upset partisans in both parties,” Sinema wrote. “It is also an approach that has delivered lasting results for Arizona.”
Sinema, as an outlier Democrat, often acted as an obstacle to Biden, including by refusing to eliminate the filibuster, and had already been perceived as an independent.
Two other Senate independents, Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, caucus with Democrats. Sinema didn’t specifically say whether she would.
She does, however, appear to be keeping her committee assignments, which are controlled by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Schumer said Friday he agreed with Sinema’s request to keep her posts on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; Commerce, Science and Transportation; and Veterans’ Affairs.
“Kyrsten is independent; that’s how she’s always been,” Schumer said in a statement. “I believe she’s a good and effective Senator and am looking forward to a productive session in the new Democratic majority Senate. We will maintain our new majority on committees, exercise our subpoena power, and be able to clear nominees without discharge votes.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean Pierre on Friday hailed Sinema as a “key partner” on historic legislation Biden promoted over the past 20 months, including the American Rescue Plan.
“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 in a statement.
A White House official said the administration had been aware of Sinema’s switch since Thursday, adding that her decision changes little for Democrats “except for her reelection path,” according to NBC’s Mike Memoli.
Sinema, who is up for reelection in 2024, was reportedly unpopular with Democratic voters in her state.
An AARP poll released in September found Sinema was the least popular among Sen. Mark Kelly and now-Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs, with 54% of voters saying they had an unfavorable view of her. The survey also showed Sinema’s support was mostly split evenly among Democrats, Republicans and independents, while Kelly and Hobbs enjoyed robust backing from Democrats.
Sara Boboltz contributed reporting.