Senator Sinema dumps the Democrats

Kyrsten Sinema

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema on Friday dropped a bombshell on the administration of President Joe Biden with her announcement that she is leaving the Democratic Party and registering as a political independent.

Democrats would have held a 51-49 majority in the Senate following Raphael Warnock’s victory over Herschel Walker in Georgia’s runoff election and Sinema’s move could jeopardize that but the White House and others say Democrats will be in power when the Senate reconvenes in January.

Their majority includes two other independents, Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, and Sinema is expected to support Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“Senator Sinema has been a key partner on some of the historic legislation President Biden has championed over the last 20 months, from the American Rescue Plan to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, from the Inflation Reduction Act to the CHIPS and Science Act, from the PACT Act to the Gun Safety Act to the Respect for Marriage Act, and more,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. “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.”

An ally of Rep. Josh Gottheimer, Sinema joined the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus while she was a member of the House of Representatives before moving up in 2018.

“Everyday Americans are increasingly left behind by national parties’ rigid partisanship, which has hardened in recent years. Pressures in both parties pull leaders to the edges, allowing the loudest, most extreme voices to determine their respective parties’ priorities and expecting the rest of us to fall in line,” said Sinema in an op-ed published by the Arizona Republic.

While Sen. Joe Manchin has received a possibly outsized share of the attention (and blame) for his near­-singlehanded ability to thwart the Democrats’ plans since Democrats took control of all three branches of government in 2021, Sinema has frequently gotten in the way of an ambitious progressive agenda.

“In catering to the fringes, neither party has demonstrated much tolerance for diversity of thought. Bipartisan compromise is seen as a rarely acceptable last resort, rather than the best way to achieve lasting progress,: the Arizona lawmaker wrote. “Payback against the opposition party has replaced thoughtful legislating.”

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

“Senator Sinema is once again putting her own interests ahead of getting things done for Arizonans,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, who was expected to challenge Sinema in a primary.

Sinema’s obstruction of Biden’s economic agenda infuriated key Democratic constituencies.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats had to drop a key provision that would have removed the carried interest tax loophole from the Inflation Reduction Act in order to gain Sinema’s support for the legislation.

The carried interest tax loophole is an income tax avoidance scheme that allows private equity and hedge fund executives — some of the richest people in the world — to substantially lower the amount they pay in taxes.

“She is, today, what we have too few of in the Democratic Party: a genuine moderate and a dealmaker,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, when Sinema spoke at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville, after she helped to tank changes to Senate rules to allow a simple-majority to advance priority legislation.

Her support for the filibuster derailed a voting rights proposal and an effort to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

President Joe Biden with Senator Kyrsten Sinema and other lawmakers

The conversion is being compared with that of former Democratic presidential candidate and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who pivoted from being a Bernie Sanders-supporting Democrat to a Republican in all but name, embracing right-wing positions on abortion, transgender rights and racism.

Sinema, like Gabbard, cited increasingly partisan radicalization of both political parties as the reason for her departure, but find middle ground serving the interests of billionaires and corporations.

After Sinema received more than $750,000 in donations from the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, she announced her opposition to a Democratic plan to lower prescription drug costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate prices.

Sen. Bob Menendez, one of the top recipients of pharmaceutical industry campaign contributions, claimed that allowing Medicare to negotiate prices would not guarantee that consumers would pay lower drug costs.

“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,” wrote Sinema in her screed.

“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,” said Sinema. “I pledged to be independent and work with anyone to achieve lasting results. I committed I would not demonize people I disagreed with, engage in name-calling, or get distracted by political drama.”

“When politicians are more focused on denying the opposition party a victory than they are on improving Americans’ lives, the people who lose are everyday Americans,” said Sinema. “That’s why I have joined the growing numbers of Arizonans who reject party politics by declaring my independence from the broken partisan system in Washington. I registered as an Arizona independent. ”

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