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Sinema goes to independents, shakes up the Senate

Sinema would not say whether she will run again in 2024 and informed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of her decision on Thursday.

“I don’t expect anything to change in the structure of the Senate,” Sinema said, adding that some of the exact mechanics of how his change affects the chamber are “a question for Chuck Schumer. I plan to show up for work, do the same job I always do, I just plan to show up to work as a freelancer.

She said her narrowly made decision to leave the Democratic Party reflects the fact that she “never really fits in the box of a political party” – a description she says also applies to her. fiercely independent state and to millions of unaffiliated voters across the country.

Sinema has a well-established iconoclastic reputation. She competes in Ironman triathlons, moonlights at a Napa Valley winery and often hangs out on the GOP side of the aisle during floor votes.

The 46-year-old said switching parties was the next logical step in a political career built on working almost as closely with Republicans as with Democrats. This approach has helped her play a central role in bipartisan agreements on infrastructure, gun safety and same-sex marriage during the current 50-50 Senate. It also infuriated some Democrats, particularly his resistance to higher tax rates and his attempts to weaken the filibuster.

His decision will bolster his GOP allies and certainly embolden his Democratic critics, at home and on the Hill. Sinema said “criticism from outside entities doesn’t really matter to me” and that she will go for a “tough ride” after her announcement goes public, “because that’s mostly what I do Friday mornings.

Even before her change of party, she faced rumors of a 2024 main challenge from Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona). Going independent will avoid a head-to-head primary against Gallego or another progressive, should she seek re-election. A theoretical campaign for the general election could be chaotic if Democrats and Republicans field candidates against it.

Sinema said she had a different goal in mind: to separate herself completely from a party that never quite delivered, despite the support of the Democratic Party in its fierce 2018 run. That year, she became the first Democrat in three decades to win a Senate race in Arizona, beating former Sen. Martha McSally (R-Arizona).

Sinema would not enter into discussions about pursuing a second term in the Senate: “It’s fair to say that I’m not talking about it at the moment.”

“I keep my eye focused on what I’m doing right now. And registering as a freelancer is what I believe is fair for my condition. It’s good for me. I think it’s good for the country,” she said, adding that “politics and elections will come later.”

Still, she ruled out a possibility that her new independent status might raise for some: “I’m not running for president.”

It’s been a decade since the last party switch in the Senate — when former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter left the GOP to become a Democrat — and even longer since former Sen. Joe Lieberman switched from Democrat to Independent. Manchin regularly beats rumors that he is leaving the Democratic Party.

Sinema said she’s not directly pressuring anyone to join her in quitting the Democratic caucus or the GOP conference, saying she’d like the Senate to foster “an environment where people feel like they belong.” comfortable and confident to say and do what they believe”.

This practically means that he continues to work within the loose group of Senate bipartisan negotiators, some of whom are retiring this year. She is already in contact with Senator-elect Katie Britt (R-Ala.) to work together.

And she has a relationship with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that could come in handy with a GOP House and Senate Democrat: “We’ve served together for a long time, we’re friends,” she said. said about McCarthy.

She insisted she would not deviate from her past approach to confirming Democratic presidential nominations, which she reviews but generally supports, and said she plans to keep her committee assignments through of the Democrats (she currently holds two subcommittee chairs). And, she said, nothing will change in her ideology either, which is more socially liberal than most Republicans on issues like abortion and more fiscally conservative than most Democrats.

Sinema voted to convict former President Donald Trump in two impeachment trials, opposed Trump-backed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, and backed Trump-hired Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. President Joe Biden. She also backed two Democratic bills from this Congress, one on coronavirus aid and the other on climate, prescription drugs and taxes.

She said she has a good relationship with Biden and the Senate Majority Leader as well as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who invited her to give a closely guarded speech on bipartisanship in his home state. origin several months ago.

Unlike independent senses Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Angus King (Maine), Sinema won’t attend the weekly Democratic Caucus meetings, but she rarely does now. She does not know if her office will remain on the Democratic side of the Senate floor.

And Sinema — who served three terms in the House and as a state legislator before her election to the Senate — said Sen. Raphael Warnock’s (D-Ga.) re-election victory on Tuesday was “delighting” her. Warnock’s victory will likely hurt her decision for the Democrats, but Sinema said she was not awaiting Georgia’s runoff election results, which appeared to give her a real one-party majority for the first time since 2014. .

Her announcement is “less about timing,” she said. “It’s really for me to think how can I be the most productive? How can I be true to my core values, my state’s values, and how can I continue to be a truly productive yet independent voice for Arizona? »

Not that she wants a hand in determining exactly how many seats they control now that she’s out of the Democratic Party.

“I would just suggest that these are not the issues that interest me,” Sinema said. “I want people to see that it’s possible to do good work with people of all political persuasions, and to do it without the pressures or poles of a party structure.”

She approaches the Senate looking for legislative opportunities to dive headfirst — usually with a Republican partner. And these tactics are paying off. She cited her work with retired Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) on the Biden-blessed $550 billion infrastructure bill as a model. Right now, she’s running a similar piece with Sen. Thom Tillis (RN.C.) on immigration reform, another issue that has plagued lawmakers for decades.

This duo appear to be digging deep as federal courts threaten pandemic-era border restrictions, border crossings increase, and undocumented immigrant youth still lack legislative protections from deportation.

“We are working together on the most difficult political issue of all our careers,” Sinema said of his immigration talks with Tillis. “I don’t know if I can give you an answer on where we are, or where we’re going. What I can tell you is that we have a very deep trust with each other.

While Sinema has frequently worked with a handful of Republicans, it’s hard to imagine a GOP majority entertaining Sinema’s political priorities in the same way as Democrats. Under McConnell, the Senate often focused more on judicial nominees than on sweeping legislation.

Sinema said she doesn’t know how any future changes in Senate control will affect her job. “Partisan control is an issue for supporters,” she said, “and not really one for me.”

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