Much Ado About Independent Kyrsten Sinema

Patrick Swanson / December 09,2022
  • Her decision to leave the Democratic Party may help her win re-election in Arizona in 2024.
  • Her decision to leave the Democratic Party may help her win re-election in Arizona in 2024.

    by The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, December 9, 2022

    Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s decision Friday to leave the Democratic Party and become an independent looks like a shrewd political move if she wants to run for re-election in 2024. What is less likely is that it will make much difference to Senate governance for the next two years.

    Democrats cemented their Senate majority with their victory in Georgia’s runoff on Tuesday, and Ms. Sinema’s departure doesn’t jeopardize that. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Ms. Sinema will keep her committee assignments, and she’ll still vote for President Biden’s nominees. So what’s changed apart from the political label? Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Maine’s Angus King are also nominally independent, but the next time they defy Democrats on a crucial vote will be the first.

    Ms. Sinema voted for President Biden’s priorities some 90% of the time this Congress. Where her independence has mattered in the last two years is preserving the Senate filibuster and opposing the worst elements of the Build Back Better plan, especially its tax-rate increases. That enraged the unforgiving left that now dominates the Democratic Party.

    That may explain her decision to leave the party as she looks toward a possible re-election campaign in 2024. She is being threatened with a primary campaign from the left, and her approval rating among Democrats is low. She may figure that she stands a better chance of winning by running as an independent.

    Democrats could now face the question of whether to support another candidate on their party line, or endorse Ms. Sinema on the independent line. The former might divide center-left voters and help a Republican take the seat, assuming Arizona Republicans have learned from their debacle of nominating flawed candidates this year. (Kelli Ward is still the Arizona Republican Party chair, so don’t count on it.)

    With Republicans narrowly controlling the House next year, the political action to watch in the Senate will be whether bipartisan coalitions can get 60 votes. There won’t be any 50- or 51-vote Senate majorities using budget reconciliation as with the egregious Inflation Reduction Act that Ms. Sinema voted for. This could give Ms. Sinema some running room on issues like spending and raising the debt limit if she can form a centrist coalition.

    Senate Democrats will be defending 23 seats in 2024, many of them in swing states like West Virginia, Montana and Ohio. Republicans will be defending only 11, most of them safe. Ms. Sinema may think even Republicans might be able to retake the majority given that imbalance, in which case she’d have more influence in her second term as an independent.

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