Sinema did not address whether she will run for re-election in 2024 and briefed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday of her decision.
“I don’t anticipate anything changing in the structure of the Senate,” Sinema said, adding that some of the exact mechanics of how his change affects the chamber is “a question for Chuck Schumer… I intend to report to work, No? the same job I always do. I only intend to apply to work as a freelancer.”
She said her decision to leave the Democratic Party, which she kept secret, reflects that she “never really fit the box of any political party,” a description she said also applies to her fiercely independent state and millions of voters. unaffiliated throughout the country.
Sinema has a well-established iconoclastic reputation. She competes in Ironman triathlons, works a side job at a Napa Valley winery, and often hangs out on the Republican side of the aisle during floor voting.
The 46-year-old said her party switch is the next logical step in a political career based on working almost as closely with Republicans as Democrats. That approach helped her play a critical role in bipartisan deals on infrastructure, gun safety and same-sex marriage during the current 50-50 Senate. She also angered some Democrats, particularly their resistance to higher tax rates and attempts to weaken filibuster.
His move will buoy his Republican allies and is sure to buoy his Democratic critics, at home and in Congress. Sinema said that “criticism from outside entities really doesn’t matter to me” and that she will be going for a “hard run” after her announcement goes public, “because that’s mostly what I do on Friday mornings.”
Even before his party switch, he faced rumors of a 2024 primary challenge from Rep. Rubén Gallego (D-Ariz.). Becoming an independent will avoid a head-to-head primary against Gallego or another progressive, should he seek re-election. A theoretical general election campaign could be chaotic if both Democrats and Republicans run candidates against it.
Sinema said she has a different goal in mind: to break completely from a party that has never fit in, despite the support of the Democratic Party in her close 2018 race. That year she became the first Democrat in three decades to win a race. for the Senate in Arizona, defeating former Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.).
Sinema did not entertain discussions about seeking a second term in the Senate: “It’s fair to say that I’m not talking about that right now.”
“I keep my eye focused on what I’m doing right now. And registering as an independent is what I think is correct for my state. It is correct for me. I think it’s the right thing for the country,” she said, adding that “politics and elections will come later.”
Still, he ruled out a possibility that his new independent status may pose for some: “I’m not running for president.”
It was a decade since the last party switch in the Senate, when former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter left the Republican Party to become a Democrat, and even longer since former Sen. Joe Lieberman switched from Democrat to Independent. Manchin routinely dismisses rumors that he will leave the Democratic Party.
Sinema said she is not directly lobbying anyone to join her in leaving the Democratic Caucus or the GOP Conference, saying she would like the Senate to foster “an environment where people feel comfortable and safe in say and do what they believe.
What that means in practice is continuing to work among the Senate’s informal group of bipartisan negotiators, some of whom will retire this year. She has already reached out to Sen.-elect Katie Britt (R-Ala.) about working together.
And he has a relationship with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who could be useful with a Republican House and a Democratic Senate: “We served together a long time, we’re friends,” he said of McCarthy.
He insisted that he will not deviate from his previous approach to confirming Democratic presidential candidates, whom he vets but generally supports, and said he hopes to keep his committee appointments through Democrats (he currently holds two subcommittee chairs). Nor, he said, will it change anything about his ideology, 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 supported Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, a Supreme Court appointee. President Joe Biden. He also supported two Democratic Party-line bills in this Congress, one on coronavirus relief and the other on weather, prescription drugs and taxes.
She said she is on good terms with Biden and the Senate Majority Leader, as well as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who invited her to give a closely watched speech on bipartisanship in her home state several months ago.
Unlike independent Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Angus King (Maine), Sinema will not attend weekly Democratic Caucus meetings, but rarely does now. She isn’t sure if her desk will remain on the Democratic side of the Senate.
And Sinema, who served three terms in the House and as a state legislator before her election to the Senate, said she was “delighted” by Tuesday’s re-election victory for Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.). Warnock’s victory will likely take some of the sting out of her decision for the Democrats.
Not that he wants to be involved in finding out exactly how many seats they control now that he’s out of the Democratic Party.
“I would just suggest that these are not the questions that interest me,” Sinema said. “I want people to see that it is possible to do a good job with people of different political persuasions and to do it without the pressures or poles of a party structure.”
He approaches the Senate looking for legislative opportunities to jump right in, usually with a Republican partner. And those tactics pay off. He cited his work with retired Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) on the Biden-blessed $550 billion infrastructure bill as a model. At the moment, he is running a similar play with Sen. Thom Tillis (RN.C.) on immigration reform, another issue that has plagued lawmakers for decades.
That duo appears to be deepening as federal courts threaten pandemic-era border restrictions, border crossings increase and younger undocumented immigrants still lack legislative protections against deportation.
“We are working together on definitely the most difficult political issue of our entire careers,” Sinema said of her immigration talks with Tillis. “I don’t know if I can give you an answer about where we are or where we are going. What I can tell you is that we have a very deep trust between us.”
While Sinema has often worked with a handful of Republicans, it’s hard to imagine a Republican majority considering Sinema’s political priorities the same way Democrats have. Under McConnell, the Senate has often focused more on judicial nominees than sweeping legislation.
Sinema said she is not concerned about how future changes in control of the Senate will affect her work. “Partisan control is a matter for the partisans,” she said, “and not really for me.”