EXPLAINER: What Sinema’s switch means for the Senate

FILE - Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., speaks during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental...
FILE - Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., speaks during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee hearing to examine social media's impact on homeland security, Sept. 14, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Sinema announced Friday, Dec. 9, that she now has registered as an independent, but she does not plan to caucus with Republicans, ensuring Democrats will retain their narrow voting majority in the Senate. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)(Alex Brandon | AP)
Published: Dec. 9, 2022 at 10:19 AM MST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WASHINGTON (AP) — Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s switch from Democrat to independent won’t change the balance of power in the Senate. But it could affect her political fortunes back home.

Sinema says she won’t caucus with Senate Republicans, so Democrats will still hold the majority next year. And she is expected to continue casting most of her votes with Democrats while separating herself on certain issues.

“Nothing’s going to change for me,” Sinema declared in a video announcing her decision.

A look at what Sinema’s decision means:

WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE SENATE

Not much. Democrats will still be in charge, and day-to-day operations won’t change for Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Sinema is still holding her Democratic committee assignments, meaning she can’t upend the party structure too much.

It is unclear exactly what the Senate’s party balance will be, and whether she will still caucus with Democrats – meaning she would be counted as one of their ranks. If she does, Democrats will have a 51-49 majority. If she doesn’t, the balance would be 50-49, with Sinema voting as an independent. Either way, Democrats will have a majority.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE DEMOCRATIC AGENDA

Again, it’s unlikely that Sinema’s move will change the party’s path forward, especially now that Republicans will be in the House majority, and little legislation will move through Congress.

Sinema has always voted in an independent manner – championing some party priorities such as same-sex marriage, which she was instrumental in negotiating before Senate passage last week, and opposing others such as a minimum wage increase. She and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., helped water down much of President Joe Biden’s social spending agenda in the first two years of his presidency.

She has generally voted for Biden’s executive and judicial nominations.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR SINEMA

What it means for Sinema in Arizona is a trickier question.

Democrats are likely to put up a new candidate and put her in a three-way race for reelection in 2024, if she decides to run again. Voters will decide if they like her independent style, modeled after the late Sen. John McCain, or if they would prefer a partisan on the right or left.

“My approach is rare in Washington, and has upset partisans in both parties,” she said.