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Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema leaves Democrat party, switches to Independent

( NYPost )

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema announced Friday she had registered as an Independent, leaving the Democratic Party just days after it won a hard-fought run-off race in Georgia to secure 51 seats in the Senate.

“I have joined the growing numbers of Arizonans who reject party politics by declaring my independence from the broken partisan system in Washington,” she wrote in an op-ed for local media outlet Arizona Central.

In an interview with Politico published Friday, the iconoclast first-term senator she would not caucus with the Republican Party.

“Nothing will change about my values or my behavior,” she said.

If that holds, Democrats could still maintain greater control in the closely divided chamber.

“I don’t anticipate that anything will change about the Senate structure,” Sinema said. “I intend to show up to work, do the same work that I always do. I just intend to show up to work as an independent.”

In a separate interview with CNN‘s Jake Tapper, Sinema said she doesn’t care about the criticism she may face for leaving the Democratic Party.

“I’m just not worried about folks who may not like this approach,” she said. “What I am worried about is continuing to do what’s right for my state.”

Democrats had held the Senate 50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris holding a tie-breaking vote.

Senator Raphael Warnock’s victory in Tuesday’s runoff against Herschel Walker in Georgia had handed them their 51st seat. Sinema said Warnock’s reelection “delighted” her.  

Sinema said her decision to register as an Independent stems from a sense that she has “never really fit into a box of any political party” — and it comes as a growing number of her constituents are also rejecting both the Republican and Democratic political labels.

Two other current senators — Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine — are registered independents but generally caucus with Democrats.

Sinema is up for reelection in 2024, but she would not say whether she intends to run in what is expected to be a very competitive race.

“It’s fair to say that I’m not talking about it right now,” she told Politico.

Should she decide to pursue a second term, Sinema will likely face a well-funded primary challenger after angering much of the Democratic base by blocking or watering down progressive priorities like a minimum wage increase or President Biden’s big social spending initiatives.

Sinema’s most prominent potential primary challenger is Rep. Ruben Gallego, who has a long history of feuding with Sinema. Gallego has not announced his plans for 2024 but has made it no secret that he’s thinking about challenging Sinema. He even raised money on the prospect he might oppose Sinema.

Until now, Sinema had been among three centrist Senate Democrats who have often wielded their outsized leverage to block Biden’s agenda, including the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better bill.

The other two senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana, will be running for reelection as Democrats.

Sinema, 46, did make one thing clear: her political affiliation switch does not mean she’s got her sights on a higher office.

“I’m not running for president,” she said.

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