US Senate Democrats will start the next Congress with their numbers exactly where they are now, 50 in the 100-member chamber, despite an extra seat they picked with the Georgia run-off victory earlier in the week. They lost one on Friday. But they will retain control of the Senate as now.
Kirsten Sinema, a Democratic senator from Arizona, announced Friday she is changing her party affiliation to Independent.
“Registering as an independent and showing up to work with the title of independent is a reflection of who I’ve always been, and it’s a reflection of who Arizona is,” Senator Sinema said in a video. “We don’t line up to do what we’re told. We do what’s right for our state and for our country. I’m going to be the same person I’ve always been.”
Sinema has also said to Politico that her voting behavior will not change. “I don’t anticipate that anything will change about the Senate structure,” she 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.”
Sinema’s exit will rob the Senate Democrats of the extra cushion they were looking forward to working with in the next Congress, with their tally up to 51 to 49 Republicans.
Democrats are back to 50, but Republicans will stay at 49.
The US Senate has two other Independents – Bernie Sanders and Angus King, but both caucus with the Democratic party and are Democrats for all practical purposes. Sinema will potentially be more independent of the Democrats, because she has not said if she will, or won’t, caucus with Democrats.
Sinema was one of the two moderate Democrats in the senate, along with Joe Manchin. They often took positions contrary to the rest of the party and even forced President Joe Biden to trim and dial down his ambitious legislative efforts such as the infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act.
In an evenly divided chamber – 50 Democrats to 50 Republicans, with Vice President Kamal Harris’s tie-breaking vote – every Democratic vote mattered and Sinema and Manchin frustrated the party on many occasions holding up their vote for long and protracted negotiations.
With Raphael Warnock’s victory in the Georgia run-off earlier this week, Democrats were looking forward to working with a 51-49 majority in the next Congress that starts on January 3. And they were still celebrating when Sinema delivered them her shocking decision to switch to Independent.