Updated Dec 9, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Why Kyrsten Sinema left the Democratic Party

The senator and the elevator

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema smiles while talking to reporters after leaving the Senate chamber on Nov. 16. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's decision to leave the Democratic Party was long in the making, but she waited until after the midterms to avoid interfering in ongoing races, sources familiar with her move tell Axios.

Why it matters: Sinema has long been seen as a renegade in her party — and a major headache for Democratic leadership.

  • Her official announcement, released with a two-minute video, came just days after Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock defeated Herschel Walker in the Georgia Senate runoff.
  • Sinema told Politico that Warnock's victory “delighted” her. She supported Warnock's re-election and gave money to his campaign.

Zoom in: Sinema hopes her switch to the new label will free her from partisan pressures and the expectations of her caucus as she attempts to remain a key bipartisan broker, the sources said.

  • "Her registration is now catching up with her reality. She was always miraculous at not caring about media reports and criticisms, but it's just one less thing to worry about," former Sinema aide John LaBombard told Axios.
  • "It's kind of a helpful reset of expectations. Anyone who assumed at any point that moderates in our party would always just fall in line and do what the most vocal and loudest voices in our party wanted them to do was never a reasonable expectation," he added.

Between the lines: Sinema prides herself on having been a crucial, bipartisan dealmaker over the last two years — helping cut compromises on infrastructure, gun reform, the CHIPS bill and more — and often did so without the support of her Democratic colleagues.

  • While her success in 2018 can in large part be owed to the Democratic Party's support, Sinema maintains she's always considered herself a separate entity.
  • On the campaign trail in 2018, she often touted bipartisanship and ran an ad titled "Independent."

What this means for the Senate: Sinema maintains her new party identity will not impact the way she votes or how she operates, including continuing to support President Biden's nominees.

  • She will not caucus with Democrats, and she rarely attends caucus lunches and meetings now. She also chose not to show up to the vote electing Sen. Chuck Schumer as majority leader.
  • For committee purposes, she plans to continue to “caucus” with the Democrats. Schumer said Friday she will stay on her current committees.
  • Both the White House and Schumer say Sinema's switch won't overly impact the Senate majority and day-to-day operations.

What's next: The big question is how this move will affect Sinema's potential re-election in 2024 as well as the fundraising and protection she's so far enjoyed from Democratic infrastructure and outside groups.

  • She declined to say whether she's running again, and her new affiliation will avoid a nasty primary with Democrats if she were to run again.
  • Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), before Sinema's announcement, was making preparations to run for her Senate seat. His campaign teased a bid today.
Go deeper