WASHINGTON — Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema will keep her committee assignments despite leaving the Democratic Party, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer confirmed Friday.
“Sen. Sinema informed me of her decision to change her affiliation to Independent,” Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement. “She asked me to keep her committee assignments and I agreed.”
Now an independent, the former Democrat holds seats on the Senate Banking Committee, Commerce Committee, Homeland Security Committee and Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
She also chairs two subcommittees on Government Operations and Border Management and Aviation Safety, Operations, and Innovation.
Schumer’s statement confirmed that Sinema’s defection was unlikely to affect Democrats’ overall control of the Senate, despite the angry reaction of many party supporters.
Under a power-sharing agreement between Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), committee seats are currently evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, requiring the latter to get GOP buy-in to issue subpoenas or favorably report President Biden’s nominees to the full Senate.
“Kyrsten is independent; that’s how she’s always been. I believe she’s a good and effective Senator and am looking forward to a productive session in the new Democratic majority Senate,” Schumer said. “We will maintain our new majority on committees, exercise our subpoena power and be able to clear nominees without discharge votes.”
The first-term lawmaker was already known as an independent voice in the chamber and only sporadically attended weekly Democratic caucus lunches before her switch, according to a source with knowledge of Sinema’s routines.
In an editorial announcing her party change in the Arizona Republic, Sinema said she “pledged to be independent and work with anyone to achieve lasting results” in her previous runs in the US House and Senate.
“Like a lot of Arizonans, I have never fit perfectly in either national party,” she wrote. “Becoming an Independent won’t change my work in the Senate; my service to Arizona remains the same.”
Sinema has not said whether she will continue to formally caucus with the Democrats, but told Politico she will not caucus with Republicans, suggesting that she will vote in the same manner she has over her four previous years in the Senate.
“Nothing will change about my values or my behavior,” she told the outlet, adding: “I don’t anticipate that anything will change about the Senate structure.”
“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.”
If Sinema follows through with her pledge, Democrats will keep a workable hold on the Senate — though it won’t be as definite as the clean-cut, 51-49 majority it had expected.
Still, some Republican lawmakers, such as Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), see Sinema’s swap as a win for the GOP — noting that she joins former Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard in denouncing the Democrats in recent months.
“Good to see @KyrstenSinema leaving the Democrat Party,” Boebert tweeted Friday. “Just this year we’ve had @TulsiGabbard & Senator Sinema – both high profile Democrats – change parties. Hope many more see the light!”
Gabbard announced she had left the Democrats to register as an independent in October, but has been largely embraced by the Republican Party and campaigned for some of its midterm candidates.
Sinema will not be the only independent to hold committee seats in the Democrat-controlled chamber.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) chairs the Senate Budget Committee and holds seats on the Energy and Natural Resources, Environment and Public Works, Veterans Affairs and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees. He also chairs the Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security.
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) holds seats on the Senate Rules and Administration, Intelligence, Armed Services and Energy and Natural Resource committees. He also chairs the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks.
Both Sanders and King caucus with the Democrats and are widely seen as more amenable to the party line than Sinema.