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Kyrsten Sinema’s decision to leave the Democratic Party will have no immediate consequences


A defector who did not represent Democratic values. A traitor who literally kissed a despised Republican. And a Democrat who promoted GOP agenda items.

Well, technically, the person wasn’t even a Democrat, because the senator had gone independent to navigate politically dangerous waters back home.

But instead of heeding calls for punishment, the majority leader decided to give “some slack” to the recalcitrant senator, who was able to stay in caucus and retain his seniority in key committee assignments.

“This decision had not so much to do with pardons as it did with simple calculations,” wrote Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), then Senate Majority Leader, in a 2009 addition to his autobiography. “Years of counting votes in the Senate had taught me that you never take a vote for granted.

Reid, who retired from the Senate six years ago and died of cancer last December, never served with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona). He was dealing with Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), the former Democratic vice-presidential nominee who won a tough re-election in 2006 as an independent backing the war in Iraq, then backed the presidential nominee of the GOP.

On Friday, Sinema – the centrist who has vexed party leaders with her support for conservative tax policy that benefits billionaires – officially quit the Democratic Party. She had informed Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) the day before, but at the same time asked to retain the privileges of being a member of his caucus.

Schumer, like Reid 14 years ago, understands simple math: 51 is better than 50.

In Senate reshuffle, Sinema changes his affiliation to an independent party

With her in his caucus, Schumer has a clear majority that gives Democrats full control of committees, subpoena power and the ability to move President Biden’s executive branch and judicial appointments faster.

They get to erase this 50-50 power-sharing Senate of the last two years and don’t necessarily do need Vice President Harris to maintain her modern record pace to vote in a tie.

And for that, Schumer won’t care which label Sinema wants to use for the next two years. He just hopes she continues to vote for much of Biden’s agenda and serves as an emissary to his many Republican friends when times call for bipartisan compromise.

“I think she is a good and efficient senator and I look forward to a productive session in the new Democratic-majority Senate,” Schumer said Friday in a statement released hours after his announcement.

Robin Givhan: Gray and Pink

For all intents and purposes, Sinema’s life will be no different in the Senate.

If you sit on the left side of the center aisle, you’re in the Democratic caucus; the right side is for the Republican caucus, and the side with the most seats is deemed majority.

Sinema’s position will be no different from those of the two other independents who caucus with Democrats, Sens. Angus King (Maine) and Bernie Sanders (Vt.).

Many Liberals reacted with good riddance, especially after Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.) won the 51st seat by winning Tuesday’s runoff. That slightly reduces the power that Sinema, Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW. Va.) or any Democrat could wield over party votes.

“Kyrsten Sinema’s ability to be the center of the political universe ended in the Democratic Party. This is a predictable outcome for Senator Sinema, as she has completely separated herself from any semblance of representing hard-working, struggling Arizonans,” said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Arizona). said in a press release.

But Schumer treated her more kindly, lest she cross the aisle to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for committee assignments and leave him again with a Senate 50- 50.

Sinema and McConnell admire each other

It follows the long-playing pattern Reid took with Lieberman, as well as, to a slightly different degree, McConnell took with the politically independent maneuvers of GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski who went on to win in Alaska.

It remains to be seen whether Sinema is as politically adept and can be re-elected in 2024, as Lieberman and Murkowski did without a major party label, raising funds on their own without party resources.

Lieberman’s estrangement from the party began when the war in Iraq grew bloodier with years of entrenched warfare and most Democrats backed down from the Bush administration’s handling of the situation. But Lieberman carved out and fully supported an even deeper American footprint in Iraq, just as he did during his unsuccessful presidential bid in 2004. That campaign drew liberal protesters, including a young anti-war Arizonan named Kyrsten Sinema.

Ned Lamont, who went on to win the governorship of Connecticut and continues to serve as governor, won the Democratic primary against Lieberman in 2006. But Connecticut had no sore losers law, so Lieberman stood down. simply presented as an independent in the general elections, while many Republicans backed down from their candidate.

Lieberman won the general election by more than 10 percentage points with a coalition of many Republicans, centrists, and a few Democrats. Nationally, Democrats won six seats and claimed a simple majority, 51 to 49, and Reid had no qualms about rewarding Lieberman with the chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. .

2006: Lieberman files a petition for an independent candidacy

But during the 2008 presidential campaign, Lieberman walked down the aisle in support of Republican presidential candidate John McCain (R-Arizona), and he campaigned hard against Barack Obama.

After Obama won and the Democrats gained eight Senate seats, many wanted retaliation. With nearly 60 seats, they fumed at Reid: We don’t need Lieberman, kick him out of caucus or at least strip his committee hammer.

When meeting with Reid after his re-election, Lieberman threatened to caucus with McConnell. Reid, in one of his most prescient moves, thought he could do bigger things with Lieberman inside the tent, boring as that might be for some liberals.

“As badly as he behaved during the campaign, it was a simple fact that outside of the war, Joe had a very solid progressive and Democratic record,” Reid wrote in April 2009.

Analysis: The Manchin and Sinema of their time look at today’s Senate

Lieberman retained his Homeland Security Committee gavel, but gave up a lesser assignment on another committee. Eight months later, he voted for the Affordable Care Act, a cable law in which Reid needed his caucus’ 60 votes.

Lieberman called it one of his proudest votes. “The Affordable Care Act — for which I was the 60th vote needed — was real and historic health care reform,” he writes in his own book.

Joe Lieberman has few regrets

In 2010, Murkowski was an assistant on McConnell’s management team, but she was overwhelmed by a right-wing opponent and lost her primary. McConnell and other leaders issued lukewarm endorsements of the GOP nominee, but Alaska law allowed Murkowski to run a write-in campaign, so some GOP operatives were sent to Alaska to help him winning upset, behind a coalition built around independents, some establishment Republicans and a few Democrats.

She returned to the GOP caucus but not leadership, preferring the freedom to focus on her committee work. She’s often a thorn in McConnell’s plans — she clashed with Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh — but she’s often been there for him, especially on the 2017 tax cut plan.

And in November, she won re-election thanks to Alaska’s new ranked vote, which Murkowski helped bring into state law, a process that won her a full fourth term largely with the support of the Democrats.

Sinema faces a much tougher road to re-election. Arizona is a sharply divided swing state with two parties that won’t tacitly let their voters back a candidate with a different tag, like Democrats in Alaska, Maine and Vermont recently did for Murkowski, King and Sanders.

Lieberman managed the political interior only once, in 2006. Before 2012, a young Democrat, then a representative. Chris Murphy (Conn.), had lined up a challenge, and Republicans eventually nominated a billionaire.

Lieberman decided to retire. In that last term, he infuriated Liberal Democrats by pushing for a smaller stimulus bill in 2009 and opposed a government-run insurance option in the ACA in 2010.

But he backed those global packages, providing the key vote, just as Reid had hoped. It was simple math.

And Schumer made the same calculation with Sinema.


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