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White House, Senate Dem leader: Our relationship with Sinema won’t change

The White House and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Friday downplayed Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s decision to leave the Democratic Party as unlikely to affect their relationships with the Arizona centrist.

“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 in a statement. “We will maintain our new majority on committees, exercise our subpoena power, and be able to clear nominees without discharge votes.”

Sinema asked to keep her committee posts after becoming an independent, Schumer said, and “I agreed.” In a separate statement, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also emphasized that Sinema’s move would not impact the Democratic Senate majority and praised her for her work with the Biden administration, especially on infrastructure, same-sex marriage and gun safety.

“Sen. Sinema has been a key partner on some of the historic legislation President Biden has championed over the last 20 months,” Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “We have every reason to expect that we will continue to work successfully with her.”

In an interview with POLITICO published Friday morning, Sinema explained that she changed her affiliation because she “never really fit into a box of any political party.” The Arizona independent said she doesn’t anticipate her decision would change the Senate structure and indicated she expects to keep her committee assignments from Democrats. Sinema informed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of her decision late Thursday.

Sinema said she has a “good relationship” with Biden. When asked whether she wants Biden to run for reelection in 2024, Sinema declined to address it, calling it “a question for someone else.”

Her colleagues, however, say they’re not surprised by her decision and emphasized that it will not change how the Senate operates.

“It’s the least shocking news all year,” said Sen. Chris Murphy. (D-Conn.) in an interview. “Guess what? Kyrsten Sinema was an independent before today, and she’s an independent after today’s announcement.”

Sinema also declined to discuss her own plans for 2024, when she is up for reelection. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) previously made it clear that he was exploring a Democratic primary challenge.

In a statement Friday, Gallego did not mention his future plans, saying only that “at a time when our nation needs leadership most, Arizona deserves a voice that won’t back down in the face of struggle” and adding that Sinema is “putting her own interests ahead of getting things done for Arizonans.”

And Friday morning, a PAC that had been organizing as “Primary Sinema” vowed to go after her in the general election instead.

“Kyrsten Sinema told us what we’ve already known for years: she’s not a Democrat, and she’s simply out for herself,” the PAC said in a statement. “In one way, Sinema just made our jobs easier by bowing out of a Democratic primary she knew she couldn’t win. Now, we’ll beat her in the general election with a real Democrat.”

Sinema has played a central role in several significant bipartisan accomplishments in the past two years. She was the lead Democratic negotiator on last year’s bipartisan infrastructure package, teamed up with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) to negotiate a gun safety package this year, and most recently worked with Republicans to pass legislation to protect same-sex marriage.

But the Arizonan has also ignited anger from the left, especially over her opposition to scrapping the legislative filibuster to pass Democrats’ election reform legislation and over her resistance to higher tax rates. Progressive Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) tweeted Friday: “This isn’t about the party this is about your pharma donors! Stop lying!”

Yet her decision to become an independent drew praise from one prominent GOP-aligned voice: Jack McCain, son of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — whom Sinema has long called her “personal hero” — tweeted that her move “makes a ton of sense” and is “very Arizona: bold, independent, outsized in influence and risky.”

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

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