Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) put out a statement going after Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) when the senator announced Friday that she’d left the Democratic party to become an independent.
“At a time when our nation needs leadership most, Arizona deserves a voice that won’t back down in the face of struggle,” he said. “Unfortunately, Senator Sinema is once again putting her own interests ahead of getting things done for Arizonans.”
Gallego had leaned in to calls for him to primary Sinema when her term is up in 2024, though he had not officially announced a run. He often heckles Sinema when she stymies the party’s agenda, juxtaposing himself as a reliable Democratic vote.
Team Gallego has already begun campaigning on her announcement.
“Is there ANYTHING we can say to convince you to contribute to Ruben Gallego today?” the fundraising push from Ruben Gallego for Arizona said. “How about the fact that Senator Sinema just announced she was leaving the Democratic Party?”
Sinema’s new affiliation seems unlikely to significantly change Senate dynamics: she wants to keep her committee assignments through the Democrats, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a Friday statement that he agreed to let her. She also told Politico that she doesn’t plan to caucus with the Republicans. Democrats have an effective majority without her, thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.
“Becoming an independent won’t change my work in the Senate,” she wrote in an op-ed in the Arizona Republic.
“We understand that her decision to register as an independent in Arizona does not change the new Democratic majority control of the Senate, and we have every reason to expect that we will continue to work successfully with her,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.
Instead, the move seems crafted to avert a near certain primary challenge in 2024. By blocking Democratic priorities like raising the minimum wage and the initial proposal to let Medicare negotiate down drug prices in the Build Back Better reconciliation bill, Sinema has thoroughly enraged the Democratic base and triggered primary explorations like Gallego’s years before her term is up.
By becoming an independent, she ensures that she won’t get knocked out of a Democratic primary. It also raises the chances that she and the Democratic nominee could split the Democratic leaning vote, easing the path for the Republican nominee.
In some states, like Vermont and Maine, the Democratic establishment doesn’t run a candidate against independents. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Angus King (I-ME) caucus with the Democrats and operate like Democratic senators. In Utah this cycle, Democrats did not run a candidate for Senate, hoping to boost independent Evan McMullin ahead of Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) instead.
But Sinema has made her name on bucking the party, seriously complicating its attempts to pass a comprehensive and progressive reconciliation bundle last term. She, along with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), also support maintaining the filibuster, ensuring that Democratic priorities like robust gun control and abortion protections can’t pass.