Senator leaves Democrats just days after party gets majority in US Senate

Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona departs to become an independent

Three days after US president Joe Biden’s Democrats secured a crucial one-seat majority in the Senate, one of his senators has announced she is leaving the party.

Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona said she would become an independent.

In an opinion article for the Arizona Republic newspaper, Ms Sinema wrote: “I have joined the growing numbers of Arizonans who reject party politics by declaring my independence from the broken partisan system in Washington.”

Democrats were overjoyed at winning a 51st seat in the 100-person chamber on Tuesday night when Raphael Warnock defeated the Republican Herschel Walker in a run-off election. It meant the party would no longer have to rely on the casting vote of vice-president Kamala Harris to break any ties, and reduced the influence of some moderate senators such as Ms Sinema and Joe Manchin of West Virginia in determining the fate of key policy measures.#


Party’s prospects

It remains to be seen what Ms Sinema’s announcement on Friday will mean in practical terms for the Democrats’ prospects of controlling the Senate over the next two years. Ms Sinema has not said whether she would align with the Democrats, as do two other independent senators, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine.

Ms Sinema said in her opinion article that “becoming an independent won’t change my work in the Senate; my service to Arizona remains the same”.

The White House said in a statement that Ms Sinema had been a key partner on some historic legislation championed by the president over recent months such as on infrastructure, gun safety and marriage equality.

“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,” it said.

There had been speculation within the Democratic Party that Ms Sinema could face an internal challenger for its nomination to run again for the Senate when her current term expires in 2024.

Trump and documents

Separately yesterday US media reported that a federal judge in Washington declined an application by the department of justice to have the office of former president Donald Trump held in contempt for allegedly failing to comply with a court order over classified documents taken from the White House.

The New York Times had reported earlier yesterday that the US department of justice wanted to force a representative of the office of Mr Trump to testify under oath that there are no additional classified documents at any of his properties. The judge also had to determine whether to impose financial penalties for contempt if such assurances are not forthcoming.

However media reports last evening said the judge at an in camera hearing declined to hold Mr Trump’s office in contempt.

Federal prosecutors had asked the judge to find Mr Trump’s office to be in contempt of court for failing to obey a grand jury subpoena, issued last May, seeking the return of all classified records in his possession.

The court move yesterday was the latest development in the controversy over documents, some deemed to be classified on national security grounds.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent