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Last Friday, December 9, the Democratic Party woke up to inconvenient, yet expected news: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) was leaving the Democratic Party, threatening their majority in the Senate. Reactions were not long in coming, and one of the most critical of the senator was precisely one of her colleagues, Bernie Sanders—who is also an independent caucusing with the Democratic Party.
Sanders, who sought the Democratic nomination for the Presidency in 2016 and 2020, appeared on State of the Union in CNN, where he was asked about Sinema’s actions. The senator for Vermont did not seem surprised by the news.
“I think Democrats are not all that enthusiastic about somebody who helped sabotage some of the most important legislation that protects the interests of working families and voting rights and so forth. So, I think it really has to do with her political aspirations for the future in Arizona,” Sanders began.
Nor did he miss the opportunity to add Joe Manchin (D-WV) to his criticism. “She is a corporate Democrat who has, in fact, along with Senator Manchin, sabotaged enormously important legislation,” he added.
Despite the friction, both Sinema and Sanders now have more in common than before. Since the senator’s announcement, she has joined her Vermont colleague and Angus King (I-MA) to form the Senate Independents caucus, although it is not yet known whether the Arizonan will caucus with the Democrats as do King and Sanders.
The latest party changes in the Senate
Sinema’s is the first party switch in the Senate since Arlen Specter. The Republican represented Pennsylvania in the upper chamber from 1980 to 2011 and his example is not encouraging for the new independent, at least electorally.
After the switch, he sought re-election in 2010 as a member of his new party but was defeated in the primary by Joe Sestak, who would later lose to Pat Toomey in the general election, which returned the seat to the GOP.
Perhaps the example that best applies to Sinema’s case is that of Joe Lieberman. The historic senator from Connecticut lost in the 2006 Democratic primary to Ned Lamont. After digesting the defeat, the experienced legislator did not sit idly by.
He ran in the general election as an independent, in which he took 49.7% and pulled ten points ahead of the Democratic nominee. Since then, Lieberman voted with the Democrats 10% less than in his last term as a Democrat.
Therefore, if Sinema follows in his footsteps, she could become a vote even more to the right than Joe Manchin, complicating the future of the Biden agenda.
Joaquín Núñez es hincha de Racing Club de Avellaneda y licenciado en comunicación periodística por la Universidad Católica Argentina. Se especializa en el escenario internacional y en la política norteamericana // Joaquín Núñez is a fan of Avellaneda's Racing Club and has a degree in journalistic communication from the Universidad Católica Argentina. He specializes in the international scene and American politics.