Republican leadership in the Senate is openly courting Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema — a former Democrat who changed her party affiliation to independent in December — to caucus with Republicans or become an official member of the GOP.
Sinema, who obstructed a number of items on the Democratic agenda as a member of that party, currently caucuses with Democrats, as do two other independents in the Senate (Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine). As a result, Democrats control the Senate, with 51 seats to Republicans’ 49 — but if Sinema were to caucus with Republicans, the chamber would be evenly divided between the two parties, at 50 seats apiece.
Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota), the Republican whip in the Senate, urged Sinema to consider making the change, telling reporters earlier this week that he’s discussed the idea with her before.
“As she knows, because I’ve conveyed this to her many times, we would welcome her in our caucus,” Thune said on Monday.
“That invitation is always out there,” Thune went on, noting that switching parties may help Sinema’s chances if she runs again in 2024, when her term expires.
It’s unlikely that Sinema will switch parties, given that she’s only voted against President Joe Biden’s priorities on a small handful of occasions. (For the most part, she votes in line with Democrats and the president, according to an analysis from FiveThirtyEight.com, and rarely backs positions taken by Republicans.) Still, her votes against Democratic priorities — likely motivated by her ties to corporate lobbyists — have frustrated her Democratic colleagues; Sinema has blocked efforts to reform the filibuster, for example, and has stood in the way of key progressive proposals.
“A reminder: America has no higher minimum wage, no extended child tax credits, and no voting rights protections because of Kyrsten Sinema,” MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan tweeted after Sinema switched her party affiliation to independent.
Sinema may be inclined to change her partisan standing for electoral reasons. Recent polling indicates that Sinema would undergo a major loss in next year’s Senate race if she were to run as an independent against Democratic challenger Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona), who announced his candidacy earlier this week, and potential GOP candidate Kari Lake, who lost a gubernatorial election in Arizona in November. Both candidates garnered over 40 percent of support from voters in a Public Policy Polling survey conducted late last month, while Sinema only received 13 percent in a potential contest with all three running.
If Sinema were to run as a Republican in a head-to-head race with Gallego, it’s possible she could have a shot at winning reelection. But running as a Republican comes with the added challenge of winning a primary race against a far right Republican candidate, such as Lake, before the general election.
Sinema has not yet announced whether she’s running for reelection in 2024.
If Sinema were to change her party affiliation (either by caucusing with Republicans or joining the party outright), it would create headaches for Democrats in the Senate. While they would still control the Senate due to Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote, lawmakers would have to negotiate a power-sharing agreement, similar to that of the last congressional session, to run day-to-day business in the chamber. This would likely create a situation where committees would have to have an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, potentially slowing down business, as ties at the committee level would have to be settled on the full Senate floor.