A Democratic Senator is leaving the party to become independent, adding significant drama to an already intense battle for the Senate.
Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema announced she would be leaving the Democratic Party to become an independent just days after Democrats won a Senate race in Georgia and secured 51 seats in the 100-member chamber riven by deep political divisions.
Sinema claimed she would not caucus with the Republican Party, which is a big fear. If that does hold, Democrats could still keep their greater governing control in the deeply divided legislative body.
The surprise announcement comes as the White House agenda for the second half of Joe Biden’s term was already clouded by Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives after the midterm elections.
Popular progressive senator Bernie Sanders said Sinema has “helped sabotage” some of Congress’s key legislations. His remarks add to a growing chorus of detractors against Sinema.
Sanders said he would consider supporting any Democrat who might mount a challenge against Sinema after she left the party and declared herself an independent like him.
The Arizona lawmaker has undermined the agenda of the Biden White House and other progressives, including by voting down raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and reforming the Senate filibuster so that voting rights legislation can pass.
Biden, an Independent from Vermont, votes in line with Democratic and progressive interests.
He said the Democratic party’s members in Arizona were “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”.
Sanders also said that if Democrats in Arizona ran someone to challenge her, he would take a hard look at supporting that candidate.
Sinema has continued to defend her defection.
“I know this is really hard for lots of folks, especially [on Capitol Hill], but what’s important to me is … to not be tethered by the partisanship that dominates politics today,” Sinema said.
“I want to remove some of that … poison from our politics. I want to get back to actually just working on the issues, working together to try and solve these challenges